Dwyane Wade looks for happy return at place where he cemented his legacy
Long time Miami Heat fixture makes first trip to South Beach as a member of Chicago Bulls
LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, his first return not quite six years ago, was ugly. Thunderous boos upon his introduction, replica-jersey bonfires outside The Q, enough boisterous profanity from the crowd to last a season.
And 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists from Dwyane Wade, making sure his “Super Friend” had a successful night back in December 2010.
Chris Bosh heard it but good, too, in his first game back in Toronto a couple months later. Fans at the Air Canada Centre weren’t as vulgar, maybe, as those in Cleveland had been but they rained down their displeasure on Bosh from start to finish. A belittling “Two And A Half Men” sign, among many held up that night, dug even deeper.
And there was Wade again, scoring 28 points with seven rebounds, topping Bosh’s 25 and six to see to it that his and James’ third amigo won the night.
Now it is Wade’s turn, going back to Miami to face the Heat for the first time since he signed as a free agent with Chicago. When the Bulls get introduced at AmericanAirlines Arena Thursday evening, Wade improbably rising from the visitors’ bench after 13 years at the other end of the floor, it’s an open question how South Florida fans will react. Many have guesses, no one knows for sure.
“I mean, you never know,” Wade said this week. “Honestly you never know how you’ll be received. But I did everything possibly right during my time there. So hopefully I’m received [warmly] – what I’ve given to that franchise and organization is everything – but at the same time, you never know. You might hear a boo or something in there at some point. Everybody don’t like you, you got to understand that, but overall I think it will be positive.”
Thinking back to James’ Cleveland return, which the since-reunited superstar met head-on with his trademark clap of rosin powder, Wade expects nothing like that.
“It was crazy. It was negative. A different time,” he said. “It was negative. A different time. It was very negative because of the Big Three coming together. People didn’t like it.
“We wanted him to shine but we knew there was a lot of emotions going out for LeBron – we didn’t know what – so my job was to come out and kick butt early. I took it upon myself to come out and be aggressive early. And allow him to just get in the game. Once his teammates came out and did their jobs, he took over from there.”
Assuming the mood in the building for Wade’s first game back in Miami is overwhelmingly positive, will it be emotional? Wade answered the question with a couple of his own.
“Tear emotional or goosebumps emotional? What kind of emotions we talkin’?” he said. “I think I’ll definitely be appreciative of the moment. I think it’s gonna be cool just to see familiar faces. I think it’s gonna be cool to see love and support and [people] just being thankful for what you did.
“Unless you’re just cold-blooded, everybody’s gonna feel something with that. At the same time, it’s not like it’s my retirement [where] I can get a chance to get real emotional. I’m coming in and trying to beat their butts. And they’re going to try and beat our butt, so we got to get to the competitive part of the game as well.”T
he competitive part of the game will be lurking, all right. Not just tracked on the scoreboard high above the Heat and the Bulls but in the shadows and in the history between shared by Wade and Heat president Pat Riley.
Wade’s exit from Miami and any notion that he might forge a one-team legacy like San Antonio’s Tim Duncan or Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant ended with a contract squabble. The player felt his willingness to sacrifice maximum pay to lure and keep teammates wasn’t fully appreciated or, more to the point, likely to be rewarded this summer. It seemed impulsive, ending the relationship so abruptly over what – after the tax differences between Florida and Illinois and the relocation costs involved – seemed a relatively minor amount: $40 million in a two-year deal from the Heat vs. $47 million from the Bulls.
Wade bristled when it was suggested to him on media day that, given a couple more weeks, he and the Heat would have done a deal. “I don’t really concern myself with people [who think] that,” he said. “All of us, we have opinions and that’s fine. My goal and my focus is where I’m at today.”
This week, he talked a little about the business breakdown he had with Miami but even more about his absence of hard feelings toward the organization. He feels he understands Riley and vice versa, and that’s enough.
“Life is too short to be holding grudges. At the end of the day, Pat has helped me become a very rich man,” Wade told CSNChicago.com. “Me and Pat have won championships together. We’ve both helped each other’s legacies. I love that guy. I know how he is. He’s stubborn just like I am.”
Wade’s determination lies now in his performance, and the hometown Bulls’, Thursday night. At 34, his Hall of Fame future secure, the 6-foot-4 product of Marquette remains proud. The Big Three, a.k.a., the Heatles, is over. James still is chasing and winning championships. Bosh’s playing days might be over, a victim of a blood-clot issue that ended his past two seasons along with his Miami career.
Wade is scratching other itches, prepping for a versatile corporate-entertainment life after basketball, rolling up his sleeves in community work and shepherding the Bulls through the middle of the Eastern Conference. He craves no more rings (not that he’d turn one down) but appears instead to be thoroughly enjoying and immersing himself in his Chicago roots.
“He doesn’t bring up Miami,” Bulls forward Doug McDermott said. “I think he’s just so excited to be home. He really likes it here. He’s had us over to his house a few times, just team chemistry stuff. And you can tell he really loves the city.”
Wade’s individual game has been strong, as one might expect early in the season. Heading into Chicago’s game at Atlanta Wednesday, his per-36 minutes stats in his 14th season (21.6 points, 3.7 assists) are down only a bit from those of his first 13 (23.8, 5.8). And though Wade is shooting a career-worst 44.6 percent overall, his 3-point proficiency is straight out of the old-dog, new-tricks box. After making only seven of 44 from the arc last season and nine of 32 in 2013-14, Wade had made 10 of his 23 attempts through seven games.
Wade and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg have talked plenty about the veteran’s workload, role and anticipated nights off, and while it might be unrealistic for Wade to match his 74 appearances last season (most in five years), he hopes to log 32-33 minutes on nights he is available.
Said McDermott of this up-close glimpse of late-career Wade: “He plays hard; he plays at his own pace. He’s really crafty the way he draws fouls. I think the most underrated part of his game now is his vision, his passing. He finds me and Niko [Mirotic] all the time, even when we’re not expecting it.”
That leaves the team’s performance overall. With Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo as Wade’s primary cohorts, the Bulls have shown more interest in scoring than in defending. That either will change or they’ll sputter along near .500, although it’s highly probable Chicago will muster its best performance of the season so far for Wade’s big night.
“Even coming off a back-to-back (the Bulls fell to the Hawks 115-107), if my team don’t have energy for that night, [that will] be a problem,” said Wade, who scored 25 points against Atlanta. “I expect us to come in and give whatever we have. And I want everyone to enjoy the environment, enjoy the moment. It’s gonna be a great environment. I want our team, early in the season, to experience that kind of environment and try to seize it.”
A legend only gets one chance to make his first return, and Wade sounds ready.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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