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Dwyane Wade remembers nervously waiting to find out if the Big Three would come together

The star NBA legend on the Miami Heat team that changed the game

Somehow, I always forget to tell Dwyane Wade this. He won me a lot of money back in high school when he dropped a triple-double on top-ranked Kentucky to help Marquette advance to the Final Four in 2003. Granted, it helped him earn a lot more than my measly $100 months later when he was drafted fifth overall by the Miami Heat. But 18 years later, I was working for him, helping Wade with his new photographic memoir, Dwyane, which is being released on Tuesday.

“I’m a visual guy. I feel like me as a kid, I loved going through books and looking at the photos,” the #NBA75 honoree told me last week. “To put this book about my career and these moments and any stories I wanted to talk about in just words wouldn’t do this a real justice. I wanted this to be different from my first book [A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball]. I wanted this to be a keepsake for a very long time.”

Wade’s life has had one fascinating chapter after another, but he knows it’s the Big Three era with Chris Bosh and LeBron James that still polarizes basketball fans. So much of how the game is viewed nowadays starts with the mobility that these three players jump-started. More than a decade ago after Bosh and James decided to take their talents to South Beach and join Wade on the Heat, he still loves to talk about that period.

So we did. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All images are from Dwyane Wade’s book.

What do you have to say to all the conspiracy theorists who say the three of you decided this years earlier to join forces?

Short answer: nothing. I’m not trying to tell someone that I’m right about something. I know what happened. I was there! Like, y’all wasn’t there! So you can’t tell me. [Laughs.] This moment changed the course of our lives for the better, but it changed the course of all of our lives.

“There’s been a lot of Big Threes, but that Big Three changed the game. It’s a story that the NBA will forever tell,” Dwyane Wade said.

Bob Metelus

It was just a pivotal moment in sports and in the world. So, J, you know, you go out and you say something and then people tell you you’re wrong. I can’t tell you what you want to believe, but I can tell you my stories and how this affected me or has an effect on me. There’s been a lot of Big Threes, but that Big Three changed the game. It’s a story that the NBA will forever tell. You can’t tell the story of the NBA without telling the story of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat.

You say in the book that the three of you came to a verbal agreement on July 4, 2010. But you and C.B. didn’t know for sure until you and the rest of the country watched The Decision on July 8. Explain what those butterflies in your stomach felt like.

Not at all! You don’t know until you see it. It has to actually happen. And so, yeah, we made a decision on July 4. I didn’t tell anybody but my wife until July 7. I told people on July 7 after I signed, like my close-knit group. We kept it very, very, very tight. But at the end of the day, here’s why I really didn’t say anything. ’Cause I ain’t saying nothing until it happens. I’ve been disappointed a lot! As a kid, I grew up like, ‘Oh, my dad ’bout to bring these Jordans!’ And he brought me some Pro Wings! I got some Jordaches! I’ve been disappointed.

So, you want to wait for it to happen. Also, man, it was still a surreal moment. It was about to happen. Until Chris and I got on [TV] together, I was like, OK, this part is real. Then I had to sit there like everybody else. I didn’t talk to ’Bron. I talked to him, like, a week before The Decision. He went dark 23 on me! I didn’t know. Just like everybody else, I sat by the TV and just to make sure that everything that we talked about was still on the up-and-up.

And if it didn’t happen, I have to figure out a way to shift gears and find another third. It’s really the same thing with me and my son [Zaire]. You plan something. You work hard at something you want to happen. People say, ‘Hey, this is a possibility. This is what’s gonna happen.’ But you don’t know! You don’t know what’s gonna happen. That was just all natural and just real expressions for me when [LeBron] signed. I jumped up and said, ‘Yeah,’ because I knew it was on.

What was it like for the three of you right before y’all went onstage for your introduction in Miami the next day?

Quiet. Real quiet, man. I think for a lot of reasons. Disbelief. Like, we’re all wearing the same jersey right now! This ain’t an All-Star Game! This ain’t the Olympics! This is the Heat! This is 82 games! So we’re kinda quiet. LeBron had a lot of emotions that he was dealing with and he was going through. Chris has never dealt with nothing like this before. I had just given up some of the keys to my crib. [Laughs.] We were just all going through our own emotions. I remember just sitting in the back and we kept looking at each other. We’d be like, ‘Yo, this is bananas. This is crazy. Like, what?’ It didn’t feel right probably to nobody until they lifted us up and they opened that curtain and you saw the love from our community.

You see Miami. You see people showing up. Chris just started screaming! Remember that moment? I remember like, ‘Yeah, this feels right.’ This is what we want. But before that, man, I think we were all just shocked that we were here. Players didn’t have that kind of power at that time. To be able to make that decision at that time for us was a big, big deal. And at the same time, it’s still all of us individually. It was like, ‘Wait, did we make the right decision?’ We didn’t know.

We know how the fans and media reacted, but what was the conversation like amongst players?

Everybody was in disbelief! Even players was like, ‘Wait, what?’ When we played against guys, they gave us their best shot. They came out and gave us everything. But there came a point in some games where you saw we outmatched them. Not just because of us three, either. It was our entire team. You’d see us turn it on for five minutes and the game would go from down three to up 20. You’d see a lot of guys and teams get defeated. You would see the defeat on their face. We’d be like, ‘We got ’em. They’re defeated.’ Because it’s like you’d come off the bench with your best guys. We come off the bench with Dwyane and Chris Bosh. Or we come off with LeBron and D. Or we come off with Chris and ’Bron.

We all started together, and then the next group, you still got one or two of us still in. And so you’d see it, like, over the course of a game, teams would be like, they just keep coming! But I think we did get the best shot from a lot of guys. I think that that really helped us get to the point where we could learn how to play together as a team and become champions, because every night we got that. We got [the NBA’s] best shot.

C.B. is already in the Hall of Fame. You’ll be there shortly. Whenever LeBron decides to retire, he’ll be first ballot, too. When the three of you link up now, how do you see those four years in Miami?

We haven’t yet. The three of us haven’t really talked about it. I’ve talked a little bit to ’Bron. Maybe Chris and ’Bron [separately]. But the three of us have not sat down and really talked about it. That’s the doc! That’s what you want to see!

You want to see all three of us sit around talking about it, right? It hasn’t happened yet. LeBron has been focused on his career. Everything that happened in Chris’ life that kinda took him away from the game. We haven’t had time to sit down, us three, and reflect. But in the moments that two of us have talked about it or had those moments, it’s really freaking crazy, bro! Like, that happened. We did that. The league and the players are still benefiting from it. 

I can’t wait for that moment when we’re able to sit down and talk about what that meant to us individually. What that meant to the game of basketball from our eyes and our perspective. That’s the doc I want to be a part of, with all three of us around a roundtable talking about that real pivotal moment in 2010.

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.