Wade says first game back in Miami ‘just weird’
But the Bulls guard and wife Gabrielle Union say Miami is home because of friends, family and the weather
Actress Gabrielle Union was hoping for a long break on the set of BET’s Being Mary Jane in Atlanta so she could watch her husband return to the only NBA home he knew for 13 years before surprisingly going home.
Dwyane Wade was expected to follow the footsteps of Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, John Stockton, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan to become an NBA lifer with one team. Wade is the Heat’s all-time leader in points, games played and minutes, won three NBA championships and has been the face of the franchise for years. But after the Heat didn’t offer a contract with the length that Wade hoped for, the Chicago native went home by signing with the Chicago Bulls instead last offseason.
“I wholeheartedly supported Dwyane’s decision,” Union told The Undefeated. “It wasn’t easy by any stretch, but I was so happy that he put himself in a position where he could determine his own future on his own terms. Not with his tail tucked between his legs, but rather with his head held high.”
Wade’s agent: Bulls were always an option
So why did Wade leave Miami?
Wade really won’t get into what went wrong in the negotiation phase and has been politically correct about his departure. The Heat is saying the right things, too. Wade expressed a lot of good tidings and vice versa came from the Heat before their lone meeting against each other in Miami this season.
One NBA source said the Heat had a difficult time having discussions with Wade’s longtime agent Henry Thomas and two other agent representatives. Miami landed a long-shot meeting with last-season’s most heralded free agent in Kevin Durant, who departed from the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors. The Heat re-signed center Hassan Whiteside to a four-year $98 million contract while forward Chris Bosh’s days with the franchise were quietly ending due to health reasons.
Wade told Comcast Sports Chicago he willingly took less money during his Heat career so key players could be re-signed. So was it time for him to be rewarded by Miami? The Heat offered Wade a two-year, $40 million contract, according to multiple reports. The Bulls offered a two-year, $47 million contract, but the difference in state taxes caused that offer to break even with the Heat’s. The Denver Nuggets actually offered the most money, offering a two-year, $50 million contract, but Wade never strongly considered them.
Thomas told The Undefeated that if Miami had offered a three-year contract, that Wade’s chance of staying would have been greatly improved. Such a contract would have been a major commitment for a veteran NBA player who turns 35 in January. Thomas, also a Chicago native, believes the Heat probably thought he tried to sway Wade to sign with the Bulls, but maintains it was “all [Wade’s] decision.”
“I honestly thought he would stay here, but it didn’t work that way,” Thomas told The Undefeated. “It was all based on what Dwyane felt that he deserved from the organization. It wasn’t a maximum contract or anything like that.
“With all he has done for the organization, he felt that he should have gotten what he wanted. More years. It was just one more year.”
So when did Thomas know that Wade was departing Miami to sign with Chicago?
“When [Wade] had a meeting with [Heat owner] Mickey [Arison] in New York and their position was the same,” Thomas said.
Thomas was in attendance Thursday night and said there was no way he would have missed Wade’s return game to Miami. The NBA agent also said it’s still weird to see Wade in a Bulls uniform, but he could’ve gone to Chicago years earlier.
Maybe it was wishful thinking, but Thomas said Wade believed and hoped his childhood-beloved Bulls would select him with the seventh overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. The ex-Marquette star was too good to be drafted that late despite injury concerns. The Heat loved Wade and selected him fifth overall selection after LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony and Bosh were taken. The Bulls drafted Kansas guard Kirk Hinrich instead.
“He thought he was going to get drafted by the Bulls,” Thomas said. “They had the seventh pick and he thought he was [going there]. They were maneuvering to draft him. He thought that was going to happen, but I knew in talking to the Heat how much they liked him, so I wasn’t surprised.”
Thomas said that Wade also seriously considered joining the Bulls as a free agent in 2010.
Wade had two meetings with the Bulls as a free agent six years ago. But with James and Bosh deciding to go to Miami to form a superteam, Wade stayed put. If James hadn’t come to Miami, perhaps Wade could’ve departed to Chicago in 2010, as the Heat’s roster was average then. But Wade stayed and added to his Heat legacy by winning two more titles with James and Bosh.
“He seriously considered it, but it didn’t get close when LeBron and Chris wanted to come [to Miami],” Thomas said.
Trip back to Miami is memorable, but hectic
Wade was very disappointed that “the schedule gods” didn’t give the Bulls an off day before the Miami return so he could “enjoy everybody.” The Bulls lost 115-107 a night earlier on the road against the Atlanta Hawks. While Wade didn’t get to his Miami home until early Thursday morning, he was appreciative of the few hours of sleep he did get in his mansion.
“Last night after I get into my house and smelled my air freshener, I was like, ‘Ahhh.’ I felt good to be at home,” Wade said. “I talked to my wife most of the night. She’s asking me, ‘How does the bed feel?’ It was good to be home for a few hours.”
Wade attended a team meeting at the Bulls’ hotel in the morning. Afterward, he brought some of his new teammates back home to relax and enjoy a catered lunch. He said he “chilled” and enjoyed the 80-degree day, and took a 20-minute nap before heading to the AmericanAirlines Arena for a late 8 p.m. tip-off.
“Everything was outside of my routine,” Wade said.
Union said she mostly missed her friends in Miami, who included several of Wade’s former teammates and their wives.
“I miss all our friends, who became like family and all the amazing people that work at the arena,” Wade said. “I miss our house and the weather. But really, all the great friends we made in Miami from the Boshes to the Battiers, the Haslems to the Allens. Lots of people we love are in Miami.”
Wade is bracing for the Chicago cold that is coming soon and isn’t certain his wife is ready for it. As far as Miami, he mostly misses the heat.
“I am going to be honest and say the weather,” Wade said. “I miss my house as well. It’s familiar. It’s what you know. The people you know. The places you go. This is what you know.
“Everything I do in Chicago now is just different. It’s been joyous. It’s been great. You make a decision like I made because change is what you want as well.”
So does Wade miss Heat president Pat Riley?
Union’s “head held high” comment on her husband’s departure was certainly telling. Wade told Comcast Sports Chicago he has kept in contact with everyone in the Heat organization except Riley since his departure, but he respected him. Wade did say before the game that Riley sent him an e-mail Thursday, but he didn’t plan on reading it until later. Riley told Turner Sports on Thursday that he will always love Wade and never forget him.
“There is nothing to squash in my eyes. I’ve spoken through [the media] and he’s heard me very loud and clear. I’m very appreciative of that and what we created in Miami. I have nothing to squash,” Wade said.
Wade took a private car to the arena with teammate Jimmy Butler. Once Wade entered his old workplace, he needed guidance to locate the visiting locker room. Arena employees clapped, photo cameras flashed and video cameras rolled as a smiling and thankful Wade walked in.
Wade described the visiting locker room as “very tiny.” He joked that if the shower room was poor there, he would use the Heat’s instead.
“It felt normal until I pulled up and went into the opposite side of the building,” Wade said. “I really, absolutely, did not know where to go. It’s just a little different to walk into the arena. But it was great to walk in and see familiar faces right away. I was in that mode of seeing people that I’ve seen for so many years …
“The applause from the workers was great. But at the same time, I was trying to get my brain wrapped around getting ready for this game. I knew there was going to be so many different ways I was pulled when I got here.”
Wade said that one benefit of standing with the visiting team pregame during The Star-Spangled Banner was seeing the Heat’s three NBA championship banners and others as well. On the home side, those banners are behind the Heat as they face the U.S. flag. The memories that Wade recalled, good and bad, in this building were many as well.
“The championships we won here from my rookie year on, I have memories from every moment, every game building something here,” Wade said. “I hit my first game-winner in the playoffs here. A lot of memories, bad ones, too. I’ve had some injuries here. I got some bad ones, bad losses.
“It’s all good from the standpoint of how everything happened for my career here in 13 years. I wouldn’t change anything. It was spectacular. I couldn’t have got on my knees and ask God for a better pro career and start and finish of it.”
No matter that James and Shaquille O’Neal played for the Heat, Wade was always introduced last during the starting lineup announcement. The Heat’s public address announcer Michael Baiamonte always belted out, “No. 3, Dee-Wayne … Waaaade.” Baiamonte did the same when Wade was introduced last for the Bulls to loud and appreciative applause on this night.
Before the tip-off, Wade saluted Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, the coaches and players on the bench with both hands. Spoelstra has expressed strong love for Wade of late and said he was depressed for a week when he signed with the Bulls. Wade described his relationship with Spoelstra as “great” and said they check in regularly.
“I have incredible love for Dwyane. That’s quite obvious,” Spoelstra told The Undefeated. “Anybody around this organization knows how I feel about him. I’ve known him since he came in the league and [his son] Zaire was [small]. To go through all the ups and downs, and both of us growing in this profession has been one of the special things I’ll always take away from this business.”
Wade said his goal was to “play well” against the Heat. He also made a strong point that he wanted to “win the damn game.”
Wade and the Bulls did just that with a close 98-95 victory. The Bulls guard scored his first basket in the first quarter on a two-handed fast-break dunk. The Heat celebrated his career in Miami with a two-minute video shown during a timeout in the first. Wade missed 12 of 17 field goal attempts and all four 3-point shots and had 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three turnovers in 36 minutes. He also nailed two free throws with 13.7 seconds left to give Chicago a safe 96-92 lead.
Wade wasn’t very emotional until after the game, when he hugged his teammates, Arison’s wife and daughter and others close to him. While the former Heat star will always love Miami, he said, one game in his old home was enough this season.
“Weirdest basketball game I’ve ever played in my life,” Wade said. “I couldn’t wait until it’s over. It was just weird. We were just playing in the playoffs together …
“But this is a good environment. The fans are great. I appreciate the ovation, the cheers, the things that they were saying. But the game itself, it was just weird.”