A Look Back on the Career of Miami Heat Legend Dwyane Wade As He Nears Retirement

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A Look Back on the Career of Miami Heat Legend Dwyane Wade As He Nears Retirement

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“I’m here [Miami] forever. This is Wade County forever. I will always be here. No matter where I go in the world I will be here. I will always be a HEAT LIFER.” -Dwyane Wade, #3

 

At the conclusion of this season, NBA fans will be saying goodbye to a legend. To begin his “Sweet Sixteen,” Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade announced this will be his last season playing professional basketball.

Wade, nicknamed “The Flash” by former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, is one of the most under-appreciated legends of the game. Because he played during an era of so many greats and sacrificed so much to win, many forget how great the 13 time all-star really was.

From thunderous slam dunks to mesmerizing crossovers to dazzling alley-oops to astounding game winning shots, number three will always be a Miami legend. He always had swag, always had polish, and always had fearlessness. He played with and against so many greats. Former teammate LeBron James called his retirement “The end of a storybook. One of the best movies you could ever see.” James played alongside Wade in Miami during the four year long “Big Three Era” in which the Heat brought two championships back to American Airlines Arena.

Wade will finish with over 22,000 points, 5,000 assists, 5,000 rebounds, 1,600 steals and 800 blocks. The only players with these numbers and 500 made three pointers include Wade, Michael Jordan and  James. The amount of respect Wade deserves for stats like this is undermined. He is the only player six foot four and under to record 700 blocks, the only player in NBA history to accumulate at least 2,000 points, 500 assists, 100 steals, and 100 blocks in a season, and one of three players in NBA history to record at least 50 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists in a game.

Back in high school, Wade was never the heavily recruited athlete many would expect in hindsight. After averaging 27 points per game at Harold L. Richards High School, he was ranked 101 in the 2000 college recruiting class. He was not selected as an All-American. Subsequently, Wade was offered just three scholarships—Marquette, DePaul, and Illinois State. He ended up choosing to attend Marquette University and averaged 20.3 points per game in his three seasons with the Golden Eagles. Wade led his squad with a thirty point triple double against the number 1 seeded Kentucky to advance to the Final Four in his junior season before declaring for the draft. It was this tournament in which his name finally got out to the world and the NBA took notice. The Miami Heat selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft, following the selections of James, Darko Miličić, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh.

In Wade’s first season, he put the league on notice, averaging 16.2 points, 4.5 assists, and 4.0 rebounds on top of 1.4 steals. He gave the Heat the star they needed to reach the playoffs and win the first series against the New Orleans Hornets with a game winner over Baron Davis. Although the spotlight was on the other star rookies of his class, including forwards James and Anthony, the explosive young two guard earned All-NBA Rookie First Team honors with his outstanding season.

Following the 2004 season, Miami Heat President Pat Riley made a splash in the trade market. Riley made a deal to bring in MVP and Finals MVP center O’Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers. When O’Neal took notice to Wade’s speed and skill, he bestowed the nickname “Flash” upon him. Wade succeeded his rookie season with an even better year. Improving on all five major star categories, usage percentage, field goal percentage and free throw percentage, Wade showed beyond doubt his rookie year greatness was not a fluke. Wade proved to be a star in the league and played his way onto the All-NBA second team. He also proved to be a top defender in the league earning the honor of All-Defensive Second Team.

It took the squad a season, but the Wade-led Heat made their way to the NBA finals in the third season of Wade’s tenure. The Wade/O’Neal duo was the most dynamic pairing of players the league saw at the time.

Wade’s performance in the 2006 NBA Finals is undeniably one of the best showings for a Finals series. While leading his team to four straight victories after a 0-2 start, he accumulated 208 points, 23 assists, 47 rebounds, 16 steals, and 6 blocks en route to a Finals MVP trophy. Wade accumulated numerous accomplishments during this series. His 16 steals is the second most steals in an NBA finals series. He is the youngest to average 30 points per game and win a Finals series. He tied for most points in the fourth quarter of a finals game with 17. He is one of five to record two 40 point games in a single finals series. He is also one of five players to accumulate at least thirty points, ten rebounds, and five assists in a finals clinching game. Lakers legendary point guard Magic Johnson described his feelings on Wade’s performance during this year’s all-star break. He tells Wade, “Your hero was Michael Jordan. Well, you were Michael Jordan in that Dallas series.”

The Finals MVP was on top of the basketball world. He won the best NBA player honors at the ESPYs, ESPN’s awards show during the summer to honor the best athletes in many different categories. Furthermore, he was being compared to Michael Jordan. Yes, THAT Michael Jordan. At this time, there was almost no debate about whether the six-time champ was the best player the game had ever seen.

Wade continued his dominance and received his third straight all-star selection. He was defining his role in the league as a big time slasher with ankle breaking ball-handling skills. He would take on the opposing team’s best player and attack the basket hard, finishing with ease. Wade then hit a career low point. On February 21, 2007, in a game against the Houston Rockets, Wade dislocated his right shoulder. His relentlessness would not allow his season to end. So he chose the rehabilitation route. Wade led his team to the playoffs, but there was little he could do to lead the reigning champs to a victory. They were swept by the Chicago Bulls in the first round, and Wade had major shoulder and knee surgeries in the offseason.

The next season, Riley decided that he was not happy with the nine wins in the Heat’s first 48 contests, so he dealt O’Neal to the Phoenix Suns. Wade was then kept out of the final 21 games to work on his knee.

Wade became possibly the best player in the NBA with his MVP-caliber season in 2009, averaging north of 30 points and seven assists. He put up a career high of 55 in his matchup against the Knicks. It was this season when Wade brought out his famous “This is my house” celebration, after his game winner in double overtime against the Bulls. It was this season that Wade brought out the decorative Band-Aids, which were later banned by Commissioner David Stern. The Heat only managed to win 43 games and lost in the first round of the playoffs; however, Wade proved that he was one of the greats and did this on his first full season (he started 79 games) back from a separated shoulder.

In 2010, Wade brought the fans of Miami something to drool over. He managed to convince superstars James and Bosh to form “The Big Three” in South Beach. Wade sacrificed a max contract to bring in the two and still leave enough space to bring back co-captain Udonis Haslem. This core brought the Heat to four straight finals and brought home two championships. Many forget how good Wade was during this time since he sacrificed his individual stats for the team. He let James run the show. He let Coach Erik Spoelstra draw up the plays for James, not himself. Wade could have continued to average 30 points and seven assists, but he sacrificed his role and scored just 24 and dished out only five dimes per contest over the four years.

After James left Miami to return to Cleveland to bring home a championship, Wade continued to lead his team. The team missed the playoffs in the first season following james’ departure; however, the Heat made it to game seven of the conference semifinals the very next year. The squad had a chance at competing against James and his Cavaliers, but they fell just short. That season gave Heat and Wade fans alike new moments of greatness, including the earning of a new nickname,“Father Prime.”

In the first round of the 2016 playoffs, the Heat played a seven game series against the Charlotte Hornets. In game six of the series, the Heat needed a spark. Wade was spreading the ball around all game and led the team in assists. But then, with four minutes and twenty seconds left in the fourth quarter, a heckler got to Wade. This was something that had never happened before; no heckler could get into Wade’s head. But the infamous “Purple Shirt Guy” made it happen. Unfortunately for the Hornets, it was not a pretty site for them. Wade went off for eight points, a steal, a block and drew a critical foul, all in just four minutes. This included the game sealing three pointer and a stare down by Wade. Moments like these are those that Wade fans can rejoice in  with his pending retirement.

After another season in which the Heat made little noise in the playoffs, Wade considered retirement before he left South Beach in order to go home. He signed with the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls would later lose in the first round of the 2017 playoffs, followed by Wade making his way to the Cavaliers to team up with his best buddy James once again. However, the roster in place in Cleveland had too many big egos clashing, and Wade felt it was only right to return to South Beach, better known as Wade County to Heat fans. The Heat had been struggling without Wade but managed a playoff spot. In the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wade seemed to have turned back the clock in game two of the series. “Father Prime” put up 28 points in his 25 minutes of action, along with a game winning step-back jumper over the Sixers’ Ben Simmons, en route to a Heat victory. In a post game interview, Wade explained that it was Kevin Hart’s smack talk to blame for his heroics. Unfortunately this was the only win the Heat took in the series, eventually losing in five games.

This season has been an emotional one for many fans. It is almost the end of an era. Wade has explained to his fans that want him to return, which is likely all of them, that he is “leaving because [he] wants to, not because [he] has to.” He’s leaving the exact way he has wanted to since high school. In his high school yearbook, Wade wrote, “I see myself retiring from the NBA to spend time with my wife and kids. Also retirining [sic] as one of the greatest to play the game.” Both of those goals are being accomplished at the end of this season.

Wade explained that he never actually wanted this farewell tour that the NBA and its fans have given him. Back in February 2018, Wade told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano, “I can’t set out and say I want a farewell tour like Kobe Bryant. That’s not who I am. I don’t really talk about it, but when the time comes [to retire], I’ll announce it in my own D-Wade fashion.”

Fortunately for Wade’s fans, he has been given his farewell tour, just like Bryant. Every night, Wade receives huge cheers from whatever city the Heat are playing in as he checks in during the first quarter. After games, “Father Prime” has routinely performed a swapping of his jersey with opposing players, including  James, Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, and Stephen Curry. Wade explains that this idea “took on a life of its own.” Players, including Delon Wright and Terry Rozier, have sought out the iconic star on their own in hopes to participate in a swap. While exiting the court, on his way to the locker room, Wade also stops before the tunnel to sign countless autographs for fans. Every fan brings their Wade gear in hopes that the Heat legend will sign it.

Through his basketball stardom, Wade has also created a brand off the court. He is known as a guy who is a great leader and mentor as well as a person who is involved in the community. Heat starting center Hassan Whiteside shared his feelings on Wade, saying, “He’s been a part of every Heat championship. I think people really look up to him and all the things he’s done for the organization.”

Whiteside continued with a story from this past summer. He describes an attempt at a team workout. “I said, ‘We are going to be on the beach at 7:40 in the morning.’ He was there at 7:30, first one there,” Whiteside recalls. “Just things like that. He and Rodney [McGruder] are the only ones that came – the only Heat players that joined me on the beach workouts. Just things like that, man. It’s just big.”

When asked about the mentorship he provides, Wade explained, “I’m an open book for any player in the league that wants to know anything about how I did it or why I did it – good or bad. Definitely for my teammates – 100 percent. I’m all about the next generation and I’ve been about it for a while.” Wade continued, “A lot of guys in this league, the younger guys, the new wave that’s coming in now… they reach out, they ask questions.”

Heat guard Justise Winslow describes the impact Wade has had on him. “Everything he’s been able to do for the community are things that I am trying to do or that I will do. He has the blueprint for it all and I’m just kind of following it.” When asked what he attempts to emulate the most, Winslow answered, “All the little things. I pick up how he greets people, how he can hold a conversation, how he gets his point across. The way he says his words.”

Toronto Raptors guard Delon Wright has a unique relationship with Wade. His brother, Dorell Wright, is a former teammate of Wade’s. Delon met Wade in “the sixth or seventh grade,” he recalls. “I used to watch him every game – literally every game. I would come home from school and my dad had the game on.”

Wade’s impact on the city of Miami as well as the rest of the world is huge. Winslow sums up Wade’s career in one line stating, “He’s a Hall of Famer on and off the court.”

 

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