Looking Back at a Hero’s Legacy
I’ll never forget when it happened. I was thirteen years old, sitting in my section 113 row 23 seat of the American Airlines Arena. I had spent all year watching a twenty-two year old rookie, from Robins Illinois, explode onto the NBA scene. The scrappy 2003-2004 Miami Heat that were written off by many to start the year, had miraculously reached the playoffs. It was the 4th quarter of game 1 of the first round series. Head Coach, Stan Van Gundy, called on the rookie shooting guard’s number for the final shot. It was impossible not to feel the pressure bubbling up in the air. This is when players build their legacy. This is where players establish their place in history. How would the acrobatic rookie who dazzled us with his flare for the dramatic all year long, respond on what was his biggest stage yet? With 1.3 seconds left in his first ever playoff game, Dwyane Wade, gave us his answer. D-Wade became just the fourth rookie, since the shot clock era began, to lead his team in scoring and assist average in the postseason. He finished his first year in the NBA with all-rookie first team honors and he successfully lead his franchise to the Eastern Conference Semi Finals. But it was on that April night vs the Hornets that Miami-Dade County, became Miami-Wade County.
While Dwyane Wade was preparing himself for year two of his NBA journey, Pat Riley was trying to shake up the league. He successfully orchestrated a trade with the Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal. Pairing Wade with one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players of all-time – and arguably the most dominant center to ever play the game – further accelerated his growth into superstardom. Miami instantly became legitimate threats in the Eastern Conference. To the national media, the Miami Heat were fueled by Diesel Power. But it was really D-Wade’s FLASHy play and continued ascension that made us special.
After coming up just short the previous year, the Miami Heat, had finally reached the NBA Finals for the first time in their franchise history. But the 2006 Finals didn’t start out great for Miami. Down 0-2 vs the Dallas Mavericks, the Heat were returning to the American Airlines Arena (The AAA) to defend their home-court. D-Wade refused to come up just short again, especially in front of the hometown fans. His 42 point performance in game three, 36 points in game four, and 43 points in game five were “Michael Jordanesque”. And on June 20, 2006, after an absurd 36 point performance – which included 21 trips to the free-throw line- Dwyane secured the final rebound, threw the ball in the air out of pure joy, and was an NBA Champion. His beastly 34.7 points per game finals performance made him the obvious Finals MVP and very loudly proclaimed to the world – Dwyane Wade
Jones has arrived!
In my eyes, it could have ended right there. Dwyane Wade could have done nothing more for this city and gone down as a Miami legend. He made the Miami Heat a championship organization. In just his third season as an NBA professional, he had already given me enough awe-inspiring memories that some wait a lifetime for. Little did I know the best was yet to come. He continued to carry the franchise after Shaq complained and weaseled his way to Phoenix. He continued to sacrifice his dollars to keep a competitive team – and fellow Miami LEGEND Udonis Haslem – on the court alongside him. He continued to sacrifice his body. And he continued to solidify that the AAA was in fact his house. But in the summer of 2010, he brought in some roommates.
Within seconds of rising from the smoke in a WWE-style welcome party; the team that I love, the city that I love, and the player that I love, were considered the center of the basketball universe. Wade was only 28, still in his prime. Still one of the top 5 best players in the NBA! He held the keys to the franchise. Yet he knew in order for the Big 3 experiment to reach its full potential, he’d have to hand the keys over to LeBron. His ultimate sacrifice.
The Miami Heat Big 3 Era is a 30 for 30 ESPN Documentary waiting to happen. If you didn’t live in Miami, then you’d most likely be seething with anger and envy when talking about The Heatles. “How can three of the top 10/15 players in the NBA – IN THEIR PRIME- work together on the court?”,“Collusion!”, “Miami fans don’t deserve this team.” the nation cried. Honestly, we didn’t
give a flying fuck care what anybody outside of the 305 thought. Can’t spell HEAT without the word HATE we’d say. The instant dislike for our team just made us more passionate. We thrived on the us-against-the world mentality. Constantly defending our fandom and our players. Every single game mattered. The crazy heroin like highs of a win. The devastating addiction rock-bottom-like lows of a loss. I was a Miami Heat junkie and I couldn’t scratch my itch hard enough. I loved it! Four straight NBA Finals appearances. 2 MVP seasons from LeBron James, a Harlem Shake video, Ray Allen’s Game 6 season-saving-get-those- fucking-ropes-out-of-here three-pointer, an epic LeBronicha Rant, Back-to-back Championships, two parades down Biscayne Boulevard, and countless more memories that only Heat fans can appreciate. It was the greatest 4 years of my sports life and I wouldn’t give it back for anything. And it was all thanks to Dwyane Wade!
When LeBron James fled Miami, returning to infamous scumb of the earth billionaire Dan Gilbert to run the Cleveland Cavaliers organization, it was a shocking surprise. In an instant it felt like we were abruptly awoken from our perfect dream. It was too soon to pull the plug on what was the most interesting and most-hated sports teams of all time. But it’s a different era of the NBA. An era where the players control the power, and they know it. An era of Power Moves. As America applauded LeBron’s exceptional PR-spun return to Cleveland, Miami was teetering on the edge of extinction similar to that of the dinosaurs. LeBron’s return to the Cavaliers could have been our big bang. It could have been the end of the Heat’s basketball relevance as we all know it. But just like he did in his very first playoff game, just like he did in the 2006 NBA finals, and just like he did in the summer of 2010; Dwyane Wade would not let Miami go out like this. He would not let Wade County be forgotten. He re-signed with the Miami Heat. Reaffirming his commitment to the city and a fan base that showered him with unconditional love from the moment David Stern said “With the 5th pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the Miami Heat select Dwyane Wade from Marquette University”. No matter who was staying or who was going, Miami would always have a chance and be relevant because we still had #3 wearing our jersey.
An Open Letter To Dwyane Wade
Dear Dwyane: Yesterday, the longest relationship of my life ended. I’m not ashamed to admit that I got emotional. I was a kid when you arrived in Miami. I was too young to watch Dan Marino throw perfect TDs. The Marlins never gave me a chance to attach my allegiance to a player. He’d be traded to the Mets or the Padres for a prospect to be named later by the time we could figure out what position he played. I didn’t know the feeling of having a childhood sports hero. Not until you put on that #3 Heat jersey for the first time. I’m 26 now. I’ve been an adult by all accounts for a few years. But it wasn’t until it sank in that my hero was going to wear a different jersey, that I felt like my childhood had ended. For the past 13 years, I’ve had the same D-Wade posters hanging on my bedroom wall. Last night I was wearing my D-Wade “This is my house!” shirt in support of solidarity. I was positive and hopeful that my favorite team wouldn’t divorce my favorite player. It wasn’t over I thought. The Miami Heat and Dwyane Wade won’t force me to choose sides. Then the Woj Bomb was set off, my worst fear happened: After 13 magical years, Dwyane Wade was leaving town. And in an instant, I was living in the past. Literally wearing the end of an era on my body. I was in shock. Myself and a few friends got together to remember everything you’ve given us. It felt like a death in the family and we were giving our eulogies at the funeral.
I am not – I repeat NOT – mad at you Dwyane!! This was about more than money. This was about respect. Respect you earned and deserved. I could drive myself crazy for hours, trying to figure out who to be mad at or where it went wrong. But I did enough of that last night. I’d rather focus on the positive.
I could list all of your career accomplishments -12x all-star, 3x Champion, Finals MVP, Most blocks ever by a guard, First team all NBA, FUTURE 1ST BALLOT HALL OF FAMER, etc – but it was how you carried yourself on the court and how you connected with this community off the court, that made you my hero. I just want to say THANK-YOU Dwyane Wade! It was an absolute honor and pleasure to watch/attend every game you’ve played for the last 13 years. To be able to say I watched the 3rd best shooting guard off all time (behind only MJ and Kobe) transform a football fan-base into a legit basketball town. You filled my life with countless memories which I could never repay you for. You gave this city a civic-pride no other athlete has been able to do. You gave Miami, WHITE HOT fever. You made me a sports fan. This is not good-bye. I’ll be at the arena, section 113 row 23, to give you the standing ovation you deserve when you return as a Bull. And in the end, you’re number will be retired and hanging in the rafters, forever. You’re statue will be built and outside the arena, forever. The AAA will continue to be your house, forever. You’ll still be my favorite player, forever. And it will still be Wade County, now and forever!
There’s a popular phrase – Don’t cry because its over, smile because it happened.
I may have shed a tear, but I’ll never stop smiling.