As the basketball world was still reeling from Kevin Durant’s announcement, we were blindsided by Dwyane Wade’s decision to return home. By home, I mean Chicago, Illinois, where he was born and raised, and grew up a Chicago Bulls fan. His decision was followed by a whirlwind of reasons “why”, and it all made sense. After thirteen seasons in Miami,Wade needed a fresh start with a franchise that would value him, both monetarily and as a veteran.
When Wade was drafted by Miami in 2003, no one could have predicted how much of an impact he would have on the entire city. Wade had become a standout at Marquette, where he led the Golden Eagles to the Final Four, just months before the draft. He averaged 19 points per game and a field goal percentage slightly under 50 percent in 65 games. Then in June, he was selected fifth overall after Lebron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh, giving him something to prove to the league and to his new Miami fans. The Heat hit their stride in the late 90s as Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway took over. The duo was largely responsible for their consecutive playoff runs, but the team couldn’t advance past Michael Jordan’s legendary Bulls or the defensive-minded New York Knicks. The turn of the century meant a new beginning and the Heat’s promising new shooting guard delivered.
2006, the year of the Heat’s first title in the franchise’s history, marked the beginning of a new era in Miami sports. Football continued to reign supreme following Dan Marino’s 2000 retirement, but the Dolphins struggled with the departure of Nick Saban (current coach of Alabama). Furthermore, the University of Miami’s football team was no longer in its prime following on-field brawls and the tragic death of player Bryan Pata. However, Wade’s dazzling on-court dominance kept the city abuzz. The 12x NBA All-Star transformed the city’s culture from one that revolved around football to one that forced Miami fans to fully embrace basketball again. As such, it wasn’t long before South Florida and Miami-Dade County became affectionately known as “Miami-Wade County,” in honor of the 3x NBA champion.
Much of the team’s success also has to do with Pat Riley, former head coach and current president. The Hall of Famer’s coaching highlights include five championship teams (4 LA Lakers, 1 Miami Heat), three Coach of the Year awards (1 LA Lakers, 2 NY Knicks), and being named in the top 10 coaches in NBA history. However, his winning legacy as the team’s president and his tough as nails reputation, have led to him making some questionable personnel decisions.
As the Washington Post wrote, “In Miami, it’s Pat Riley’s way or the highway. Dwyane Wade chose the latter.” The same rings true with other former high profile Heat players, such as Shaquille O’Neal and Lebron James. In 2008, Shaq was traded to Phoenix after mounting tension with Riley and recurring knee problems. Despite the bad blood between the two, however, Riley remained considerate in guaranteeing the veteran went to a contending team. In James’s case, when he became a free agent in 2014, naturally, every team was interested. However, James wanted something from Miami that Riley wouldn’t initially allow- presidential power. James wanted a say in trades and free agency decisions, but Riley hesitated to grant his wishes. Once Cleveland offered that and more to the Akron native, giving the prodigal son an opportunity to return home and make good on a promise to deliver a championship to its fans, the deal was done. One-third of the “Big 3,” was gone.
Without James, Miami missed the playoffs. But this season, the team worked its way back to becoming an Eastern Conference playoff contender behind Riley’s offseason acquisitions and Wade’s 19 points and 4.6 assists per game. While Wade remained the most consistent Heat asset the organization repeatedly made him feel expendable when it counted most.
During the past couple of weeks, Wade admitted he felt “underappreciated” and “unwanted” by Heat brass. This came after the mind-blowing fact that Wade had never been the highest-paid Heat player in his 13-year career, was revealed. An annual breakdown of his salary compared to those of O’Neal, James, and Bosh proves that Wade was the ultimate team player and willing to sacrifice money in exchange for a ring- or three. This season, the highest offer Miami made to Wade was 2-years, $40 million, $10 million short of what Wade was seeking. The offer came after the 34-year-old showed positive signs of rebounding from countless knee injuries that have plagued him over the years. However, debilitating injuries on an aging superstar can present high-risk opportunities for investors. Also, salary cap constraints and once again prioritizing other players before Wade, contributed to the Heat’s unwillingness to budge. Miami was an active player in the Kevin Durant Sweepstakes, and successfully banked on re-signing center Hassan Whiteside, 27, to a maximum deal worth four-years and $98 million. After years of mistreatment, Wade had all of the motivation needed to explore other, more attractive options. He eventually chose the team that influenced his hoop dreams as a child and showed him the money – a two-year, $48 million deal with the Chicago Bulls.
Wade’s records with Miami will remain in tact for years to come, but his career isn’t over yet. His new chapter is just beginning in Chicago and it is something that every basketball fan should be eager to watch for the next two years and maybe even beyond.
Kayla Solomon is a new contributor to AllSportsEverything.com. She attends Temple University for nine months out of the year, but will be here in New York all summer! Follow Kayla on Twitter at @dontKAYme, Instagram at @kayla_nyree. Also, find her writing weekly on blackaphillyated.com and on her personal blog, dearfuturekay.wordpress.com.
photo via instagram.com/cp3