Dwyane Wade might never step foot on a court again as an active NBA player.
After losing Game 5 of the Miami HEAT’s first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, ending Wade’s season that saw him return to the team that drafted him back in 2003, the question of Wade’s future came quick and to the point.
But, being the pro that Father Prime is, he dodged that question the way he used to dodge defenders in the lane.
“This is Philly, and I love Philly,” Wade said. “But there ain’t gonna be no breaking news here in Philly, I’m sorry. I appreciate y’all concerning, but we’ll worry about that later.”
While fans of the sport may never get a chance to see Wade out on the court again, it’s important to remember what he was able to accomplish throughout a career that arguably places him in the conversation as a top-5 shooting guard of all-time.
Wade, should he choose to hang up the sneakers, would leave a 12-time All-Star selection, 8-time All-NBA selection, 3-time Finals champion and 2006 Finals MVP award legacy behind. Without getting cute, that’s a surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame resume.
For the culmination of Wade’s accomplishments though, it was hard to remember some of those moments during this past season. Wade started his year in Cleveland with his good friend LeBron James after a homecoming season in Chicago last year. With thoughts and aspirations of potentially capturing another title together, this time on LeBron’s turf, it appeared to the start be a storybook ending to Wade’s career.
However, that would not be so.
The Cavaliers were underwhelming, to say the least, in the first half of the season, and that ultimately led to a nearly complete roster overhaul. One of the coinciding moves landed Wade back in the city where he’s revered to the level that LeBron experiences in Cleveland or the love Kobe Bryant feels in Los Angeles. Miami is Wade’s town.
Wade’s return wouldn’t bring about the same guy that left, though. He’s no longer the player who reached superhuman levels to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals. He’s not the same guy that helped orchestrate the two-time championship HEAT teams that featured LeBron and Chris Bosh. This time, he would be returning as an NBA legend past his prime, just looking to contribute the best way he could.
And for some stars in the twilight of their respective careers, that isn’t such an easy pill to swallow. But we’ve come to know Wade better than that.
“He knew what the deal was,” HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We were already kind of set with our rotation. It was one of the first things he said, ‘Hey I don’t want to disrupt anything. I’ll come off the bench, I’ll play with the second unit, we’ll make this work. Don’t worry about me.’ That’s awesome. There’s probably not a lot of Hall of Fame Players at his age that would be willing to do that.”
Spoelstra knows the journey Wade’s career has been. He’s been alongside the shooting guard for nearly the entirety of it.
The ride of Wade’s career resembles that of many Hall of Fame players: a meteoric rise, followed by a sustained level of greatness, capped off by a downward trajectory into inevitable retirement. It sounds harsh at the end, but it’s reality. And few players handle the fall as graciously as Wade has.
“I coached him as a leading scorer in this league,” Spoelstra said. “As a champion in this league where he had to take a secondary role to the best player in the league, and I’ve had to coach him now in this role, where I don’t think either one of us would have ever imagined Wade would be coming off the bench.”
The evolution of a Hall of Fame career taking the form of 12 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists on subpar shooting would be cringeworthy if they insisted on forcing themselves into a starting lineup. Especially in a city like Miami with a player like Wade, where he may hold enough merit to pull off something of that nature.
But that’s not his way, and Spoelstra mentioned the level of humility and character Wade displayed by accepting the role he knew would best benefit his team moving forward. Even if everyone in the locker room knew this was the man who had a south Florida county renamed in his honor.
“He said it in one our first team meetings, he was grateful for all the guys to open up their arms to welcome him back to this team,” Spoelstra said. “The guys were saying, this is your franchise.”
For Game 2 in the first round of the playoffs, Miami’s only win in five games, it was Wade’s franchise once again when he scored 28 points in 25 minutes to steal a road victory against the Sixers.
When the series finally ended on Tuesday night, Wade and the Sixers’ star center, Joel Embiid, embraced each other on the court.
“I just had to pay my respect because I wasn’t sure if this was his last year or not,” Embiid said. “I was just trying to thank him for what he’s done for the game. He has done an amazing job, and he’s gonna be a Hall of Famer.”
Whether or not Wade calls it a career this summer is still up in the air, but the manner in which he will leave the game, whenever that decision is final, speaks to the grace and character Wade has carried himself since day one. That in itself is worthy of a Hall of Fame nod.
“He’s handled all of these roles with incredible class and dignity,” Spoelstra said. “He could play this role forever. I don’t know if he will choose to do that, but it also again speaks to his character and humility to take on a role like this.”
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