I never really thought Dwyane Wade would leave Miami. The problem ultimately turned out to be that Micky Arison and Pat Riley thought that too.
Wade is joining the Chicago Bulls, and he’s doing it for more money: a reported $47.5 million two-year deal, compared with the Heat’s $41.5 million two-year offer, the most they could offer with their cap situation. But this was not about money (Florida’s lack of state income tax basically equalizes the two offers, and besides, the Nuggets were willing to pay $52 million). Or, at least, the money this is about is already long gone.
It’s business, they say of contract negotiations, nothing personal. But anyone who tells you business isn’t personal is lying.
Wade, the only connecting thread between the Heat’s three championships, the player who made Miami the free agent destination and thus the superpower in the East, has never been the highest paid player on his own team. Time after time, he has left money and job security on the table in order to let the front office bring in the best players.
- In 2010, Wade took $15 million less than the max so the team could afford to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
- In 2014, he literally took a pay cut: opting out of his deal and signing for $11 million less so Miami could re-sign Bosh.
- In 2015, seeking a three-year deal, Wade settled for one year to give Miami the flexibility to rebuild.
Time and again, Wade sacrificed for his employers, and he surely must have wondered when he was going to get his. 2016 proved to be the Heat’s last chance. At age 34, nowhere near the superstar he was but still a good, useful player, Wade wanted his payback. He wanted money, yes, but he wanted security: a three-year deal, more than a player of his age, injury history, and abilities would warrant in a vacuum. But this is not a vacuum. This is Dwyane Wade, the face of the franchise, seeking a relative pittance in compensation for everything he’s given up with the expectation that the Heat would someday take care of him like he’s taken care of them.
Miami would not budge from their two-year offer. It’s just business, the Heat might have said, or at least thought. You don’t give a player like this three years.
And that was the end of Wade’s hope that the Heat would ever do anything other than take him, and his self-sacrificing loyalty, for granted.
In his open letter to Miami, Wade said very little about his decision to leave beyond “I feel I have made the right choice for myself and my family.” That was a long time coming. Owner Micky Arison responded to the news of Wade’s departure with a single tweet:
And then there’s Pat Riley, the hard-assed negotiator, the smooth talker who has sold so many players on taking less by making who-knows-what promises, and manages to forever avoid those IOUs coming due.
Riley was too raw to talk about it Wednesday night, but I asked him if he wanted to say anything about how he was feeling, and this is what he wrote by text:
“SADDDDDDD!!!! SO saddddddd! I will never forget the sixth game in Dallas in 2006. DW rebounded the ball, and threw it to the heavens and the Heat universe was perfect for that moment. Our first world championship. Our universe is not perfect today. It will be fraught with anger, judgment, blame instead of THANK YOU!!! Ten years ago. Ten years older. Ten years wiser. Ten years changed. All of us. Dwyane had a choice, and he made it. He went home. Bad, bad summer for us. But there will be another 10 years, and it will be someone or something else in 2026. Move on with no blood or tears. Just thanks. I truly loved Dwyane, but families grow, change and get on with another life. He will always be a part of us. ALWAYS! And no more bruises and enough fighting. Let’s just fly above it if we can and never forget. I feel his pain and pride for what pushed him over the ledge. Been there. Forever, for always, your coach I will be. FOREVER!”
Well, yes, it’s very “saddddddd.” But it was entirely preventable, every summer for the last six years.