And so we come to Dwyane Wade’s final game. Wednesday night’s showdown in Brooklyn will mean nothing to the Heat but everything to Miami. After the Pistons beat the Grizzlies on Tuesday, the Heat were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, victims of a cold streak in April that snuffed out any hopes of seeing one last Wade moment in the postseason.
But that doesn’t matter. The Heat’s season was always going to end in a heartbreak of some sort. Miami wasn’t a title contender; had they nabbed the eighth seed and made the playoffs, they would’ve won only the right to get pulverized by the Bucks in the first round. Sure, Wade making the playoffs one last time would’ve given him a chance to uncork another signature game, like the one against an over-powering Celtics team in 2009 or the one against a scrappy Hornets squad in 2016. But maybe it’s better that his last great performance ever (most likely) happened on Tuesday at home in Miami.
Against a clearly checked-out Sixers team (Philly is locked into the 3-seed, and therefore rested several key players), Wade had a flashback night on Tuesday: 30 points on 10-of-23 shooting, leading all scorers in a game Miami had to win to have any hope of staying alive:
As Miami fans’ raucous (and occasionally cheeky) chants resounded through the arena, Wade ran through some of his greatest hits: his Euro steps, his jerky lay-ups, his trademark turn-around post jumper. Every basket inspired an eruption from a Miami crowd that came to worship at the altar of Wade one last time. In turn, Wade delivered a sermon every bit as dramatic and impassioned as the congregation could’ve hoped for.
In the end, the game proved irrelevant for Miami’s playoff hopes. And so, after a jersey-swapping retirement tour throughout the league all season long, Dwyane Wade’s 16-year career will finally come to an end on Wednesday night.
From almost the moment the Heat selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft, Wade has been one of the most exciting players the league had ever seen. The playing style of his youth was terrifying, defined by its reckless abandon and characterized by barreling drives into the lane and dunks over much larger men, including an iconic posterization of Anderson Varejao:
The 2005 NBA Playoffs were Wade’s true coming-out party, during which he almost led an overmatched Miami team over eventual finalists, Detroit. He averaged 25.8/4.5/4.3 in that series, an auspicious sign of the things he could achieve should he receive a bit more help; his main support was Shaquille O’Neal, but he was hobbled in the Pistons series. With Shaq healthy in the 2006 playoffs, the duo powered the Heat to an (infamously controversial) NBA title over the Mavericks, thanks mostly to Wade’s heroics in the Finals that were immediately recognized as one of the best individual performances ever:
Things were relatively quiet in Miami in subsequent years, until Wade’s friend and fellow superstar LeBron James came to town in 2010. Upon James’s arrival, Wade gladly relegated himself to second wheel-status, and in turn transitioned his game from one based on pure athleticism to one that employed more old-man craftiness. He was the only Heat player to show up during the 2011 Finals against the Mavericks, and his two-man game with LeBron obliterated the Pacers in Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals—a game and a series that could have ruined everything for the impossibly hyped Big Three before they’d won a single title:
The back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013 weren’t Wade’s accomplishments, per se. Those were mainly LeBron’s doing, and the lasting image of that run is Ray Allen’s three-pointer against the Spurs in 2013.
Wade might’ve been the second banana on the banana boat, but Heat fans never stopped loving him the most. LeBron is the best player to ever don a Heat uniform, but Wade is the most beloved, the one who was there for the ups and the downs, the one who shared an entire career’s worth of indelible memories with his consistent, viscerally thrilling excellence and, in doing so, forged unbreakable bonds between himself and the fans.
Though Wade left for his hometown of Chicago in 2016 after a spat with Pat Riley, it was always the feeling in Miami that he would return for his swan song, and so it proved to be when he was traded back to Miami in 2018. His return didn’t guarantee championship contention in Miami; he was too old by then, and the Heat too weirdly constructed, but that didn’t matter. Wade had already accomplished more than anyone could have ever hoped for in a Heat uniform. All that mattered was that Miami’s favorite son had returned.
In Miami, Dwyane Wade is the alpha and the omega. He is a hero. He is a three-time champion. He is Wade County. He, along with partner-in-crime Udonis Haslem, were the impetus for the creation of the term Heat Lifer, a title more valuable than any MVP award or even any championship trophy. He is proof that, though the city gets a lot of (oftentimes rightful) shit for being a bad sports town, Miami can love its sports icons with an unreserved intensity that matches any other town’s love for theirs.
Miami adopted Wade as one of its own, and Wade in turn adopted Miami as his home, diving into the community and giving the city its first sports legend since Dan Marino. The beer commercial that went viral on Tuesday was schlocky and manipulative, and even worse, it appropriated a very real sentiment—Wade’s deeper-than-basketball connection to Miami—in service of shilling a soulless company’s swill. Wade’s relationship to Miami and Miami’s to Wade is above that. Wade means so much to Miami not only because of what he did as a member of the Heat, but also because of what he did as a person—the way he truly seemed to care about the city, from his charities and community service efforts to his visit with survivors of the Parkland shooting to the countless moments cameras weren’t around to catch.
Even if Wade had never won a single title, he’d always be loved in Miami for everything he gave Miamians on and off the court. That he also happened to be one of the best NBA players of all time (and arguably the third-best shooting guard ever, behind only Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant) was just the cherry on top. As his career on the court comes to an end, not with one last title or even one last postseason showcase, Wade can rest easy knowing the impact he’s made on the city and its residents will never go away.