Star Among All-Stars: Relishing One Last Dance with Dwyane Wade
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — I remember it like yesterday, yet it feels like a lifetime ago.
A message from a close friend directly following an Opening Night loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 28, 2003, had me perplexed, yet intrigued. The message read: “Dwyane Wade is already our best player.”
At that moment, I hesitated, thinking to myself, “How can this rookie already be better than our prized free-agent signing Lamar Odom?”
This may have been the first moment Dwyane Wade challenged me to think bigger as a Miami Heat fan, and I didn’t even know it was happening.
By May of the 2003-04 season, Wade was hitting game winners in his first playoff game, putting Jermaine O’Neal on posters, and it was clear that this player was not like the rest of them.
You could tell early on that he was not the next Tim Hardaway or Eddie Jones. No disrespect to those guys. They are forever loved and admired for their Heat tenures.
But, Dwyane? Dwyane was different.
I will never forget the time in 2005 when I overheard Alonzo Mourning say to a friend, “You should see the stuff he does in practice. Dwyane is on a whole different level.” And that was before the 2006 NBA Finals had even taken place.
The rest is history – historic in every sense of the word over these past 16 seasons. Three Championships and three million moments later, Wade’s last All-Star Game is behind us with 26 games to follow before this one last dance comes to an end.
The 2019 All-Star Weekend in Charlotte reinforced some things to me that had seemingly gotten lost following a disappointing NBA Trade Deadline that would have normally punctuated a relatively nondescript season thus far.
But be clear, this season is about something much bigger than basketball: There will never, EVER be another Dwyane Wade.
Yeah, we say we know it, but have we fully realized what we have just witnessed these last 16 years? What a magical ride this all has been? Every bit of it? Even the dark times? It’s all been so much fun. And isn’t that why we are here? For these moments. To feel these feels.
Top-three shooting guard ever, top-five guard period, and part of one of the greatest duos that will ever play the game of basketball.
The Bron/Dwade stuff really is legendary. So many once in a lifetime things happen that we take for granted— Spencer Dinwiddie (@SDinwiddie_25) February 18, 2019
In hip-hop, it’s often said that people love the greatest emcees much more after they are gone rather than while they are here. Although hip-hop and hoops are forever connected, this rule did not cross over to the court when it comes to Flash and his basketball career.
Never mind being a legend to his fans, Wade is a legend to his peers and a basketball icon, right here, right now.
In today’s game, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell is one current player who is maybe most often compared to Wade.
At a private #OneLastDance dinner on Tuesday night in Utah, Donovan Mitchell gifted Dwyane Wade with a rocking chair.— Tzvi Twersky (@TTwersky) December 12, 2018
Both men, more than players, are standup individuals and excellent role models. Oh, and funny as hell. pic.twitter.com/NyaZPO8jnr
Mitchell, who was among the group of current NBA players, legends, and members of the Miami Heat organization that gathered for a surprise One Last Dance celebratory dinner for Wade on Feb. 14, found it hard to watch one of his role models near retirement.
“It was just sad for me,” Mitchell said. “Growing up, you watch him. They showed a video, [and] I didn’t realize how many moments, how many plays [where I thought to myself], ‘I do that.’
I never realized how close, how similar we are as players,” said Mitchell when asked about Wade’s influence, which he admits has gone far beyond the hardwood.
“I’ve always gone to him for advice, for whatever it is. Just asking him about life in this league,” he said.
Make no mistake, though, the young stars of today marvel equally at Wade’s on-court accomplishments.
“He won a championship in this third season,” Mitchell said. “That’s extremely impressive. That’s always been something I’ve wanted to ask him about. As a young player in this league, he got the respect from guys like Shaq. That’s impressive and hard to do as a young guy.”
For others, they simply marveled at some of the jaw-dropping plays Wade has made over the years.
“He has so many,” said Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who initially found it difficult to choose just one top Wade moment. “The one where [the Miami Heat] played against the Cavs [in 2018], and LeBron [James] got his shot blocked. And then the one where [Wade] came back and dunked on [Anderson] Varejeo. That’s how you do it. That’s pretty good. Those are pretty good moments for him.”
The common thread from everyone at All-Star Weekend was that Wade, despite coming off the bench, is still a transcendent talent even if he can’t quite jump as high or run as fast as he used to.
“This being his last All-Star game is sad to see him go, but I think he will go out with a bang this year,” Mitchell said.
Wade’s career has been full of so many epic moments. No one will be surprised if Wade finds a way to put an unforgettable exclamation point on his illustrious career later this season, as Mitchell suggests.
No matter how the season ends, Wade spoke as if he is genuinely thrilled and fully present to the moment as he enjoys the ride this final season has provided.
“It’s tough to process because I didn’t envision this one,” Wade said at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina while taking part in the 12th NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service. “I dreamed about a lot of things, but this one, I didn’t envision.
Just the whole process so far, the whole last dance, it’s been special to me because it’s been mine,” he said. “It’s been personalized as mine. I appreciate everyone that’s been a part of it. And I know it’s not over, and there’s still some time to go, but it’s been friggin’ awesome man.”
Wade exudes the charisma of a man at peace with his decision to step away from playing the game he loves.
“Everybody has their own vision, their own path of how or when they walk away from the game,” Wade said. “But you can’t always control it. And I knock on wood that I stay healthy, and I can walk away the way I started this season. But that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I personally never wanted to walk away from the game when I absolutely had nothing left. I wanted to walk away when I felt it was time for me to walk away.”
Hall of Famer Grant Hill summed it up perfectly, “He’s just been a remarkable player, one of the greatest to ever do it. I like that he’s sort of embracing it.”
At the One Last Dance Celebratory All-Star Dinner, Wade was greeted by speeches from Pat Riley, Mitchell, Caron Butler, Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and others.
“There was a great spirit in the building, great appreciation, and recognition for all that he’s done,” Hill said at the NBA Hall of Fame press conference.
Appreciation. This should be the theme for the remaining 26 games.
This Heat season has been underwhelming in a variety of ways, whether it be team record, roster construction, salary cap issues, or rotational question marks. I don’t think it is a stretch to say there are several elements to this Heat season that have proven challenging to find meaningful.
Except once again, the guy who arrived and finally helped the organization reach the mountain top, who helped them become more than just meaningful, but become historically meaningful.
In the end, this season is absolutely meaningful. Hell, it means everything if you really think about it.
It’s our responsibility to recognize when the game is being transcended right in front of our eyes.
They say you can miss the miraculous view of the forest, distracting yourself by staring at the trees. That feels like a valuable metaphor for Heat fans as we approach the final 26 games of Wade’s career. Maybe six or seven extra games if the Heat can clinch postseason berth.
“Obviously the goal is always to make the playoffs,” Wade said. “We got some work to do [to make the playoffs], but I’m also going to enjoy it. You know whatever happens in this season, for me, it’s a success. And that’s my approach.”
A good bit of advice courtesy of Wade on how to approach this final stretch.
Enjoy it. Take that advice from Dwyane. I mean, has he ever steered you wrong before?
“The league will be different without his presence,” Hill said when asked about the significance of Wade’s retirement.
And no one will be feeling that difference like we will, so make these moments count as we watch the greatest player in Heat history ride off into the sunset.
Here’s to the final steps of Wade’s one last dance being filled with euro steps “ova they head.” All love and no opposite No. 3. Let the image of him standing on the scoreboard declaring the Triple A his house be the statue.
“I got 26 regular-season basketball games in my life,” Wade said at his celebratory dinner. “And I’m going to go out shooting.”