When he pulled up to AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday evening, it didn’t take long for Dwyane Wade to get the kind of reception he became accustomed to for 13 seasons.
Arena workers greeted him with applause, high fives and hugs before the Golden Oldies dancers saw him and began cheering loudly. Eventually, Wade found his way to the visitors’ locker room.
“It felt normal until I pulled up and I went to the opposite side of the building – I absolutely did not know where to go,” said Wade, who slept in his Miami home Wednesday night for the first time since leaving to begin camp with the Chicago Bulls in late September.
“It was just a little different walk into the arena. But it was great to walk in and see familiar faces right away.”
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Wade’s return to the city he called home for 13 seasons was filled with plenty of warm, inviting moments.
It started when he jogged out onto the court with his Chicago Bulls teammates to a standing ovation and then continued when stadium announcer Mike Baiamonte introduced him like he has for 13 years – even though now he’s playing for the other team.
Wade, 34, received a standing ovation after his initial introduction. Fans chanted “D-Wade!” Those cheers only got louder after he made his first basket – an eight-foot runner on his fourth shot of the game with 7:02 to play in the opening quarter -- and then grew to a fever pitch when during the first time out of the game a two-minute tribute video for Wade played on the big screens inside the arena.
When the montage was over, Wade walked out onto the court, arms raised and thanked the fans. Owner Micky Arison and team president Pat Riley stood and applauded in their usual seats courtside.
About an hour and a half before tip-off, Riley told a handful of local reporters he finally did send Wade the long, carefully crafted email he had been talking about since Wade first left in July. Riley, though, didn’t specify when exactly it was he sent it to Wade. Prior to Wade’s return Thursday, the two most influential people in Heat history had not spoken since Miami was eliminated in the playoffs last May.
“I hope he got it,” Riley said about 90 minutes before tip-off. “You know those guys changing phone numbers and emails…”
Wade said he did.
“I haven't spoken to Pat since I got into the building. I really haven't had time,” Wade said during his pregame press conference with the biggest media crowd the Heat has attracted all season. “I did look at my emails today. I got emails from him. I didn't have time to read them yet. I'll take time on the plane somewhere to read them.
“There's nothing to squash in my eyes,” Wade said of his relationship with Riley. “I've spoken to you guys and he's heard me very loud and clear. I'm just appreciative of Pat and what he helped me -- what we created together here in Miami.”
Wade said he was going to take a moment during the singing of the national anthem Thursday to stand at stare at some of those accomplishments. While Miami’s three championship banners hang for everyone in the arena to see, for 13 years they were at Wade’s back during the anthem. Thursday was the first time Wade said he was going to be able to stand in front of him.
“A lot of memories man,” Wade said. “Got some good memories man, got some bad ones too – some injuries. But all good from the standpoint how everything happened for me and my career here in my 13 years. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was spectacular and I couldn’t get on my knees and ask God for a better pro career and the start or the finish of it. I'm proud of it.”
Now, though, he’s proud to be playing back in the city where he grew up -- Chicago. Asked about it Thursday, Wade said he isn’t thinking about his future beyond this season (he signed a two-year, $47 million deal with the Bulls this summer with a player option for the 2017-18 season).
What Wade admits he does still think often about are his former Heat teammates. He said he watches every Heat game he can and said he’s oftened called his old friend and teammate Udonis Haslem after Miami’s losses to talk to him “about how they could have won those games.”
“I'm not a hateful individual at all. I root for their success,” Wade said of the Heat. “I want to see how Tyler [Johnson] does. I want to see how Justise [Winslow] is growing. I want to see Hassan [Whiteside] be Hassan, be a beast on the floor. I want to see him shut everybody up that [doesn’t] think he's going to continue to play the way he plays because he got paid. I want UD to get in and be old reliable UD. I root for those guys.”
Moments before tip-off Thursday, Wade walked over to the scorer’s table at midcourt and powdered his hands as he’s done for years. Haslem, meanwhile, stood nearby ready to blow the powder back Wade’s way.
“He gave us a great 13 years, three [championship] rings, Olympic gold medalist,” Haslem said of Wade before delivering his punchline with a big smile on his face. “Behind me, he’s probably the second best player in the history of the organization.”