When Evan Proctor moved from Chicago to South Florida in 2003, the Dwyane Wade Era in Miami was in its infancy.
For 13 years, Proctor watched as Wade became a 12-time All-Star and the Heat won three NBA championships and reached five Eastern Conference finals behind him.
Now, Proctor’s watching as Wade joins the Chicago Bulls after agreeing to a two-year, $47.5 million contract.
Although Proctor said he has accepted that Wade is leaving, he added it’s still heartbreaking that the Heat is losing the face of its franchise.
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“It feels like the Heat as an organization failed him,” the 26-year-old said Friday outside AmericanAirlines Arena after putting on a freshly bought Wade jersey. “For everything he’s done for the team, all things considered, it’s just not right.”
He wasn’t alone in that sentiment.
As hundreds of fans swept through the arena’s Heat store Friday as the team honored Wade and sold Wade merchandise for $13, most had the same thought: The Heat’s front office in general, and president Pat Riley in particular, did not prioritize Wade enough.
“It felt like empty news,” Raffi Sarmiento, 20, said. “It emptied out the Heat’s spirit.”
The early hours inside the arena’s store were bedlam Friday as fans searched for all the Wade memorabilia they could buy.
But outside, all was calm.
As a 15-minute video of Wade’s highlights played on the arena’s 3,400-square-foot video board, fans reminisced on Wade’s career in Miami one more time and took pictures. The video was broken into 13 segments. All of them ended with the words “Thank you, Dwyane” in white text on a black backdrop.
Barbara Venzen, 46, called Wade’s decision to leave bittersweet.
“Even though I’m disappointed,” she said, “I can accept the 13 wonderful years he gave not just the fans but the community.”
A steady flow of about 150 to 200 people weaved in and out of the store early Friday, and customers stood in line for up to 30 minutes at peak traffic. By noon, the bulk of the store’s Wade jerseys — normally priced at $110 for adult sizes and $75 for youth — had already been sold, leaving customers scrambling to find any that slipped through the cracks or settle for a T-shirt or other memorabilia.
“Got a Wade jersey for sale,” a passerby who left the store around 11:30 said to about a dozen people watching the video board outside. “Forty bucks.”
Jorge Hernandez, who left the store with a slew of Wade memorabilia ranging from T-shirts to dolls and keychains, said he has gone with his wife and daughters — ages 19 and 9 — to as many Heat games as possible. He said his youngest daughter, who has only seen Wade play for the Heat, still hasn’t accepted the fact that he’s leaving.
“He’ll be back,” Hernandez said she keeps telling him.
Wade’s departure has left fans to wonder who will become the next face of the franchise.
Some think it will be center Hassan Whiteside, who the Heat signed to a four-year, $98 million max contract and whose jersey was on full display in the center of the store Friday.
Some think it will be Justise Winslow, the Heat’s 2015 first-round pick who started eight games last season.
Others think it’s too early to tell, taking a wait-and-see approach until a player steps up.
Hernandez, 38, said he thinks next season will be a rebuilding year.
From there, he said, it’ll be up to Riley to determine whether the Heat return to being a championship contender or falls flat.
“Does he still have it,” Hernandez said, “or is he too old school?”
Regardless of what happens, Proctor said he will still support the Heat as it transitions to a Wade-less era.
“I’m a Heat fan until the day I die,” Proctor said. “The show must go on.”