The final chapter of Dwyane Wade’s career in a Miami Heat uniform didn’t begin with the divorce.
It started with a commitment to Pat Riley.
Riley wanted Wade to “change the narrative about his body and his injuries.” So he did.
Wade changed his personal trainer, lost 10 pounds — dropping under 220 pounds for the first time in years — and missed only seven regular-season games because of injury, leading the Heat to the final game of the Eastern Conference semifinals with an array of flashback performances that often made you forget he’s now 34 years old.
This story of course ended in tragedy. He’s headed to play in his hometown of Chicago because he and Riley ultimately couldn’t find a way to commit to each other on the future. It’s a sad ending for Heat fans.
But the ride — this last ride with No. 3 — was hardly one to gloss over.
Here are some memories to store away:
A STAR REBORN
So many times early in his career Wade dazzled fans with his ability to not only hit the big shot but also to make the spectacular athletic play that lifted everyone in the arena off their seats.
He did both against the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 4.
Midway through the first quarter, point guard Goran Dragic lobbed a ball toward the basket from halfcourt. Wade soared, grabbed it with his left hand and dunked it. Afterward, he laughed about it. But it was a testament to his improved health, the moment Miami fans really knew this wasn’t the old, often-injured Wade anymore.
At the end of regulation, Wade grabbed an inbounds pass at the three-point arc with 2.6 seconds left, blew past two defenders and delivered a tying left-handed layup at the buzzer. Miami won in overtime. Wade finished with 27 points, and a smile.
“He’s our Benjamin Button,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade after the game.
Actually, Wade preferred Father Prime. It was a new nickname given to him by Heat fans, who appreciated all of his flashback performances.
Wade hit plenty of big shots during the season. He also dished out a lot of great passes too.
Hassan Whiteside made 61 dunks off lob passes in the regular season and another seven in the playoffs. Nobody fed him more assists than Wade, who connected with him 92 times during the regular season — 27 more than Dragic.
Yes, Wade was 7 of 44 from three-point range in the regular season, an embarrassing career low of 16 percent.
But before he failed to make a three-pointer over the final four months of the regular season, he drilled a halfcourt buzzer beater at the half in Minnesota in November. He put his signature on it by blowing on both of his hands and sticking three fingers up.
Remember the December night the Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder exchanged the lead 38 times?
Wade not only scored more than Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who each had 25 points in Miami’s 97-95 thriller, but he also scored the decisive final four points of the game — a teardrop and then the winning free throws — en route to a game-high 28 points.
In January, after Dragic went down with a calf injury and Miami lost seven of nine during the longest stretch of road games in the season, Wade ramped up his game and earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors for the 19th time in his career.
He averaged 24 points, seven assists, 4.8 rebounds, two steals and nearly two blocks a game during a 4-0 stretch. The Heat ended up winning six of seven before he finally cooled off.
Then, in late February, when the 50-5 Golden State Warriors came to town, Wade posted a season-high 32 points with seven assists. Miami lost to the defending champions 118-112, but it somehow still felt like a victory.
“That’s why Steph Curry is who he is,” Wade said of the reigning league MVP, who finished with 42 points and six three-pointers. “He made two daggers, man. We couldn’t play any better than we did.”
Miami finished the final stretch of the regular season 16-8.
The Heat got some help at the end of the season to clinch the third seed in the Eastern Conference, but won its eighth division title with Wade in uniform.
Although his regular-season numbers by his career standards weren’t as good as previous seasons, Wade saved his best for last.
After dropping three consecutive games to fall behind 3-2 in the first-round series against the Charlotte Hornets, the Heat needed a hero in Game 6 on the road.
Wade scored 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and made his first two three-pointers of the year to outduel Kemba Walker, who poured in 37 points for the Hornets.
And, he shut up “Purple Shirt Guy.”
“At this point of my career I play for these moments,” Wade said then. “Tonight was one of those moments I wasn’t going to get back on that bus and wish I could have [made that extra effort].”
The Toronto Raptors ultimately ended the Heat’s season in seven games in Round 2.
Wade averaged 23.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and a steal in the series. He scored 38 points in a Game 3 loss in Miami, the same game the Heat lost Whiteside for the rest of the series.
The Heat was pretty much an underdog from there. But Wade gave them a fighting chance.
On the final day of the season, a deflating 27-point loss, Wade sat at his locker in Toronto as Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson fought back tears and frustration.
“How does it taste?” Wade asked the rookies of their first playoff run.
Both mumbled a few words.
“You’ll be all right,” Wade said as he turned away and smiled. “The experiences they learned in their first year, and with the group of guys that were around them, will help propel them for the rest of their careers. So, hopefully, it’s great things to come for those guys.”
Wade was supposed to be a part of those years — at least he thought he would be.
On Thursday in Orlando, the two kids he helped raise this season couldn’t stomach the thought of a future without him.
Now, the next time they see Father Prime he’ll be in a Bulls uniform.
Divorce is sad.