So cruel sometimes, the emotions business. Dwyane Wade leaves Miami now, all wrong, and the people who care deeply, too deeply, unreasonably deeply, will argue and yell about where the blame should go for that. It will be passionate and hurt and angry, but then that will exhaust itself, and you know what will take its place? Sadness. Deep, awful, empty, dark sadness that feels a lot like a sickness in the bones. Sports, man.
Heat fans. Pat Riley. Wade himself. They will all feel this sadness and mourn how they botched the ending, and they will remember the best times with nostalgia and stinging eyes, and it’ll leave them hollowed out like all of the best relationships fresh from breakup. Those were good times, man. So, so good. It might have been the right time for all of them to move on, given how they felt about each other at the end, but it can be hard to see clearly through the rage and grief and tears of the present. It was a really great and healthy relationship … right up until it wasn’t.
How mad and wounded and disrespected and taken for granted and distrustful must you feel to do what Wade just did?
To throw away your blessed relationship with a city and the only professional workplace you’ve ever known for an offer that wasn’t much better than Miami’s?
Wade is the most beloved athlete South Florida has ever had, its greatest champion. He brought Shaquille O’Neal his last championship as a center, and Riley his last championship as a coach. He owns more rings than the Dolphins. More rings than the Marlins. He helped bring his friend, LeBron James, to us, and created the most interesting team this city has ever known. His Hall-of-Fame résumé is soaked in sparkles and proves he is about as good at what he did as anyone has ever been at anything.
South Florida watched him grow up, from the kid who needed student-loan help for his kid’s diapers at Marquette to an international icon. Saw him get divorced, write a book about fatherhood, marry a Hollywood starlet, become a businessman. We saw him age before our eyes, from a baby-faced, fast-twitch acrobat who could get 25 free throws in an NBA Finals game to a savvy, slower killer who finished the last season Charlotte played.
This ending, though, it feels like watching your kid trip and fall off the graduation stage. Miami tried to keep him. But not enough for his liking, clearly, and not enough to mortgage its future to repay him for his past. Riley talks a lot about family, but the mafia is a family, too, and the godfather wasn’t going to handcuff his flexibility to do his job in the future by tying himself emotionally to an aging star whose percentages are all in decline. This wasn’t about money, rest assured. Chicago gave Wade approximately $47 million, but Miami’s $41.5 million final offer (all its remaining salary-cap space) was about the same once you throw in Florida’s lack of state income tax.
Wade felt unwanted, for whatever his reasons. Wade felt underappreciated, for whatever his reasons. That’ll all come out soon enough. His relationship with Riley was in tatters by the end, damaged by the way Wade’s allegiances always seemed to be to LeBron James. The Heat’s proud reputation as loyalty lifers takes a hit today as its prodigal son leaves behind all the warmth in his past for a cold Chicago. Ego and pride and willfulness and stubbornness — some of the things that helped make him a champion — also made him pack his bags and move out.
Riley was too raw to talk about it Wednesday night, but I asked him if he wanted to say anything about how he was feeling, and this is what he wrote by text:
“SADDDDDDD!!!! SO saddddddd! I will never forget the sixth game in Dallas in 2006. DW rebounded the ball, and threw it to the heavens and the Heat universe was perfect for that moment. Our first world championship. Our universe is not perfect today. It will be fraught with anger, judgment, blame instead of THANK YOU!!! Ten years ago. Ten years older. Ten years wiser. Ten years changed. All of us. Dwyane had a choice, and he made it. He went home. Bad, bad summer for us. But there will be another 10 years, and it will be someone or something else in 2026. Move on with no blood or tears. Just thanks. I truly loved Dwyane, but families grow, change and get on with another life. He will always be a part of us. ALWAYS! And no more bruises and enough fighting. Let’s just fly above it if we can and never forget. I feel his pain and pride for what pushed him over the ledge. Been there. Forever, for always, your coach I will be. FOREVER!”
As Junot Diaz wrote in This Is How You Lose Her, “And that’s when I knew it was over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.” Maggi Richard may have put it better: “Two words. Three vowels. Four consonants. Seven letters. It can either cut you open to the core and leave you in ungodly pain or it can free your soul and lift a tremendous weight off your shoulders. The phrase is: It’s over.”
Riley plays for championships, not No. 3 seeds. So he was in a bit of a no-win position once he swung big and missed on Kevin Durant. Lose Wade, and your team loses. Keep Wade, and your team isn’t good enough, either, especially not with what Golden State is doing. But, man, that felt like it collapsed quickly somehow, even though we’ve been seeing the warnings for two years, like watching an old Las Vegas casino being dynamited. Miami went from the most interesting team in sports — LeBron James, Wade, Chris Bosh — to suddenly having immature nomad Hassan Whiteside as its healthiest face. And this might all get messier for Miami if the organization decides to fight to keep Bosh off the court to clear his salary space by February so it can better go after the big free agent class of 2017 that will include LeBron, Durant, Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.
Some crushed kids lost their sports innocence Wednesday night. Some adults threw temper tantrums like crushed kids. Riley, the old legend, looks lost as he searches for his ending and an older Wade, wounded, limps off toward his ending in all the wrong colors and feelings.
Breakups hurt, man.