This wasn’t a bluff. This was raw. This was real.
That’s what many who follow the Heat didn’t understand, and understandably so, because they had bought into the marketing, the packaging, the narrative.
Dwyane Wade used that himself in an Instagram post when he re-signed in 2014 for less than he would have received when he opted out. The Heat ran with the hashtag — also understandably so.
It sounds good. It feels good.
It’s just not good for anything when business is involved.
When egos are involved.
When feelings are involved.
No one is a lifer in sports.
Not even someone who spent 13 seasons with one team, scored more than 20,000 points with one team, won three championships with one team, sacrificed countless times for one team, repeatedly declared his affection and allegiance for one team.
Not even someone who had secured a spot on South Florida’s Mount Rushmore, and perhaps in whatever you considered the most prominent spot, passing even the once-all-time NFL passing leader Dan Marino in popularity — certainly among anyone born after Wade was in 1982.
No, not even Dwyane Wade.
So, sure, many will be stunned that Wade bolted Miami, the only NBA home he’s ever known, for a childhood hometown — Chicago — to which he never seemed to want to return, for all of the personal complications that come into play there, for a reported $47.5 million over two seasons after clearing space with trades.
That was roughly $7 million more than the Heat had belatedly offered, on July 4, after the crazy, doomed Kevin Durant chase. That was actually more than the Heat ever offered since there was no increase when Micky Arison met with Wade on Wednesday prior to cruising to Southampton, England.
Arison was there to fix a relationship.
But the relationship was already too fractured, for a second consecutive summer, and this time Wade actually had options, something that some inside the Heat organization always — insultingly — doubted.
So no one should be stunned. Not if you understood what’s been bubbling under the shiny surface:
The frustration with always feeling like he was second to someone else, created by overconfidence that, no matter what, he would always come back. The amusement about the perception that it was Pat Riley, not him, who had created the Big 3 bonanza. The lack of conviction that the Heat, as constructed, could really contend in the near term — that it was likely closer to the middle than the championship.
And the irritation about the treatment of his truest teammate, Udonis Haslem, whose leverage had been lost after taking one for the team time after time, and who hadn’t heard anything from the Heat since the opening moments of free agency on July 1.
So you can blame LeBron James for this if you must, that somehow Wade was brainwashed by the evil intruder into the Heat’s affairs. But since Wade entered the NBA in 2003, he has grown into someone who is very much his own man, a man who can come to his own conclusions.
It was Wade who kept James on course when they were together in Miami, not the other way around. And the conclusion Wade came to, ultimately, was that Riley didn’t value him. Not enough. Not like the fans did. Not after all he’d done, all the promises he’d kept, most recently rededicating himself to his training to get through 74 games last season, and getting stronger in the postseason, when he was still the Heat’s best player.
There will be time for memories. So many memories. The playoff game-winners as a rookie. The transcendent NBA Finals flurry of 2006, when he wasn’t going out like that. The chest-pounding on tables, in His House, in his remarkable comeback season of 2008-09. The hype and hysteria and hugeness of the Big 3 Era, one that his presence made possible, the one that gave the franchise two more titles, one of which he celebrated by spreading his arms in a bed of red confetti on the hardwood floor where he’d build his legend.
But for now, this is just about the hard landing that could have been avoided, should have been avoided.
On the day he was introduced, Riley spoke of an “innocent beginning” for the kid with the NBA-ready defensive stance and the electric open-floor ability. Innocence was lost. And then so, too, was the most beloved, important player the Miami Heat has ever had.