The last question of Dwyane Wade’s introductory press conference Friday afternoon at AmericanAirlines Arena wasn’t about basketball.
It was about the glasses he was wearing. Was this another fashion statement from a man who fashions himself a serious fashionita?
“It’s a process of being 36,” Wade answered with a grin. “I’ve been fighting it for awhile. It helps with my headaches too. I’m not always squinting. I have some blue blocker vibe too to help with the light.”
Wade’s glasses aren’t a new thing. He’s been wearing them for several years now — pretty much since the Big 3 era began. But seeing them on his face Friday — and hearing him admit that the aging process is getting to him — was a reminder how Heat fans must see him through a new set of glasses themselves.
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When Wade left town two summers ago amid a battle of egos with Pat Riley for a little more money and the chance to play in his hometown of Chicago, he was still the Heat’s leading scorer at 19 points per game and the No. 1 option when games were on the line (he was 46 of 101 shooting in the clutch, 45.5 percent, during the 2015-16 season).
The Heat’s all-time leading scorer with 41 career 40-point games (his last came in March 29, 2015, against the Jazz) isn’t that guy anymore.
Before Riley sent a heavily protected second round draft pick in 2024 to Cleveland to bring the Heat’s most famous face home before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, Wade was averaging career lows in points (11.2), assists (3.5) and minutes (23.2) in 46 games with the Cavaliers this season.
Up in Cleveland, he was not playing the role of Robin to LeBron James in crunch time either. Wade was just one of the helping hands, sharing a role as a third go-to option behind Kevin Love with J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver when games were on the line (Wade was 7 of 15 shooting in 64 clutch minutes with the Cavs this season).
Even last season in Chicago, Wade was the second option behind All-Star Jimmy Butler, shooting 23 of 60 in the clutch (38.3 percent). But at least with the Bulls he was still starting games and averaging 18.3 points per game, despite shooting a career-low 43.4 percent from the field.
Friday night, in his first game with the Heat in more than 20 months, Wade played 22 minutes and had two rebounds, two assists, two steals and four turnovers. He also only scored three points on 1 of 6 shooting. In his entire career with the Heat (856 regular season games and the playoffs) it marked only the eighth time the 12-time All-Star scored three points or less.
How did Wade think he played?
“I don’t know,” Wade said afterward through a grin. “I would love to go 6-for-6, but I’m just trying to get used to everything, so I wasn’t worried about that. I was worried about getting the win. I felt like I did some positive things on the basketball floor and I felt like I did some negative things on the basketball floor. But I try to make winning plays defensively and offensively when I get the opportunity, and that’s what it was all about. I’ll definitely get better and I’m definitely going to score the ball more — all of those things at some point. But just playing the game, I thought it was a success because we got the W.”
That’s ultimately where Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra believe Wade can help this Heat team best — showing them how to survive and win games when the going gets tough.
On Friday, Miami nearly blew a 19-point second half lead against the Bucks. When Wade left the game with 6:33 to go the Heat was ahead 81-68. Seconds after Spoelstra put Wade back into the game for Tyler Johnson with 1:09 to play, the Heat’s lead had shrunk to 85-81. And soon, after a Josh Richardson turnover with 37.6 seconds to play, the Bucks were headed down court with a full head of steam and an opportunity to draw closer.
That’s when Wade delivered, blocking a shot by Eric Bledsoe as he rose up near the basket. Moments later, Wayne Ellington drilled a three-pointer with 14.7 seconds left and the Heat’s cushion was back at seven points.
“[He made] a couple different [big] plays [down the stretch],” Spoelstra said of Wade. “He got us settled a couple possessions there where in a three-minute gap we were just really struggling to get good, coherent, clean offense. I put him in on the side out of bounds, he made a terrific [pass] to J-Rich. Then a couple of other inbound [passes] he was great, and then obviously the block. He’ll find a way to make winning plays down the stretch and it will be on both ends of the court.”
Those winning plays — or jolts as Wade calls them — could sprout into more electrifying moments as this season goes on. But it’s going to take time, Wade said. Although he’s always kept an eye on the Heat since he left and already had the experience of playing with six of his current teammates even before Thursday’s trade, there are things he has to adjust to.
“For me, like I said, I’ve definitely got to get used to how the team moves on offense,” he said. “I’ve been in the corner for awhile. So I definitely have to get used to everything — the pace of the game with these guys and everything. That’s kind of what I was focused on [Friday] more so than butterflies or anything.
“I just want to get better every game. I want them to get better every game. And I will be able to see by my turnovers how well I’m getting to know these guys.”
The charm of this Heat team until now has been how many different guys have stepped up and delivered at different times. But it’s an act that started to get stale in the 12 games before Wade was traded to Miami. Every team needs a guy to turn to when it matters most — especially in the playoffs.
Wade, at an extremely low cost, has much more of a proven track record than his teammates of knowing what to do when the pressure is on.
Spoelstra doesn’t want to throw all that pressure on Wade now. But as this season evolves — and as the Heat continues to fight for a playoff spot — the ball could naturally find its way to the Heat’s old hero. And his teammates would have no problem with that.
“We have a good team, and being 36 and being a veteran, I understand what I can bring the game,” Wade said. “I’m not really concerned with it. I’m not worried with it. So whatever coach asks from not only me, but all of us to do, that’s what we have to do if we want to win. We just all have to be selfless. So Dwyane Wade will be selfless to make sure whatever it takes for this team to win that I can hopefully bring.
“One of my jobs and Udonis’ job is to help them understand how good we really are and the young guys understand how good they really are,” Wade continued.
“When I left, Josh Richardson was starting to become a three-point shooter. Now we’re going to him in the fourth quarter, he’s making big baskets. It’s so cool to see Tyler [Johnson] and these guys evolved into good players in the NBA. My job over these next few months is to let them know how good they really are. We don’t have to settle for being young or being in the middle of the pack. We’re good. We’ve got a deep team. That will be our job. Let’s see what happens over the next few weeks or few months.”