After the buzzer sounded Monday night, the moment was just beginning.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade shared a long hug on the Staples Center court and spent a few seconds reflecting on their journeys to this point, their final NBA regular-season game against each other before Wade retires at the end of the season.
Seconds later, the much-anticipated jersey exchange between Wade and James happened.
“It’s the end of a storybook,” James said of their relationship, “like one of the best movies you’ve ever seen.”
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Swapping jerseys with an opposing player after each game has become a signature element of Wade’s final NBA season, but Monday’s exchange with James felt truly special. And Wade admitted this one, with his close friend and former Heat championship teammate, felt different than the others he’s done this season.
“It was something I wanted to add to my last year with players around the league,” Wade said. “But out of all the players in the league besides [Udonis Haslem], Bron is one of my closest friends. It definitely means a little bit more. … It’s the ending of a chapter in both of our lives.”
But with 56 regular-season (starting with Wednesday’s road game against the Jazz) and maybe some playoff games remaining in Wade’s final NBA season, the show must go on. That means more jerseys to give away, which is an idea the Heat guard came up with this past summer.
“It’s something I wanted to do,” Wade said. “Just thinking about my last year and the things I wanted to do. I remember in Kobe [Bryant’s] last year, a lot of guys were meeting him in the back and he was signing shoes for them and all those things. I reached out early to the Heat — even before I decided to come back — and said if I’m going to play, we just got to order 82 jerseys because this is something I want to do.
“Not that I’m going to give out 82. I definitely want to save some for my teammates and important ones for myself. But I have a list of players on each team that I either have a relationship with or those guys reach out to me or different things like that, who I want to give jerseys away to.”
So far, that list has included names such as Portland’s CJ McCollum, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Atlanta’s Vince Carter, Phoenix’s Jamal Crawford and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis.
The jersey exchange isn’t as simple as it seems, though.
Wade, who is known to be a heavy sweater, usually wears two jerseys during games to keep his uniform fresh. But sometimes the one he exchanges isn’t either of the ones he has worn that day, it’s actually another game-worn jersey from a past game.
There’s reason for this.
“The thing I’ve learned with trial and error, when we’re playing in these jerseys, they’re sweaty,” Wade said. “So even guys that try to sign them, you can’t sign on the jerseys. So what I’ve started to do, our amazing equipment manager carries hundreds of Wade jerseys around that I wear throughout the season. I wear two jerseys throughout a game already. If I feel that of late I’ve been sweating through my jerseys, I will sign a third jersey in the locker room before the game and I will give those.
“But these are jerseys I’ve already worn, it’s just that night it may be too sweaty. Some of them I have given away that they aren’t too sweaty. So it’s just kind of like how I see that night is going with the sweat of my jersey.”
Even in Monday’s jersey exchange, Wade took an already signed Heat jersey from the team’s equipment manager and handed it to James. “Thanks for pushing me to be greater than I knew I was,” Wade wrote on the jersey he gave to James.
“These are all game-worn jerseys,” Wade said. “It’s just that I want to be able to give away jerseys that guys can read what I write instead of it being like I’ve had once already that it’s not been so good because I took it off right away and it was super duper sweaty, and I can’t really write on it. Everybody doesn’t sweat like me. I sweat crazy, but they’re all game-worn jerseys.”
As for the other question Wade has yet to figure out, what is he going to do with all the jerseys he’s getting in return from opposing players?
“I don’t know yet. Right now, I’m just keeping them all,” Wade said with a laugh. “I asked my team, what should we do? But I’ve never collected jerseys in my career. I’ve actually never collected much at all. So this is a new thing. But I’ll figure it out.”
▪ The Heat is listing guard Tyler Johnson (left hip contusion) as probable for Wednesday’s game against the Jazz.
But center Hassan Whiteside (birth of first child) and guard Dion Waiters (left ankle surgery) have been ruled out for the contest. Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson are not on the injury report after returning from a one-game absence to play in Monday’s loss to the Lakers.