Miami Heat

Dion Waiters finally gets to play with his idol: ‘Scratch that off the bucket list’

As the urban legend goes, Dion Waiters thought particularly highly of himself during his two years at Syracuse. The swingman, who wound up going No. 4 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, thought of his game as some combination of Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant, so, fittingly, he dubbed himself “Kobe Wade” and asked his Orange teammates to refer to him as such.

When Wade was traded to the Miami Heat last season, Waiters said he was one of the first Heat players to reach out to the future Hall of Famer. Wade was one of his idols and getting the opportunity to play alongside him would be a career highlight.

“I was excited. I was happy,” Waiters said in the locker room Tuesday after the Heat’s 103-99 loss to the Denver Nuggets. “I was one of the first guys.”

The wait lasted longer than Waiters originally anticipated, but it finally happened Tuesday. With 47.4 seconds left in the first quarter in Miami, Waiters checked into a game at AmericanAirlines Arena for the first time this season and, for the first time in his seven-year career, Waiters shared the court with Wade as teammates.

“You can scratch that off the bucket list now. It finally happened,” Waiters said. “Just to be able to finish the game with Tre, I couldn’t ask for nothing else. We didn’t get the win, but I think moving forward we’ll get better from this and we’ve just got to keep it going.”

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Going all the way back to the summer of 2017 when rumors initially swirled about the Chicago Bulls potentially buying out Wade, Waiters was outspoken on Twitter about his excitement at the possibility.

Wade took a circuitous path back home. The Bulls waived the guard just before the start of the 2017-18 season and Wade ended up signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers to play with LeBron James. At the trade deadline, the Cavaliers pulled the plug on their Wade experiment and traded the 12-time All-Star to Miami. By then, Waiters was already sidelined by a season-ending ankle injury.

Waiters’ long road back from his injury finally led to him returning to the court last Wednesday for a brief 11-minute appearance in the Heat’s win in Cleveland. None of those 11 minutes overlapped with Wade and then Waiters returned to the bench, failing to log a single minute Friday in a win the Washington Wizards or Sunday in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

The Heat (19-20) needed Waiters’ spark against the Nuggets. He helped provide it early, and then again in the fourth quarter. Waiters and Wade spent the entire fourth quarter playing together, and Wade came away impressed.

“That was cool. I think it was something we both wanted to do,” Wade said after the loss. “I’m glad we got an opportunity to do it at home, and hopefully there’s more in the future. It’s good to have a guy who could get in the paint and penetrate and can make shots, and also who can play off the ball in a similar way as me. I look forward to more minutes together.”

Even while sidelined, Waiters has spent this season relishing just being around Wade. Their lockers at AAA are just a few feet apart, so Waiters has taken advantage by studying his teammate from up close.

“That’s my dog, man,” Waiters said. “He helps me and me just watching him, like me being able to see what he does on the court and how he just reads the game. He knows I steal everything from him. I’ve been doing it my whole career. He just makes the game easier.

“He said he’s going to stay on me and things like that, which I need and just to be able to learn, and take a little bit of everything he does and implement it in my game, why not?”

He may not be getting to study prime Wade from up close, but the takeaways now are maybe as helpful as ever. It’s no secret Wade isn’t as quick as he once was when he earned the nickname, “Flash.” He’s not athletic enough to throw down dunks in traffic and doesn’t have the quick first step to beat any defender in a one-on-one situation.

Now Wade thrives with cunning and craftiness, getting defenders off balance and getting to the free-throw line. One day, Waiters will have to do all this, too, and these days with Wade will help him prepare.

“He always goes back and says, ‘You don’t want this Wade,’ but [expletive], yes I do. Any type of Wade helps me,” Waiters said. “He’ll tell you, I always ask him questions, I’m always right beside him, playing with him and things like that.”

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