Greg Cote

Wade’s latest incarnation could become his most essential role since the Big 3 era

There are happy endings in sports, and not all of them require a championship parade. There are feel-good stories powerful enough to warm even the most jaded hearts.

Dwyane Wade is living one right now.

His wife, actress Gabrielle Union, literally danced on the tarmac as they deplaned in Miami late Thursday night, home again.

Her husband couldn’t even pretend to hide his emotion and his delight before a media throng midday Friday after the Miami Heat’s game day shootaround practice.

“I am over-the-moon excited,” Wade said. “The jersey and the colors fit. My eyes and heart were always here. Who I am at the core in my heart was always here.”

After one season in Chicago and half of one in Cleveland, Wade will be back where he belongs Friday night as the Heat hosts Milwaukee in the downtown bayside arena. It will be his first game for Miami since May 2016. He will not start in his homecoming game. Coach Erik Spoelstra did not guarantee Wade would even play Friday, although you may bet big he will, even if only briefly. With 15 days until the next home game, Spo would not deny Wade that special moment when he steps onto the familiar court again and his fans show him the love.

The best part of this reunion is that it isn’t built only on sentiment.

Clawing to make the NBA playoffs, the Heat was missing something. It needed Wade.

Wade was missing something, too. Missing Miami, yes. But also missing the chance to be relevant again. To be needed.

Spoelstra noted that one of Wade’s skills is, “he can reinvent himself.”

Well, the brilliant chameleon is changing yet again, adapting to his surroundings, blending in but somehow always standing out.

In his long career that began in 2003, he has played the rising star, then the face of the franchise, then the man who sacrificed to make room for LeBron James. In his latter career came the unexpected family breakup with the Heat, an elder statesman stint with the Bulls, then a LeBron reunion with the Cavs.

The latest and maybe final incarnation of Wade finds him in what could become his most essential role since the Big 3 era.

He has a chance to be what Miami is missing. The closer. He might only typically play 20 or so minutes on a depth-rich Heat team, but I would be shocked if some of those weren’t budgeted for the end of close games.

The chameleon said he will fit any role Spoelstra assigns him, but even at 36 Wade relishes the idea of the ball in his hands in the closing seconds, when it matters.

“I’m not afraid of any moment,” as he put it. “If it’s fourth-quarter time, I know what to do.”

Said Spoelstra of Wade’s late-game panache: “That’s another area of his incredible greatness. He does not get sick at sea during those moments.”

In the meantime, Wade said he hopes to bring “a jolt of energy” to a Heat team that has lost five games in a row and tumbled from fourth place to a precarious seventh in the East.

Team president Pat Riley envisions a prominent role for Wade once he works back into what Riley called “Miami Heat condition.” It sounds like a chance for Wade to revitalize, to prove he’s still got it.

“All of us have to realize he’s not Dwyane Wade of 2006 [in the Finals] against Dallas, but he’s a facsimile of that,” Riley said. “The fact he was coming off the bench in Cleveland minimized all of the things he’s capable of doing. He is capable of moving right back into the role of being a scorer, a crunch-time scorer for us, and a defender on the ball in need situations. There is something about Dwyane at the end of games that is unique and special. I don’t think you lose that.”

Riley sounds as if he is envisioning perhaps even a starring role for No. 3.

Either way, South Florida is ready to remind Dwyane Wade that it loves him no matter what, and always has.

Related stories from Miami Herald