Greg Cote

One year to say goodbye? For all the Heat’s Dwyane Wade has meant, it won’t be enough

The bold white lettering on his black hoodie sweatshirt read, simply:



That’s Dwyane Wade, No. 3, reminding us he is embarking on his 16th and final NBA season, with a wink and a nod to the ubiquitous Biblical verse of the same number.

“A double entendre-type vibe,” he noted.

The religious allusion might be fitting, and not only because so many Miami Heat fans’ prayers were answered when Wade opted after much thought for what he calls “one last dance.”

Welcome to The Reason For The Season.

The NBA calendar unfurling now, with training camp this week and the first preseason game on Sunday — it could go so many directions.

Maybe the Old Man and the Sea, Pat Riley, will succeed in landing his latest cast, the small whale in Jimmy Butler, the four-time all-star being shopped by Minnesota. Maybe trading for Butler will be the big addition Miami needs.

Maybe Riles will miss on Butler and leave coach Erik Spoelstra to begin the season with a pat hand, the same team that was one-and-done in the playoffs last season.

Maybe the Heat will coalesce and soar, or disappoint.

Above it all, there will be Dwyane Wade, one last time. And that will make what is about to happen matter, no matter what.

Welcome back, Dwyane.

And goodbye.

It will take a whole season to say it, to feel it, because such has been this man’s influence on a franchise and community. On us.

Wade’s career took brief detours to Chicago and then Cleveland, yes. It’s OK. All that proved is, you can go home again — home, where the love is. No professional athlete in South Florida history has caused more success than Wade. Only Dolphins icon Dan Marino is in his company in that rarest category where popularity cannot contain what you inspire. When you are beloved.

We never had a proper “farewell” year with Marino. We didn’t know the 1999 season would be his last.

Wade, on the Heat’s pre-camp Media Day Monday, acknowledged traipsing into unknown territory.

“I don’t have a template,” he said.

It will be about “savoring moments” as he focuses on basketball.

“Give my fans an opportunity to say goodbye,” he said, “and give me the opportunity to do that, too. Let’s write [this final chapter] together.”

Wade is fulfilling a promise to go out together with longtime running mate and dear friend Udonis Haslem. Still Wade said he leaned “90-10” toward retiring at one point this offseason, ultimatelty swayed after a long talk with Spoelstra.

“I had to feel right,” Wade said. “He made me feel comfortable with how this year can go.”

The farewell tour will be leaguewide, “Where people pat you on the back and tell you how good you were,” Wade said, smiling. “Not how good you are. How good you were.”

D-Wade is a realist in the self-appraisal department. At 36, whether starting or off the bench, as he was last season, his minutes and his moments will be limited.

“Some nights are going to be better than other nights,” he said. “My whole career, I tried to look in the mirror. ‘Dwyane, who are you this year?’ Don’t lie to yourself. I know my game. I know what I’m capable of.”

Would Wade prefer to start? “That’s like asking me if I want breakfast in the morning,” he said. “I’m hungry.”

But a bench role, a mentor’s role, is one he would embrace, too. His one last dance — it isn’t about ego, or money.

We will wait, then, for the precious moments left. For those occasional 25 magical minutes during which age peels away and “Flash” is back. When the winning basket finds only net at the buzzer and No. 3 is up on the scorer’s table, arms raised, drinking it all in. . And we will wonder, every time: Is that the last great moment we have seen?

Wade and his teenaged son, Zaire, had a conversation about being a father/son together in the NBA. Zaire brought it up. “You’ll have to get here real fast,” Dad told him.

Dwyane was bouncing the ball that dwarfed his little hands at age 5. We first met him out of Marquette, knowing little more than that he spelled his first name funny. Now, 16 seasons later, he faces the end, and what’s next. Owning a small piece of the Heat interests him. He will make the perfect ambassador. But it won’t be playing.

“It went fast,” he said.

Wade understandably waxed reflective Monday. He described what basketball has meant in his life, and he described it as well as I have heard any athlete try to explain why the letting go is so hard.

“In class I was shy. Never raised my hand because I didn’t want to get the answer wrong,” he said. “When I was on the basketball court I was a different person. I liked that person.”

We did, too. Dwyane.

Thanks for giving us one last season to let you know.

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