Greg Cote

No matter how this season ends for the Heat, Dwyane Wade is going out a winner

Dwyane Wade says 2019 was his ‘most memorable’ All-Star Game

Dwyane Wade speaks after his final All-Star Game as a player before he retires at the end of the season.
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Dwyane Wade speaks after his final All-Star Game as a player before he retires at the end of the season.

Steph Curry, after the Miami Heat’s recent game at Golden State, suggested Dwyane Wade does not look like a player about to retire, saying, “It seems like he ‘s got a lot more in the tank.”

It was all compliment. And he may have been right, too. But on this, the Warriors’ three-point sniper missed the point.

Wade wanted to go out on his terms, not on empty, and that has been something remarkable and under-appreciated about his “Last Dance” season.

Most athletes, and perhaps especially superstars, aren’t sure when to quit, or how.

Wade is writing the textbook on that.

Very few of even the greatest athletes get the perfect ending to their careers, or the farewell seasons full of adulation and appreciation. They go out broken or disappointed in some way.

Thinking of the Heat’s Alonzo Mourning and Chris Bosh. Thinking of Dan Marino walking off that torn-up field in Jacksonville after a humiliating 62-7 Dolphins playoff loss, hobbling on busted knees, hearing jeers from the crowd, his last shot at a Super Bowl disappeared.

Each played his final game in Miami, but fans didn’t know it at the time. No goodbyes are harder than when you don’t get to say them.

When I say “perfect ending,” by the way, I don’t mean going out with a championship parade.

I mean going out on your own terms, doing it your way.

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Curry is right. Wade could play again next season, and the one after that, and the Heat would welcome him back.

But maybe his greatest triumph of the retirement he has fashioned for himself is that he goes out with his health intact, with fuel left,without regrets, and still capable of flashes of his prime even as the Heat’s sixth man. His 14.0 scoring average off the bench in 25.4 minutes per game? Only one player in the entire NBA has a higher scoring average in fewer minutes.

Wade is 37, looks great, feels great, has a great family with wife Gabrielle Union, the actress, has lucrative business interests and is a three-time NBA champion, 13-time all-star, first-ballot Hall of Famer and the greatest and most beloved player in Heat history. He’ll go down as one of the greatest shooting guards in history, likely behind only Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

His eldest son, Zaire, is a talented high-school player (pretty good genes) who’ll be a senior next year. His father, who rarely gets to see him play in person, won’t have to miss a thing.

Heck, Wade has more reason to dive eagerly into retirement than to wonder if it’s time.

“I’ve watched so many guys come before me that did not end their careers the way they wanted to,” Wade has said. “They ended it with injury, or teams trading them. For me, to be able to come back to Miami and make the decision this year that I was going to walk away from the game on my own -- under my own will -- it’s a good thing.”

Wade’s farewell tour resumes following the all-star break Thursday night in Philadelphia. There are only 14 regular-season home games left, the next Saturday.

His final home game will be April 9 unless the Heat make the postseason, which is in some doubt, with a 26-30 record that has Miami presently standing ninth in the jockeying for eight East playoff spots.

One reason Miami is where it is: An 11-16 home record that is the worst, by a lot, of any NBA playoff contender. Time for Heat fans to lift the team the way Wade has lifted them. It wouldn’t seem right for Wade’s career to end without a playoff curtain, but even if it does, this farewell season still would have been an unequivocal victory lap for Wade.

His “Last Dance” has been a coast-to-coast love-in, with opposing players showing respect and opposing fans showing warm appreciation. Last week in Charlotte, site of the all-star game, Wade thought he was going to dinner With Gabrielle but she surprised with a party that was part roast but mostly a tribute. Pat Riley, Magic Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and others were there.

In the game Sunday night, just for old time’s sake, Wade put up a perfect lob pass that LeBron James finished for an alley-oop dunk. Perfect.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Wade, of last week. but also apropos of this whole final season. “I’m thankful for the whole journey.”

Whether or not it ends in the playoffs this year, the journey has been an absolute triumph.

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Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports columnist who in 2018 was named top 10 in column writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg also appears regularly on the Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio and ESPNews.


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