Greg Cote

Miami’s G.O.A.T.: Dwyane Wade leaves as our most accomplished, beloved athlete ever | Opinion

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Dwyane Wade: One Last Dance

Dwyane Wade’s final regular season home game at AmericanAirlines Arena against the 76ers on Tues., April 9, 2019 marks the end of a legendary 16-year NBA career that included three championships, an NBA Finals MVP award, 13 All-Star appearances and many more honors. A look back at an iconic career.

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Dwyane Tyrone Wade Jr. introduced himself to Miami inauspiciously. He played his first regular-season Heat home game on Halloween night 2003, and he scored four points on 1-for-9 shooting.

We had no idea what we were getting.

Tuesday night, 15 years 5 months and 10 days later, Wade will play the final home game of his career unless Miami somehow sneaks into the NBA playoffs, which now seems an unlikelihood.

And what we got from this young man was everything. We got all he had to give, and that turned out to be an abundance such as we have never seen in the history of South Florida sports.

Wade says farewell as Miami’s G.O.A.T — the Greatest Of All Time, and that’s unequivocal. He stands alone when it comes to that combination of excellence of talent, accomplishment, national impact, star power and the emotional embrace of a community. Only Dan Marino is even allowed in the same conversation. And nobody is on the horizon to join their company.

The Heat’s chronological milestones start with Miami being awarded a franchise in 1987.

Then came Pat Riley being introduced in 1995. On a cruise ship called Imagination. In a lounge named Dynasty.

Then came the kid from Marquette, the one who spelled his first name funny. It was the NBA Draft on June 26, 2003.

And that is when everything changed. A franchise. A community, The future. Everything.

The Heat’s first NBA championship in 2006? Wade did that. Did it with one of the most spectacular Finals performances the sport has ever seen.

Miami Heat’s Shaquille O’Neal talks to the crowd as Dwyane Wade holds the NBA trophy next to owner Micky Arison on the stage in front of the AAA on June 23, 2006. CHARLES TRAINOR JR

The arrival of LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010 and in turn the two more NBA tltles? Wade did that, too. Did that by convincing his buddies to join forces with him, and sacrificing money and ego to make it work.

The dramatic rise in popularity by the Heat in what was always a football town? Wade again. He did that by becoming beloved, by owning “his house” and turning this into Wade County.

He nears the end of his Hall of Fame-bound career after 16 seasons, 14 1/2 of them in Miami, 13 All-Star appearances, a scoring title, a Finals MVP award, and top 30 in all-time NBA career scoring.

As remarkable in its own way as any of his accomplishments is how he’s going out. He has sacrificed — again — by being OK coming off the bench. And he has done so with such brilliance that he should finish high in the NBA Sixth Man of the Year voting.

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The Miami Heat hosts the HEAT Summer of 2010 Welcome Event to celebrate Dwyane Wade’s return to the team, and to introduce its newest acquisitions, Chris Bosh and LeBron James, to the South Florida community at AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday, July 9, 2010. Al Diaz Miami Herald Staff

He enters Tuesday night’s “One Last Dance” home finale having scored in double figures 16 games in a row off the bench. He has been the Heat’s leading scorer 14 times. You could argue he leaves, at age 37, as still the Heat’s best player.

Wade, after doing everything right his whole career, is nailing the dismount as well. Going out with his health, and with fuel still in his tank, not all broken, not a has-been. He retires to more time with his family, wife Gabrielle Union, the actress, three sons and a newborn baby girl.

“I know I could play this role two more years, he says of basketball.

Instead he figured out what most athletes never do: when to quit, and how. (And points to Dwyane, too, for volunteering he might seek counseling to help him deal with retirement, a shock to the system of all great athletes. Not many superstars would be comfortable enough in their own skin to acknowledge the need.)

The funny thing about Miami being gifted with Wade at all, and with Marino 20 years earlier, is that we were lucky to get either, let alone both. It took a serendipitous providence of fate.

Nobody expected Marino to last to the Dolphins picking 27th in the 1983 NFL Draft. It took a bad senior season at Pitt, unfounded drug rumors, a balky knee and boneheaded decisions by a handful of teams picking earlier for Miami to have the chance. Then it took a change of mind by Don Shula, who had been set on selecting Syracuse nose tackle Mike Charles No. 1 until being dissuaded and sold on what a steal Marino was.

P.S., the Fins lucked to get Charles in the second round, after the first round brought them the man who would set NFL passing records and electrify South Florida.

Twenty years later, the Heat got lucky, too, to land Wade fifth overall in the ‘03 NBA Draft. Detroit, picking second, stunned the entire planet by picking Darko Milicic. Had they picked a consensus top-five player, chances are Wade would have been gone by the time Miami was on the clock. Riley, in fact, already had agreed to trade the fifth pick to Orlando if Wade was already taken.

Like Shula on Marino, Riley also was not initially sold outright on Wade and was mulling options.

“I was looking at point guards and centers; that’s what we needed,” Riley said years later of his mind-set entering that draft. “I had guys like Kirk Hinrich, T.J. Ford and Chris Kaman [who would be taken sixth, seventh and eighth] high on our list., and I was interested in them. Dwyane was on there, but at the start of the process, I wasn’t sure.”

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade drives to the basket against Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018 in Miami. DAVID SANTIAGO

Riley’s change of mind merely changed Heat history.

The Heat will hold a pregame ceremony for D-Wade on Tuesday in what is sure to be an arena packed with gratitude and emotion. Wade will address the crowd.

No. 3 has not started a game all season but should be given the honor Tuesday night, his named called last, of course. He deserves that. So do his fans.

Wade was reflective in an interview last month at his “A Night on the RunWade” charity fashion event. He said, “Pinch me. Is this really my life?”

He ended a recent interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols by saying: “I’m in a good place. I’m in a real good space.”

You earned the feeling, Dwyane.

The applause. The satisfaction. The farewell tour. The love of South Florida. The championships. The happiness. The peace of mind. The legacy and the place in basketball history and in Miami’s heart.

You earned every bit of it.