Greg Cote

Dwyane Wade goes out a winner and a 30-point star in final Heat home game of career | Opinion

Dwyane Wade on last game: ‘Nope, yall not about to make me cry before this game’

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) talks to fans and his teammates during a goodbye ceremony before his last NBA regular season game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.
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Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) talks to fans and his teammates during a goodbye ceremony before his last NBA regular season game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.

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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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The human heart can soar and ache all at once. A community’s heart can, too.

Is it possible to prepare 16 years for a moment and yet not quite be ready for it? How do you tell a loved one goodbye?

Miami and Heat fans said farewell to Dwyane Wade on Tuesday night in the final home game of his career, in a downtown arena full of gratitude and sadness and celebration and tears. It was only one of the most monumental, emotional occasions in South Florida sports history.

The enormity of the night only grew when, with four minutes left in the third quarter of the Heat’s 122-99 victory over Philadelphia, Detroit’s comeback win officially eliminated Miami from playoff contention — meaning no additional postseason home games and no Wade encore. This was it.

And oh what a show Wade left us with! He scored 30 points, his second most in any game this season, as his wife and children and mother all looked on cheering along with the fans he made feel like family. He exited with 1:02 left to an ovation. The man knows how to say goodbye. And so do Heat fans.

“To be embraced, to find a home — this city has allowed me to grow,” Wade said afterward. “This city means everything to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”

Said coach Erik Spoelstra on missing the playoffs: “Still a beautiful night. Dwyane and the fans were able to check off every box of emotion.”

The years flew past us. Memories are what we have now, memories distant right up to the one he gifted us Tuesday night, and those memories were dancing in the building like ghosts.

Playoffs or not, Miami and its fans celebrated a Hall of Fame career about to become past-tense. The season and Wade’s career end Wednesday night at Brooklyn (he’ll play), but Tuesday was his home fans’ embrace of their adopted favorite son.

Wade is a Chicago kid who went to Marquette, and his pro career had late brief detours to Cleveland and Chicago. He plans to move to Los Angeles now. No matter. He found his way back home. He is Miami’s. Ours. And he did us proud.

How do you say thanks for a career of excellence, grace, class, selflessness and charm? Oh, and for three championships?

The Heat and its fans showed the love Tuesday night, and Wade, who called this his “One Last Dance” farewell year, gave it back.

“Man, I love you guys, man,” Wade told the packed house during a pregame ceremony. “I thank you guys for dancing with me this year. Heat Nation, thank you!

We’ll still see Wade around. Maybe on the video screen occasionally, in a suit, retired and courtside at a game. There will be his jersey retirement ceremony. A Heat ambassador’s role is waiting if he wants it. But everything changed Tuesday night as an epic epoch in Heat history — in Miami history — ended when Wade took off the iconic No. 3 jersey he’ll never wear again before his home fans.

“You can’t replace this,” he admitted, “and I won’t try. You miss this...”

A video tribute to Wade played before the game, and even 76ers players stayed on the court, showing respect, staring up at the jumbo screens just as fans were. The three championship trophies Wade did so much to win were on display. There was a pregame video tribute from LeBron James.. Zaire Wade, his teenage son, told his Dad, “This is your city,” before they hugged at midcourt.

The Miami Heat honored Dwyane Wade prior to his last regular-season home game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Heat president Pat Riley said, “South Florida wore Wade’s name on their backs, and he carried us on his.”

Before tipoff Wade bounded to all four corners of the court, exhorting the swooning masses, soaking it all in for the last time.

The game began then — Wade starting for the first time all season — and No. 3’s dunk opened the scoring, of course, storybook fashion.

Even at age 37, Wade reminded fans all night that he leaves the game with fuel still in his tank, on his terms.

The emotion in the building only spiked when, early in the fourth quarter, Udonis Haslem came off the bench to join Wade on the court for the final time.

In my line of work, where cynicism is easy, 95 percent of events I cover are just a job. Insignificant in the broad view. Only a relative few occasions feel like a privilege to eye-witness. They are bigger than a game., This night was one of those. It was enough to make even the most usually dispassionate journalist fight tears for the magnitude of the career and the man leaving us

If you weren’t among the fans who jam-packed the bayside arena Tuesday to watch history, give it time. You’ll say you were there.

On StubHub, two hours before tipoff, secondary-market tickets ranged from $150 for standing room only to more than $4,200 for the premium seats.

A much larger than usual media throng attended Erik Spoelstra’s pregame talk.

“Something going on tonight?” said the coach, wearing a Wade T-shirt.

Spoelstra volunteered that in his home office there is a photo of Wade hitting a game-winning shot in 2004, his second season.

Then a young low-rung assistant, Spoelstra had been charged with helping develop Wade’s mid-range jumper.

“That mostly meant me shagging balls,” admitted the coach.

After that game, won on a mid-range jumper, Wade sought out the young coach.

“He hugged me and said thank you. I’ve never forgotten that.”

The playoffs were a remote possibility entering the game. No matter again.

“Play it for somebody,” Spoelstra told his team.

And so they did.

Heat players made sure Dwyane Wade went out a winner — Wade himself leading the way one last time — on a night Miami fans blinked back tears to say thank you and make sure No. 3 went out feeling every bit of the love he’d earned.

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