Greg Cote

Wade’s legacy should be safe no matter what, but some fans are choosing sides

Miami Heat president Pat Riley Heat, left, and guard Dwyane Wade still haven’t come to an agreement.
Miami Heat president Pat Riley Heat, left, and guard Dwyane Wade still haven’t come to an agreement. El Nuevo Herald

The way Heat fans feel about Dwyane Wade — the love and appreciation: Is it bulletproof? Is his legacy as a Miami sports legend cast in bronze and safe no matter what?

I think the answers are yes, or at least should be. But the questions have been thrown unexpectedly into debate this week. For some, equivocation creeps in.

Wade has spent 13 seasons here and been a driving force in three championship parades. He’s D-Wade. This is Wade County. He has (astonishingly) never been the Heat’s highest-paid player and some years not been its best, but consistently Wade has been the face of the franchise, a steady and beloved presence. Only Dan Marino merits the company of Wade among pro athletes who have meant the most to South Florida.

Now, though, even as we hope from habit that Wade still ends up re-signing with Miami as always, he seems closer to leaving and signing elsewhere than at any time since he arrived as a rookie out of Marquette in 2003. Worse, the parting would not be on good terms. The long, good marriage would end badly, with Wade feeling neglected and angry, and with Heat fans cast as the children stuck in the middle, the victims of love lost.

Wade, 34, was meeting in New York on Wednesday with the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks, and the Chicago Bulls were a third team bidding to steal him from Miami by beating the Heat’s two-year, $40 million offer. No formal meeting with Miami was announced, further indication of the acrimony that festers in the longtime partnership, but Heat owner Micky Arison did swoop in to make a late pitch.

The saga was said to be headed to a decision Wednesday night, although, with Wade scheduled to be a guest host on the Live With Kelly morning show Thursday in New York, might an announcement live on-air be in store?

We’re at least past the unfounded yet somehow logical speculation that Wade also might have ended up in Cleveland, reunited with LeBron James. Turns out the idea James might take a severe pay cut so the Cavs could afford Wade was pushing the friends-for-life narrative a bit too far.

It was that possibility, though, that semed to be where Heat fans drew a line. Wade returning to Miami in a Cavaliers uniform was the one scenario in which Wade might be booed by his own longtime fans. We asked this week in a blog poll: Is there any circumstance under which Wade might leave and be booed upon his return? It was 41.4 percent “yes, if he rejoined LeBron”; 33.9 percent “no, he’s welcomed back for life”; 16.7 percent “yes, if he signed elsewhere for money comparable to Heat’s offer”; and 8.0 percent undecided.

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That’s almost two-thirds of fans who were willing to entertain some feeling of resentment toward Wade if he leaves. But is there a villain here? What would the divorce lawyers argue?

Miami’s offer to Wade is fair and reasonable if not extravagant. Denver reportedly is offering more: $50 million over two years. Chicago would offer the sentimental pull of being Wade’s hometown.

Wade, of course, might simply be using the competing offers as leverage to pressure Miami to up the ante.

Or it might not be about money first, in which case the damage in the Heat-Wade relationship would be harder to repair.

This might be about ego and pride. About a man tired of sacrificing for the Heat and feeling taken for granted. The feeling would be understandable — and magnified by an offseason of crazy spending in the NBA.

Wade watched Pat Riley identify Hassan Whiteside as “our No. 1 priority, period,” in free agency and lavish upon him a four-year, $98 million contract. Then Wade watched Riley swoon over and pursue his “whale,” Kevin Durant, only increasing his offer to Wade after Durant chose Golden State.

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Can you blame Wade, coming off his healthiest season in years, for not feeling great about being no better than the Heat’s No. 3 emphasis in free agency? After a career in which he has left an estimated $20 million on the table so Miami might get other players? But, even so, is Wade angry enough that he’d rather be on a losing ship in Denver where the Nuggets have had four coaches in four years?

Some would blame Wade if he leaves, yes.

Others would blame Riley and the Heat for not matching outside offers to keep him.

That’s what happens in divorces. Somebody needs to be the villain, right?

I’d blame neither side.

I’d not blame Riley. He would be protecting the franchise’s salary-cap situation and immediate future and allow further whale watching by not overspending for an aging Wade.

I’d not blame Wade. He would be doing what his pride told him he must.

I hope there is compromise; that the Heat bends a little, maybe offers that third year, and that Wade weighs staying against finding himself stuck in a place such as no-chance Denver. I hope Wade might stay for the fans, for Miami. I hope this works out, somehow, and that this man stays where he belongs.

But if he does go? Circle the date on the calendar when he first returns to Miami in a different uniform. Then stand and cheer that night, and don’t stop until Dwyane Wade understands down to his bones that he never should have left.

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