All’s Well that Ends Well in Wade County

I’ve been a Miami Heat fan since I could understand the game of basketball, and I’ve been going to Heat games for as long as I can remember. Whenever I visit my grandparents in Miami and the team is in town, we spend a night at American Airlines Arena, decked out in Heat apparel. Granted, my preschool-self couldn’t handle the noise the first few games, but as I got older, the Heat became “my team.”

At the same time I started to follow the Heat, Dwyane Wade began to emerge as a star. In 2003 and 2004, his rookie and sophomores seasons, Wade propelled the team to consecutive playoff berths, advancing the second and third rounds, respectively. Then, in the 2005-06 season, Wade and Shaquille O’Neal led the Heat to the NBA finals, in which they overcame a 0-2 deficit against the Dallas Mavericks to win their first NBA championship in franchise history. Wade was also crowned Finals MVP in what is considered one of the most heroic postseason performances of all time.

After that magical season, eight-year-old me Dwyane Wade’s biggest fan. My grandparents gifted me Wade’s special-edition Finals jersey, which I wore proudly and often.  I went as D-Wade for Halloween that year, donning the jersey along with Heat shorts and a Heat cap, and carrying a miniature replica of the Larry O’Brien trophy, which is awarded to NBA champions. I pretended to be Wade when I’d play basketball in my driveway, counting down the final seconds of a game in my head and heaving up a shot before the imaginary clock hit zero, recreating the miraculous plays Wade seemed to make on a nightly basis. Naturally, the basketball was branded with the Heat’s logo. I even dedicated an entire bookcase to the Heat, its shelves packed with posters, stat books, newspaper articles, and a signed copy of Wade’s autobiography, which featured prominently. For all intents and purposes, Wade was one my childhood idols.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to witness Wade’s game-winning buzzer-beaters, join the crowd in “We want Wade!” chants, high-five him as a part of the fan tunnel, and cheer as he electrified the arena with his signature dunks. I watched him take the floor with basketball greats LeBron James and Chris Bosh. I relished the Heat’s four-year NBA finals streak and the back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013, and sympathized when the team mustered just 15 wins a few seasons prior. 

As one might imagine, I was devastated when Wade signed with the Chicago Bulls in 2016. After 13 seasons with the Heat, Wade’s productivity had started to dip, and the Heat were apparently unwilling to re-sign Wade for as much money as the Bulls had offered him. While I understood Wade’s decision and desire to head to the Windy City, his hometown, I couldn’t help but feel betrayed. He spent over a decade shaping the Heat into an annual contender, a team around which an entire city rallied. Even though I’ve never been a Miami resident, I had spent almost a decade supporting him and following his endeavors on-and-off the court. It seemed like he left his fans, the team and the Miami area—which once temporarily renamed itself “Wade County”—in the dust. Watching him sport a Bulls jersey felt strange, even wrong, and I could barely bring myself to root for him.

“For the restoration of my childhood dreams and rejuvenation of my appreciation of basketball, I needed Dwyane Wade back on the Heat, too.”

That season, my interest in basketball dipped. Not in terms of playing it, of course; my brief rec-basketball career had ended before I graduated middle school. But, I continued to watch televised Heat games until Wade departed. I still kept up with the team and its budding stars, but tuning into a game felt less exciting. It felt like something was missing.

Despite Wade taking his talents to Chicago, the Miami faithful somewhat patiently waited for the breaking news that Wade would come home. After he and the Bulls agreed to a contract buyout in the summer of 2017, fans—myself included—hoped Wade might return to Heat, who were eager to mend their relationship with their long-time star. But instead, Wade signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, reuniting with James, his close friend, and former teammate. There was one caveat to this commitment, however; soon after joining the team, Wade confirmed that he wanted to retire as a member of the Heat. The only question was when.

Then, on Feb. 8, the stars aligned, and the Cavaliers traded Wade back to the Heat as part of a radical restructuring of their roster. I was elated. All was forgiven. My penchant for basketball was restored. The course of history was righted. Things in Miami were back to normal.

The Heat needed Dwyane Wade, not just to play, but to serve as a mentor to young stars like Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson. Dwyane Wade needed the Heat, a team who respected him, and whose fan base supported him whether he scored 30 points or didn’t even see playing time. And in some convoluted way, for the restoration of my childhood dreams and rejuvenation of my appreciation of basketball, I needed Dwyane Wade back on the Heat, too. 

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