Coming up later tonight, Dwyane Wade will play in his first game for the Miami Heat since May 2016, and the crowd at American Airlines Arena will respond accordingly when he checks in at some point in the first quarter.
When this moment happens and is over and done with, it will mean everything has been corrected in the eyes of an avid NBA fan, and of course a Heat basketball fan. Things should’ve never reached a point for Wade where he felt he had to leave Miami, and his relationship with team president Pat Riley shouldn’t have never been strained.
In-fact, maybe this was just all just a big misunderstanding in the end. In a press conference days after Wade left the Heat initially for the Chicago Bulls back in the summer of 2016, everything about Riley at that conference expressed regret. His mannerisms and the tone of his voice expressed genuine regret and disappointment, wishing he would’ve been more involved in the negotiations Wade did have with the Heat before departing.
That’s where the misunderstanding part comes in. Riley says Wade’s representatives requested to directly deal with Heat ownership and Micky Airson during contract talks. Perhaps in hindsight, this was a telling sign that Wade already believed that his relationship with Riley had some broken pieces in it. Or, maybe it was Wade testing to see if Riley would fight extra harder for him at that particular moment, and when Riley didn’t, his decision to leave the only NBA organization was already made.
“I know he feels I didn’t fight hard enough for him,” Riley said when asked about Wade’s departure from Miami in 2016. “I was very, very sad when Dwyane said no. I wish I could have been there and told him why I didn’t really fight for him at the end. … I fought for the team. The one thing I wanted to do for him, and maybe this is what obscured my vision, but I wanted to get him another player so he could end his career competitive.”
The reasons why Wade felt unwanted where simple to understand, and it was why most took his side when Riley and Wade went through and ugly public divorce. Wade had always been the one to sacrifice for the Heat. He sacrificed millions to bring LeBron James and Chris Bosh into his city, and Riley had always promised Wade that one day he would make it up to him.
Then, when perhaps the biggest opportunity to make it up to Wade arose for Riley, he passed on it. This came when came in the summer of 2014, when both Wade and Bosh stayed with the Heat, but James left Miami for his own homecoming with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Once Bosh and his representatives knew James was gone, they asked Riley and the Heat for more money on a contract that they had already finalized, since they knew Riley had drawn the contracts up once again to keep James, Bosh, and Wade together.
Riley had to do oblige towards Bosh’s demands, because Bosh was threatening to leave Miami, and sign with the Houston Rockets instead. That’s when Riley broke the bank, and inked Bosh to a five-year, $118 million contract, while Wade was left signing a two-year, $31.5 million contract, meaning Bosh signed for $86.5 million more guaranteed than Wade.
From a pure basketball standpoint, it makes sense why the Heat chose to pay Bosh the deal he demanded instead of taking care of Wade. Bosh was simply a better basketball player at that point in time, and was the best player on the Heat in the games he appeared in for Miami under the deal. However, after two separate episodes of blood clotting occurring with Bosh, the contract eventually had to be cleared from Miami’s salary cap. Bosh is still earning that money from the Heat, but the money won’t penalize Miami’s ability to sign free agents like it did the past couple of off-seasons.
Of course, you can’t hold Riley, or anyone accountable for Bosh’s unfortunate medical situation. Hell, if he would’ve gave Wade a five-year, $118 million contract at the time, it would’ve been more critically viewed than Bosh ending up with the deal. What you can hold Riley accountable for is not making sure Wade was taken care of with the appropriate financial compensation, and he confessed that he should’ve taken care of Wade first.
Even with everything that went down with Riley turned personal for Wade, he couldn’t take his eyes off the Heat. Wade kept himself plugged into whatever the Heat were doing, watching a majority of their games, and checking the scores of their games. Wade kept close tabs on Josh Richardson, and Justise Winslow, who both played their rookie seasons in Miami the year before Wade left. Now, Wade gets to reunite with the both of them, and is extremely proud about how much Richardson in particular has grown as a player:
“It’s something I never thought I’d hear Dwyane Wade say, that he’s impressed with how I played,” Richardson told the Miami Herald. “But I’m grateful for that praise and super impressed with what he’s done in his career and I hope I can just learn from him and emulate some of the things he’s done.”
Even though Goran Dragic was given an all-star nod by the NBA this season, it’s hard to argue against Richardson being the most valuable piece to the puzzle. The 24-year-old Richardson is often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player, and being the player head coach Erik Spoelstra tends to yield to down the stretch on offense. Richardson is also the best shot blocking guard on the Heat, just like Wade was.
Now with Wade back, Richardson can once again learn from Wade, as their is plenty Richardson still wants to learn to elevate his game to even greater levels. From a team standpoint, Wade will address the Heat’s need for scoring, especially with guard Dion Waiters lost for the season with ankle surgery. His role isn’t defined and set in stone yet, but you can bet the Wade, and Spoelstra both know what is going to work.
Back to Riley and Wade, how did the relationship ended up getting repaired? Riley and Wade reportedly exchanged emails over the last two years, but text isn’t going to mend anything that is broken, even in this day and age. All it took was a hug to solve everything, and it was a little bit of an unusual setting where the relationship ended up being repaired at.
Both Riley and Wade where in attendance at the funeral for Henry Thomas, who was the agent of Wade, and one of Wade’s best friends in Udonis Haslem. Thomas also was the agent for many other players with Heat ties like Tim Hardaway and Bosh, so that meant Thomas kept a good relationship with the Heat throughout the years, and of course Riley. The hug exchange between Riley and Wade convinced Wade of everything he needed to know, that one day he was going to return to the Heat.
Matter of fact, Haslem told the Associated Press that it was part of plan for Wade to sign with the Heat this upcoming off-season for his return. That shows you how unlikely yesterday’s trade between the Cavaliers and Heat was to bring Wade back to the Heat quicker than anyone expected, but all parties involved agreed that the timing was just right for it to occur.
“The hug that we embraced was real and it was all we needed,” Wade said about his moment with Riley at the funeral. “That’s it. That’s all we both needed. I walked away and I felt better about everything, without even getting into anything.”
All that maters in the end is that Wade and the Heat are happy together once again. It should’ve never reached the point where they had to split, but perhaps that’s what was needed to make Wade’s Heat legacy all the more memorable. Both Riley and Wade are fighters, and their egos clashed before, then, and will almost certainly crash again. However, like Riley says, warriors don’t live in the past:
“For all of you who know me, warriors don’t live in the past. Life is now. And the future is waiting,” he said yesterday. “Based on what happened with Dwyane and us the last couple of years, there’s no bitterness and no regrets. We’ve always talked about that. Micky [Arison] is very pro Dwyane. Coach [Erik Spoelstra] is very pro Dwyane. I am. It was a sad day when Dwyane left and it’s a beautiful day that he’s back.”
So as I sit here typing this wearing my Wade jersey, I think I can speak for all Heat fans across the nation when I say, welcome back, Dwyane. It is going to be great seeing you and Udonis share the city of Miami again, and you can bet Heat Nation is just as excited to see you, as you are excited to see us tonight.
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