MIAMI — Dwyane Wade made sure his final game in “Wade County” — the place he has spent the vast majority of the past 16 years and, in doing so, has become the most beloved athlete in this city’s history — was one fitting of the occasion.
After going through an emotional pregame ceremony, Wade went out and scored 30 points in 34 minutes to lead the Miami Heat to a 122-99 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. And while the win wasn’t enough to keep Miami’s slim playoff hopes alive — they were extinguished when the Detroit Pistons pulled off a 20-point second-half comeback to beat the Memphis Grizzlies — it was the perfect way to cap Wade’s Hall of Fame career at AmericanAirlines Arena, the scene of some of his greatest triumphs.
“It’s meant everything,” Wade said after the game. “To be able to come here and be embraced, to find a home, to be able to grow. I think that’s the one thing. When I was on the court early on and Stan [Van Gundy] let me grow, as a player, to whether it was mistakes I made in life, tor whatever it was, this city has allowed me to grow.
“I hope they are proud of what they have helped me become. This city means everything to me. It’s forever, forever, forever going to be my home.”
Judging by the crowd’s reactions throughout the game, it seems safe to assume fans are plenty proud of Wade’s many accomplishments.
And, on this night, the Heat celebrated all of them, beginning with a pregame ceremony complete with a video tribute of Wade’s career that was narrated by a combination of family and significant figures from his legendary career.
“Man, you’re going to make me cry before this game,” Wade said once the video tribute was done. “Man, I love you guys.
“I’m thankful for this moment. I’m thankful for this entire season.”
Wade, who was standing next to his oldest son, Zaire, and clearly was still emotional, then thanked every one of his teammates this season — including those who had since been cut or traded — by name.
“I thank you guys for dancing with me this year,” he said. “I thank you guys for your patience this year. I thank you for all your love, and for you having my back this year.
“I’ve got some brothers that will always be my brothers. I love you guys.”
The tribute video began Erik Spoelstra, who has been Wade’s head coach for most of the past decade and whose first season as a full-time NBA assistant coincided with Wade’s rookie season. It then transitioned to Shaquille O’Neal, who narrated the first act of Wade’s career — covering the championship they won together in 2006.
Dwyane Wade swaps jerseys with Jimmy Butler, takes a team photo with the Heat and then also swaps with his son Zaire Wade.
From there, it shifted to the second act — narrated by LeBron James, and covering both the Big Three era in Miami, which saw the Heat win two titles and reach four NBA Finals in as many years, as well as Wade leaving to go to the Chicago Bulls in the summer of 2015.
“Pressure like that could’ve hindered you,” James said of the challenges that faced those Heat teams, “but instead it hardened you, fortifying you as a player, a man and a leader.
“Then you reached the top of the mountain twice more. Different case, same conclusion.
“Your second act saw your arrivals as one of the most respected athletes on Earth, and the departure your home that got you there.”
The final act was narrated by three people: Wade’s wife, actress Gabrielle Union; Udonis Haslem, his longtime teammate; and Pat Riley, who either coached or ran the Heat for Wade’s entire career.
“We cheered, we cried, we chanted your name all throughout the city and up to the rafters,” Union said. “It was more than a reunion, it was a revival of the part you meant to play — from flash to fatherhood.”
“And now, you take the stage one final time, we salute you,” Haslem said, “as the player that fell down seven times, and stood up eight.”
“Because, no matter what narratives lie ahead,” Riley concluded, “know this city will always be proud to rep your name across its backs.
“Because this is, and forever will be, Wade County.”
The video then cut to Zaire Wade, who was shown walking into American Airlines Arena all by himself — first mimicking some of his father’s moves, from the pull-up midrange jumper to a pump fake — before slowly walking up the steps of the bowl to a microphone, where he sat down and introduced his father, recreating the Converse commercial he shot more than a decade ago.
Dwyane Wade pays his respects to his current teammates and Heat Nation before his final regular-season game in Miami.
When the lights came up, Zaire was standing at center court, where his father then walked to him and greeted him before addressing the crowd.
Throughout the video, Wade’s eyes rarely left the jumbotron screens above him — other than to briefly scan the crowd a couple of times. He kept moving himself around stretching, but his eyes stayed locked above him as the video played.
Shortly thereafter, following Wade’s speech to the crowd, he was given a full introduction by longtime Miami Heat public address announcer Michael Baiamonte, as the final player announced in the starting lineup.
Spoelstra had declined to say whether Wade would start before the game, but it would’ve been shocking if he hadn’t made his first start of this season in what could be his final game in this building — and he admitted as much postgame.
“It was a no-brainer,” Spoelstra said. “There was no way I was not going to do this.
“It felt like old times. Everything fell right into place, like it was 2008. … It was pretty cool.”
Once he took the home court for a final time — after spending a moment with Union and their young daughter at center court, and after a pregame video narrated by all of his teammates — he did a lap, imploring the crowd to get to its feet.
And then, on the first play of the game, he curled into the lane for a wide-open dunk, much to the delight of the hometown fans.
That was just the beginning of what was a game-long celebration, as the Sixers — who, with the third seed in the East playoffs locked up, had nothing to play for — seemed to subconsciously do their best to get out of the way and allow Miami to have one last celebration for its all-time favorite player.
There were other tributes mixed in during the game — the first, and most notable, being from former President Barack Obama, who praised Wade as a fellow Windy City native for his success.
“Whenever you got knocked back down, you showed us how to get back up,” Obama said. “You showed Chicago spirit, and you did us proud.”
The next timeout featured one of Wade’s other sons, Zion, who had a message for his father.
“Now, after all that sweet stuff, don’t lose your last home game,” he said, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Thanks to both Wade, who had a vintage performance, and the Sixers, there wasn’t much hope of that happening. And, as the game wore on, the only question became how many points Wade would score.
It turned out to be 30 — the same number another retiring superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, amassed in Dallas on Tuesday night. Wade did it in style, too, banking in a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, as well as hitting a step-back 3-pointer right in front of Union — who smacked him on the rear as he celebrated before running back on defense.
To top things off, Wade spent the fourth quarter on the floor with Haslem, his longtime friend and teammate. The two checked in together in the first minute of the fourth, and then checked out again with 62 seconds left to a deafening standing ovation.
“At that moment, I just wanted to enjoy it a little bit more, just a little bit longer,” Wade said. “It was great to end that last one with my brother.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way. I was just trying to have fun. I got a couple shots to fall, and I got the crowd into it. It was cool.”
The only thing that didn’t go as scripted on the night was when Wade tried to do his signature move after his postgame news conference on the court — leaping onto the scorer’s table and celebrating with the sellout crowd.
Only, instead of leaping onto the scorer’s table, Wade fell and crashed into it, leading him to crack a joke at his own expense on the public address system. Eventually, though, he managed to get up onto it and salute the crowd one last time.
“It was three leaps,” he said later with a smile. “I wanted to keep it with number three. You see how I turned a negative into a positive that fast?
“[But] that is the way I wanted to end it. I ended it in D-Wade fashion, falling and slipping and getting right back up.”
Wade and Spoelstra both confirmed that he would be playing Wednesday night in Brooklyn, in what officially will be the final game of his legendary career.
How much he plays, though — and whether he can come close to replicating what he did Tuesday — remains to be seen.
“I plan on playing,” he said. “I don’t know how much, though. Tonight was my ‘One Last Dance.’ Tomorrow we have another game, and we are going to have a lot of fans there that I love.”
What won’t be there, though, is the unconditional love he felt here, the place where Wade became a household NBA name nationally, and a patron saint locally — one who gave his fans one final night to savor a throwback performance.
“I think, at this point, as you have one more game left, that’s all you have … you have these moments,” Wade said. “You have the flashbacks in your mind. You have video to look at. [But] those moments, to be able to have these moments throughout your career, that’s what you want when you’re older … that just is what it is.
“To be able to have cool moments throughout my career … I’ve got stories to tell. I’ve got moments that I’ll remember. Hopefully, I’ve created enough, too, for this city, and for these fans.”