Dwyane Wade’s 16th and final NBA season is proving the Miami Heat star is held in the highest regard all around the league by veterans, rookies, former team-mates and rivals alike.
There’s nothing Wade has not accomplished in the NBA. He is a three-time champion, a 12-time (and maybe soon to be 13-time) All-Star, a Finals MVP and an All-Star game MVP. Wade was named on the All-NBA first team and led the league in scoring in the 2008/09 season.
Given those accolades, the respect he has been accorded around the league on what is his ‘farewell tour’ is not surprising.
Before his last NBA dance began, Wade devised a plan to make it as special as possible. If you have watched Heat games this season, you will have seen the jersey swaps Wade conducts with an opposition player at the end of games.
Definitely wasn’t my idea from the standpoint it’s been done in soccer and [NFL] football, Wade said before the Heat’s game against Atlanta earlier this week. But from the NBA standpoint, it’s something I wanted to do. I remember [the] last year with Kobe (Bryant), a lot of guys were meeting him in the back and he was signing shoes for them.
I reached out early to the Heat and [said], ‘I just need to order 82 jerseys because this is something that I want to do’, Wade said. Not that I’m going to give out 82. I’m definitely going to save some for my team-mates and important ones for myself.
New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Atlanta’s Vince Carter, Phoenix’s Jamal Crawford, Washington’s Bradley Beal – who called Wade his idol – and Boston’s Terry Rozier – who described Wade as his childhood hero – are among the stars to have swapped jerseys with ‘Flash’ to date.
His most talked-about jersey swap came in Staples Center on December 10 following the Heat’s 108-105 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Wade exchanged jerseys – and prolonged hugs – with friend and former Heat (and for a short time Cleveland Cavaliers) team-mate LeBron James, with whom he won two NBA titles and reached four successive finals.
The pair were interviewed on court with mutual respect to the fore. I’m losing a brother in this game that I’ve had so many wars with together and separately [against each other], James said before gesturing towards Wade and adding: This is my guy. He’s one of the greatest players to play this game. As privileged as he feels to have come into the league with me, it’s beyond mutual. We’re going to miss ‘Flash’ in this league, that’s for sure.
The tributes to Wade have not been limited to current players. Five years before James joined him in Miami, Wade led the Heat to their first NBA championship in 2006, winning Finals MVP honours in the process. His partner-in-crime on that title-winning roster, NBA legend turned TV analyst Shaquille O’Neal, admitted he was envious of Wade’s season-long NBA farewell.
I’m jealous, O’Neal told Florida newspaper the Sun-Sentinel. I’m jealous right now. I wanted the whole farewell tour. Every great, historic player deserves one. D-Wade is a historic player. And there’s a lot of barbershop talk of him being the second- or the third-best two-guard in the game. And when you bring his name up, there’s nobody even close [to him] as far as three, four, five, six and all that. So he is one of the top two-guards to play the game. I’m happy for him that he can have this farewell tour.
The Heat sit sixth in East with a 20-20 record and realistic hopes of making the postseason. Should they make the playoffs it will be a fitting end to Wade’s glittering career.
If Miami make it, those 82 jerseys might not be enough to satisfy the long list of players jostling to pay tribute to Wade as he bids farewell to the NBA.