Today’s Game 5 against the youthful Philadelphia 76ers could be Heat guard Dwyane Wade’s swan song.
If it is indeed the sure-fire Hall of Famer’s last game, he sure gave the Miami fateful reminders of his greatness and a couple of more fun memories since the Heat acquired him in a mid-season trade from Cleveland.
In this year’s playoffs, Wade is second in the Heat in scoring with an average of 18 points (in just 24 minutes per outing) in the first four games of the series against Philly, including a 28-point performance in Miami’s Game 2 win in the City of Brotherly Love.
There is no argument that Wade is South Beach’s favorite son with apologies to Dan Marino, who didn’t bring the Dolphins to the Promised Land.
The 6’4” shooting guard has put Miami in the sporting world map since Pat Riley selected him fifth overall in the 2003 NBA Draft. Before that, the Chicago native powered Marquette to the Final Four of the NCAA with a triple-double performance against Kentucky.
Being in same draft class as Cleveland’s LeBron James and Denver’s Carmelo Anthony, Wade understandably flew under the radar in his rookie season despite averaging 16.2 points, 4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game.
His breakout moment, however, happened in the Heat’s first round playoff matchup against the New Orleans Hornets.
Playing point guard most of the time, the future superstar hit the game-winner in Game 1 and the Heat eventually won the series, 4-3. The team, however, bowed to a strong Indiana Pacers team in a very competitive second round series.
The following season, the Heat acquired Shaquille O’Neal and the young Wade, now nicknamed The Flash by The Diesel, finally had a Kareem to his Magic Johnson and a Lew Alcindor to his Oscar Robertson (OK, I admit I’m a big fan of Cap).
Wade and O’Neal would fall to Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals and Riley revamped the roster the following season by bringing in the likes of Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, Antoine Walker, and Gary Payton and reacquiring defensive stalwart Alonzo Mourning.
The new roster clicked and with Wade making his best Michael Jordan impersonation led the Heat to their first-ever NBA title at the expense of the Dallas Mavericks. In the 2006 finals, Wade averaged an eye-popping 34.7 points per game to cement his status as one of the NBA’s rising stars.
The Heat would stumble into mediocrity the following two seasons despite Wade’s individual brilliance. He even managed to lead the NBA in scoring in the regular season with a 30.2 points per game average in the 2008-2009 season.
Wade endeared himself more to South Beach when he spearheaded the recruitment of good friends and fellow gold medal Olympians LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join him in Miami in the 2010-2011 season.
He sacrificed individual glory to accommodate The King and the former Raptor and although their first season ended in defeat against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, Miami’s Big 3 brought home the bacon the next two seasons against the upstart Oklahoma Thunder and the veteran-laden San Antonio Spurs (Who could forget Ray Allen’s desperation 3-pointer in Game 6 that sent the game to overtime).
A loss to the same Spurs team in the NBA finals of the 2013-2014 season resulted in LeBron returning to Cleveland. Wade and the Heat eventually missed the post-season as Bosh dealt with the first bout of blood clots that ultimately would force him to prematurely retire from the NBA (Although he has flirted with coming back on a few occasions—no takers yet though).
Wade and the Heat returned to the playoffs in the 2015-2016 season with a new backcourt mate, Goran Dragic, and a drastically revamped roster. He averaged 19 points per game in the regular season and 21.4 points per game in the playoffs, but the Heat lost to the Raptors in seven games, as Hassan Whiteside was sidelined after Game 1 of the second round series against Toronto.
In the offseason, Wade regrettably signed with the Bulls after a perceived snub from Heat brass enamored with Kevin Durant’s free agency.
After forgetful stints with his hometown Chicago Bulls and LeBron’s Cavaliers the past 1 1/2 seasons, Wade returned home last Feb. 8 and finally gave the Heat the closer it badly needed.
His role as a closer worked in Game 2 last week against the Sixers as he torched JJ Reddick, Marco Bellinelli, and Robert Covington for 21 first half points.
Wade then bailed out Miami with a crucial swipe against Ersan Ilyasova that led to an uncontested dunk, as Philly whittled down the lead to a basket and a patented fall-away jumper against Sixers phenom Ben Simmons in the final minutes sealed the deal for the Heat.
His 25 points in Game 4 (12 in the final quarter), however, went for naught as Miami had several defensive miscues in the waning moments of the game (Whiteside forgot to rotate on Simmons’ free lane dunk and Reddick’s 19-footer on the side) to give the Sixers a daunting 3-1 lead.
Which now brings us to a do-or-die Game 5 today at the Wells Fargo Center in downtown Philadelphia. Wade may retire after this season, but win or lose, thanks D-Wade for 15 years of highlight after highlight, selfless sacrifice, and three championships.