CHICAGO – He had attempted everything, the art of self-deception and public declarations, and yet nothing prepared Dwyane Wade for the moment. Game on the line, ball in Wade’s hands, inside the United Center. It was like he was back on those old courts on the South Side here, and he delivered a playground follow-through pose, an unhinged glare to onlookers and his most clutch shot with the Bulls.
The sweltering aftermath of his Miami Heat career loomed with Wade’s fourth 3-pointer in the Bulls’ 105-99 win over Boston, and he toured the court with family and friends, fans and cameramen. “Homecoming,” he told them. An improbable scenario – his parents and family members at the Bulls’ season opener – turned into a forever night, sealing the memory bank.
“I closed the Miami chapter right there,” Wade told The Vertical inside an empty locker room late Thursday.
“I can’t focus over there anymore. I want those guys in Miami to be successful, but I’m motivated by greatness here. I’m motivated by doing what people think I can’t do, for sure. I had to make a decision, and I feel good about the decision I made.
“A lot of emotions hit me when I made that shot. I’m not here because I’m angry at [Pat Riley] or the Heat. There’s no anger. I’m happy because I got the freedom to look elsewhere. I got to look at home.”
In truth, the Heat allotted Wade the opportunity to abandon them with a failure even people around Wade acknowledge. The Heat needed to come with an aggressive offer in July, a near-maximum deal to discourage their franchise cornerstone from considering the possibility of a union elsewhere. Instead, Miami exhibited content behaviors, fixated on a backcourt core of Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson and locked center Hassan Whiteside into a maximum contract. Yes, no such offer awaited Wade – no award for his 13 seasons.
Wade has family everywhere at home now, arena promotions geared around him. And the perfect storm played out on Thursday: lost ball, found in Wade’s hands, step back and a late 3-pointer to close a win against an Eastern Conference rival. Wade was set loose here, running the court end-to-end postgame, palpable exuberance all over.
“Like seeing a kid out there,” said Taj Gibson, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Wade had left Miami dissected as a poor 3-point shooter, mocked for his range. Now? “I’m the No. 1 3-point shooter in the league if I can shoot [4 of 6] every game,” he joked. “I’m just going to let it fly.”
Together, Jimmy Butler and Wade scored 46 points and made 8-of-12 3-pointers. As much as they want to create their own style – and eliminate the necessity of shooting – the Bulls’ success promises to hinge on their long-distance numbers and defensive discipline. For one night, Chicago’s shooting was reckoning and its bodies were active on defense.
Most of all, these Bulls were unafraid and sturdy, prepared for the physicality of the Celtics, who still must sharpen their execution and incorporate Al Horford.
“Cleveland knows their game and knows how to turn it on, turn it off,” Wade told The Vertical, “but we don’t know each other. This is the first time we’ve played together to close out a tight game. It’s fool’s gold to think about a championship right now.
“It’s about building off games like these in the regular season. It was a little something out there with the physicality. Two teams really fighting for their way in the Eastern Conference.”
It was running late Thursday inside the Bulls’ locker room, and Wade had been laughing about his 3-point shooting. Butler appeared in front of him to embrace and leave the arena, and suddenly Wade turned serious and hugged Butler. One day, the serious meeting between Wade and Riley will become necessary, too, for the harmony of champions together. Even now, the email that Riley claimed to draft for Wade has yet to land.
“I think something is wrong with my email,” Wade said, smiling. “It ain’t come through yet.”
Soon, Wade was walking into the bowels of the United Center to greet a room full of family. He had kept telling everyone in training camp: The Heat days are over. One day, he and his old Miami GM will need a meeting. For now, chapter closed, Wade said, and finally even his own actions had shown him, yes, Miami is over. One 3-pointer at a time.
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