NBA superstar Dwyane Wade has taken the court for the last of his 1053 career games, but he will leave the sport having transcended basketball.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on April 11, 2019

A quick glance at Dwyane Wade’s NBA career is easily enough to make a case for him as a first ballot hall of famer; more than 23,000 career points, 13 all-star appearances, seven appearances in all-NBA teams. He was an NBA champion on three occasions, one as the team’s unquestioned star in 2006 and then twice as part of the ‘Heatles’ triumvirate with LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

The numbers are cool, but the whole experience of Wade was infinitely cooler. Here was a player who glided around the court where others hurried and who seemed genetically incapable of ever being flustered, no matter how pressured the situation.

From his days as a South side phenom to a five-star recruit at Marquette and a franchise player at the Miami Heat, he was a basketball blue blood, pure silk as an athlete in motion. His dancer’s feet, crossovers and canny pump fakes, his ability to slither through defenders and absorb contact were all sublime. He was a shooting guard that could never really shoot from range, but his strengths were so pronounced he turned what could have been a fatal flaw into an irrelevance.

The sense of smoothness and calm that surrounded Wade is a major part of his legacy. Put his name into Google and one of the autocorrect suggestions is ‘Dwyane Wade looks tired’. But this seems to misread the deep calm behind the heavy-lidded appearance. For the opponents he menaced for 16 seasons, it wasn’t that he lacked energy but that he never seemed to raise a sweat.

Dwyane Wade had been Miami’s favourite son

He seemed a perfect fit for the glamour of South Beach, yet he somehow fell out with Miami Heat supremo Pat Riley three seasons ago and left the sunshine state. Something about money and pride, or a combination of the two. He landed on a misfit Chicago team and the sight of him in the Bulls’ red always looked plain wrong.

Some backroom string-pulling from BFF LeBron James saw him move to Cleveland, but even that reunion could not relight the flame. By this stage of his career, statistically minded fans were consulting their spreadsheets and condemning him as a no-conscience gunner. He seemed a shadow of himself, headed for a shabby end to a once glittering career.

Yet the basketball gods had one last card to play and in February 2018, a surprise trade sent him home to Miami.

The old bitterness had vanished and in a team full of useful players untouched by greatness, the slightly faded grandeur of Wade’s game made perfect sense. When he checked in for the first game for his new (old) team, the crowd united in a hail of ecstatic white noise.

Now in a low stakes situation, he was a big fish in a becalmed pond, and he pulled off basketball miracles like this ludicrous game-winner and this vintage 30-point outpouring. Some people go to Florida at the end of their days to retire quietly. Wade went back at the end of his career to reclaim his throne.

#OneLastDance: the Dwyane Wade farewell tour

With his reputation restored, many urged him to keep playing, but he chose to leave on his own terms. It has been a graceful, elongated goodbye tour and a celebration of someone who had become far more than just a basketball player in his twilight years.

Having sometimes gone hungry as a child living in poverty, he didn’t forget his roots. He gave millions to his community, helping those less fortunate to go to college or to get by when they had been struck with misfortune. In a quiet way, he was a political figure, supporting gay rights, speaking out against gun violence and writing the names of Parkland shooting victims on his shoes. As a viral video tribute to him released earlier this week made clear, those he helped never forgot it.

He was a deceptively fierce competitor on court but off it, a sweetheart to the end. In his last game against Atlanta, he sought out rookie Kevin Huerter. He had heard the young man wore number 3 in his honour, so he gave him his singlet. There have been similar scenes in every city; opponents turning into fans after the game, cueing for a selfie, a hug, a chance to play a small role in the farewell tour he hashtagged #OneLastDance.

After today’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, he is set to ride off into the brilliant Florida sun, but his legacy, in the annals of the sport and beyond, will continue to gleam brightly.

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