Dwyane Wade tapped his fist over his heart and waved to the crowd, touched by the video tribute the Lakers played Monday night during his last game in Los Angeles before he retires. Wade has resisted becoming swamped by nostalgia during his 16th and final NBA season because he’s still in the moment, still coming off the bench and mentoring his young Miami Heat teammates. But that display of affection and the hug from LeBron James that followed seemed to get to him. James anticipated their last matchup would hit them hard.
“There’s definitely a lot of emotions coming into that,” James said Monday morning.
Wade and James, members of the 2003 NBA draft class, were brothers in spirit long before they teamed with Chris Bosh to win championships in Miami in 2012 and 2013. Wade and James each won a title without the other, Wade with Miami in 2006 and James with Cleveland in 2016, but the two were most formidable together.
“We shifted the culture of how you could still compete, still be great, and push each other. It’s not for everyone. You’ve got the Mamba mentality,” Wade said, referring to Kobe Bryant’s relentless mind-set. “It’s just something that worked for us. We clicked from the beginning and we’ve pushed each other and helped each other’s career go up another level and another notch. He’s been great for me and I’ve been great for him.”
Wade said he thought the finality of the occasion began to sink in when the buzzer sounded, ending the Lakers’ 108-105 victory. Immediately, Wade and James embraced and exchanged jerseys on the court in front of a horde of photographers. Before that, another memory he created at Staples Center was closest to his heart.
“When I had my last matchup against Kobe here, it meant something to me,” Wade said of his 26-point performance against a hobbled Bryant in a 102-100 overtime victory for the Lakers on March 30, 2016. “It was the end of an era for me. It was the end of someone to chase for me, from a two-guard standpoint, so I lost a little piece of me when that happened.”
Whatever he might have lost, Wade still has plenty left. As he walked to the court for warmups he spied Lakers coach Luke Walton, also part of his draft class.
“Luke Walton made the ’03 draft what it is,” Wade said, to Walton’s amusement.
Said Walton, a second-round pick by the Lakers that year: “In my opinion, he’s one of the all-time great players of our league, definitely of my generation. The way he plays the game, with throwing his body around and playing so hard every single night and doing it for this many years, is incredible. It’s been a lot of fun to compete against him and play against him and now coach against him. It’s an unbelievable career for him.”
Not every veteran player would accept a bench role with Wade’s class and grace.
“There’s a couple things about that,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “One, what it says about Dwyane and his ability constantly to reinvent himself and sacrifice for the betterment of the team. He did that when he was at the top of his game, in his prime, and he’s proven that he can do it with a team like this. Obviously, he’s proven he’s worthy of starting. And the second part of that is, a large part of him not starting is I can protect us from me and from him. I’ve coached him many years. I know if I start him, I’m going to play him 40 minutes, so I can control the minutes better if he’s not playing the first six or seven of the first and third.”
Wade not only gets his role, he embraces it.
“He understands the bigger picture of things, his legacy on this organization and this team and he has a big chance to put his fingerprints on how this is going to look going forward and the development of our young players,” Spoelstra said. “You need great leadership. ... It takes somebody that has great emotional intelligence and great emotional stability to see the big picture and to find purpose and joy in that and that’s what makes Dwyane so special. He’s extremely unique. I’ve been around a lot of players and there’s not many like him in this league that have that kind of serving heart.”
Wade’s heart is full these days. The Heat were here for several days to play the Clippers on Saturday and the Lakers on Monday, giving Wade precious time with his infant daughter, Kaavia, born via surrogate to him and his wife, actress Gabrielle Union. He’s content with however history will judge his sure Hall of Fame career. Asked whether he’s OK with being ranked the third-best shooting guard after Michael Jordan and Bryant, the players he most admired, he smiled.
“So many great players are going to come into this game and I’m going to get knocked down and knocked down,” he said before he scored 15 points, all in the second half, and earned 10 assists against the Lakers. “It doesn’t matter to me. I wanted to represent the two-guard position to the best of my ability, and wherever Dwyane Wade ends when he’s done, that’s where I end it. I gave everything I had to the game. I gave all my talents and my ability and I have nothing left to give it, so if I’m three, thank you. If I’m eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, thank you.”