On his 35th birthday, Dwyane Wade walked into a surprise birthday party under a rainfall of fake $1,000 bills that were adorned with his face.
His wife, actress Gabrielle Union, called the bash and her husband “Bad and Boujee,” which also is the title of the hit song by Atlanta hip-hop trio Migos.
It fits who Wade is, where he has been and where he returned in this homecoming season for the Bulls.
“I guess I am boujee in certain ways,” Wade said, laughing. “I can be a bad ass, too.” That “bad” baller from Chicago evolved over 13 years with Miami, turning “boujee” elite and rich with Hall of Fame play and big-game pay.
Wade’s familiar “No. 3” now resides on a different red, white and black jersey. Wade in Chicago unsettles NBA culture like Karl Malone on the Lakers or Wade’s idol, Michael Jordan, on the Wizards.
It was never Wade’s intention to leave Miami, nor has the return to his roots gone as intended. The Bulls needed a recent four-win run just to get temporarily above .500 for the first time since Jan. 7. Wade’s level of play has not veered far from what he did to lead the Heat to last year’s conference semifinals.
“Flash” remains an appropriate nickname, but sometimes for how Wade’s flashbacks of greatness come. Wade was left off the All-Star team for the first time since he was a rookie in 2004 but he can still tap into the basketball genius that won three NBA championships, a scoring title and a Finals MVP.
“You obviously want to win but you also have to be realistic and understand we’re young and we have a lot of young guys we depend on,” Wade said. “It’s unfair for me to think that they’re going to be where I am after all the years that I played. All I want is for them to come out and compete every night and give us a chance to win. We are who we are. Where we’re at doesn’t mean it’s going to be where we finish.”
Rajon Rondo, Chicago’s other major off-season signing, was moved to the bench in January. Later, Wade and co-star Jimmy Butler called out the team’s effort. Rondo seemed to take an Instagram shot at the duo’s leadership style. Younger Bulls shared how they wanted Wade to practice more.
“Sometimes, people have expectations of what you should do and shouldn’t do but they’ve got to go through the experience and see what kind of leader you are,” Wade said. “I show different ways to lead. It works for me. It doesn’t mean it works for everybody. It has worked for me in my career and I’ve been able to be on championship teams and that’s what I play for so I like it.”
Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine has long admired that on- and off-court style, wearing Wade’s Marquette and Heat jerseys as a kid. Now he marvels at Wade’s Bulls jersey.
Isolated with the ball in a tie game at Sacramento, Wade drove to a desired spot and released a game-winner. Before the shot fell, Wade turned to his bench where Valentine’s mouth dropped open.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Valentine said. “I was like, ‘He really is great.’ ”
Wade would have posted his first triple-double in six years if not for teammate Cristiano Felicio grabbing a last-second rebound from Wade’s hands at Cleveland last weekend.
Wade averages about 19 points, five rebounds and four assists, resembling last season’s stat line. He does it differently with more three-pointers on a career-best three-point clip that affects a career-low overall field goal percentage.
“He can still do it at age 35,” Bulls Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s fun to watch. When he’s got it going, we give him the ball and tell everybody to get the hell out of the way and let him to go to work. He’s won several games like that this season.”
But after 14 years of play and a mediocre Bulls season, Wade might not return to Chicago next season on a $23.8 million player option or to the NBA at all.
Improving his childhood team, impacting his community’s youth and having his mother at every home game also was supposed to include Bulls success.
Wade enjoys that his sons are being challenged more by Chicago youth basketball. His Chicago challenges come in different forms — roster dynamics and Father Time. His court play has held up well, although he has missed nine games, but the effect of his leadership might not be immediate for 10 teammates with three or fewer NBA seasons.
“We look to him to lead when we need to figure things out,” teammate Michael Carter-Williams said. “When things aren’t going the way we want, he has a lot of good insight. He has a lot more wisdom and a lot more to give us.”
Back in his original city limits, Wade knows his basketball limits.
Forever defined by stardom in Miami, he defers to another star in Chicago. Savvy offset his missing bounce. Fewer slashing drives, more slick jumpers. Still bad and boujee.
“You got to understand who you are and embrace it,” Wade said. “I embrace it.”