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My personal journey with Dwyane Wade

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A look back at Wade's legendary career with the Heat as seen through the eyes of one of his biggest fans.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I can remember it like it was yesterday the first time I saw him. It was March of 2005 when I was went downstairs to ask my dad why he was screaming "wow" so much while watching a basketball game. I asked him if it was LeBron James on television. He responded to my question, "No son another kid named Dwyane Wade." Wondering who that was, I asked who Dwyane Wade was. His response was "a very good basketball player." I asked "well what did Dwyane do?" Apparently Wade got the ball stolen by Steve Francis and instead of giving up on the play Wade decided to get a chase down block on him. Seeing it on replay I'm like, "Ok dad it's just one play" and I walked back upstairs.

The very next night I'm watching the game with my dad -- it's one of those Miami Heat vs Orlando Magic back-to-back games the in-state rivals play. I'm shocked because the same play happens again and Wade blocks Francis' layup again from behind. I'm like, "Dad we saw this last night, he did it again!" My dad looks at me and says, "I told you he was good". Ever since that night I fell in love with Wade's game.

The playoffs came after the Miami Heat went 59-23 in the 2004-05 season. They were the number 1 seed in the East and had the second best record in the NBA that year. During the first and second rounds of the playoffs that year, star big man Shaquille O' Neal, who they acquired before the season, was injured. I was shocked to see a 22-year-old kid instead take over both of those series. The Heat swept the New Jersey Nets and the Washington Wizards because of Wade elevating his game to new levels. Injuries in the conference finals to both Wade and O'Neal cost the Heat their first appearance in the NBA Finals. I then officially began to become a Heat fan and Wade overtook LeBron James' title as my favorite player in the NBA.

The following year in 2006 I watched Wade all season deal with adversity. I saw him and the Heat change coaches from Stan Van Gundy to President and GM Pat Riley. I saw the chemistry was a little off with the different acquisitions like Gary Payton, Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, and James Posey now on the team. I heard all the doubters say that this team couldn't win a championship because of all the egos on the team. That year I wondered could the Heat actually win the NBA championship? That year Wade led Miami to the NBA Finals and beat the Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the series. Wade had a series for the ages as he averaged 34.7 ppg for the series and an incredible 42 ppg the last four games after falling down 0-2. He showed me that no matter how impossible the task may be, you can overcome anything if you want it bad enough. He was a champion and the first member of that historic 2003 draft class that played (sorry Darko Millic) to win a NBA championship, beating out LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh.

I unfortunately watched Wade's fall from grace also. In the 2006-07 season Wade dislocated his left shoulder in the 2nd half of the season. His season was ruled over because he needed surgery but he decided to just rehab his shoulder so he can help the Heat defend their title. In 2007-08, Wade began to have knee problems which made the Heat organization shut him down mid-season. This period of Wade's career was the first time he ever heard critics doubt him and wonder would he ever be able to be the player that won the Heat a NBA championship again. All this doubt only made Wade stronger because he used it as fuel to make him come back stronger than ever. He had to fight and earn his way onto USA Basketball Men's National Team in 2008. With Wade being the leading scorer he helped lead the team to a gold medal. Everybody was saying Wade was back.

In the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, Wade helped get the Heat back in the playoffs. Wade had incredible seasons both years. Wade was proving again that he is, when healthy, one of the best basketball players in the world. Wade was a one man show, single handily carrying the Heat to the playoffs. Wade was back to the player that he was in 2006 when he led the Heat to the NBA title. Even with his own personal success and his great MVP-like seasons, he wasn't able to help his team get out of the 1st round of the playoffs. This was hurting Wade because he was entering the prime of his career and knew that he couldn't do it alone. He needed more help to help him get back to winning championships again. In the 2010 NBA Finals, Wade watched Kobe Bryant chased the ball down after Game 7. He saw Bryant get the ball and held his hand up high showing the number five which indicated that he has five NBA championships. Wade was a hater, he didn't like watching anybody else win that wasn't him. He decided that with his impending free agency in the summer of 2010 he wanted to put him in the best position to winning a championship for multiple years. He needed help and help is what he got.

Leading up to this, all of Pat Riley's strategic moves that he been pulling off for the past few years to clear cap space had finally been done. He and Wade had a vision of bringing superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh to help the Heat bring multiple championships. Riley offered James and Bosh the resume he had of coaching and building championship teams and that he knew what a championship team looked like. Wade was very close to them because they entered the draft together and the time they spent on the USA Team in 2008 also helped seal the deal for the Heat. On July 8th when James had decided he was taking his talents to South Beach, the Heat became the Heatles and soon became the league's rock star team. To make this dream a reality Wade was the one member of the big three that took the least money from their max contracts to help the Heat get the two stars and the role players to fill the team out. Now the Heat got their big three and Wade was ready to win championships again. The Heat started out slow to begin the 2010-2011 season with a 9-8 record but even with all the media scrutiny, Wade and the Heat battled their way to the 2nd seed of the Eastern Conference. Wade was one of the biggest voices in the locker room that season. With great expectations, the Heat had relied on their leader the most. Wade led with his play more than ever down the stretch of the regular season and the playoffs that season. In the 2011 NBA Finals the dream season for Miami ended. Wade and the Heat fell short of the main goal of winning a championship, losing 4-2 to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.

In the summer of 2011, Wade and James had a conversation in the Bahamas. Wade talked to James and admitted that if the Heat wanted to reach their goals of winning a title that it had to be James' team. Wade recognized that James was the best player on the team and that he needed to be the guy that everyone follows. That was such a big sacrifice for Wade. He was the face of the franchise for the Miami Heat. He was the champion. He was the guy that put Miami on the map. It was all him and he was THE REASON why James and also Bosh signed. He knew that his body and age was worsening and that he needed to at spurts show his greatness. This conversation was seen as the breakthrough for the Heat. By taking a backseat and letting James be the alpha dog, the Heat thrived and reached greater success. Wade learned how to work off the ball more than ever in his career. He became a great cutter, a better low post player, and was able to help James on offense when he was double teamed. The Heat and Wade were champions again, going back to back in 2012 and 2013. Wade had climbed back all the way to being a champion again. The Heat lost 4-1 to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals and once again Wade was seeing his career and his role change.

In the summer of 2014 after he and the Miami Heat went to four straight NBA Finals and winning two championships, James left and returned home back to Cleveland. Wade had opted out of his contract and became a free agent. To help him and the team to stay relevant Wade took less money than his previous deal to help Riley get players to help. Bosh received a five year, max $118 million dollar contract and they signed Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts. Miami also traded for Goran Dragic during the 2014-2015 season. With the injuries that sidelined Wade and blood clots in Chris Bosh's lungs that forced him to miss the remainder of the season, the Heat didn't make the playoffs.

In the summer of 2015 Wade was having contract disputes with Riley by opting out of his deal again. Riley wanted to offer Wade less money because he felt that Wade's nagging injuries and him not playing every game didn't deserve max money. Wade felt that he deserved max money because he knew when healthy he was still a superstar and that Wade wanted to be compensated for all the things he's done for the franchise. It was a standstill until team owner Micky Arison decided to offer Wade a one-year $20 million contract. He wanted Wade to prove himself again and show Riley and the world that he was still a superstar. That's what he did by having a great comeback season in 2015-2016. He was dubbed "father prime" by teammates and by the media. He mentored Justice Winslow, the Heat's No. 10 draft pick. He led the Heat to the second round of the playoffs, eventually losing in seven games to the Toronto Raptors. The best thing I've seen Wade do was adjust to all the different lineups coach Erik Spoelstra threw out there. With Bosh sidelined again, Wade learning to play with Dragic, the acquisition of Joe Johnson, and the maturity issues with Hassan Whiteside, he still led the Heat to the 3rd best record in the Eastern Conference.

With all the great things Wade did in his final season for the Heat. He was hurt by the only organization he ever knew. He sat back and watched the Heat give Bosh his max contract two years before, Dragic get re-signed last year to a big contract and now Whiteside was given his max contract. Riley reportedly never called Wade to discuss a deal after initially meeting with him after the season ended. Wade was hurt by a man he called a father figure and someone he loved for 13 years. With the two parties at a stalemate, Wade left the team and went to his hometown team the Chicago Bulls. All Heat fans everywhere were hurt and stunned by the news. Everything was now over! The memories, the championships, the success was now a distant memory.

Dwyane Wade, I watched you grown from a 21-year-old young man to a 34-year-old man who is a father and husband and a basketball icon. I watched you become a rising star in your first two years in the league. I watched you become a superstar and a champion with your masterful performance in the 2006 NBA Finals. I watched how injuries have taken you down from grace and to reality. I watched you overcome all the doubt and the criticism in 2007 and become a superstar again. I remember in 2006 when you were Sports Illustrated Sportsmen Of The Year. I remember reading this quote: "A man is not defined by how he falls but how he get up after the fall" which I follow to this day.

I watched you show that you're the most unselfish superstar ever by recruiting the big three to Miami. I watched you become a champion again then again the year after. I watched you want to be a Heat Lifer by staying when LeBron left us in 2014. Dwyane Wade on behalf of Heat Nation and Heat fans everywhere thank you for the greatest 13 years we ever seen this franchise have. You are my favorite player ever and the reason I am a fan of this team and organization. We love you and will miss you! Have great success as a Chicago Bull, I'll be watching like I always have.