I found out that Dwyane Wade was leaving the Miami Heat when I checked my phone and saw text messages from my older brother and a friend.
I have tried to prepare for this moment for the last few days. Still, as I hear the click of keys on my MacBook, I am processing it.
Dwyane Wade is the Heat. I've grown up with Wade. He won his first championship when I was 13 years old. I loved following his NBA comeback after two injury-plagued seasons, emerging as a key cog for the 2008 Olympic team and winning a scoring title in the 2008-09 season.
I remember him hitting a game-winning 3 in double-overtime against the Chicago Bulls that year. I remember him scoring 46 points in Game 4 of Miami's first-round series against the Boston Celtics the next.
He was there for two more championships -- even when he was banged up, Wade played through injuries to lead his team to victory. When Miami was down five points with 28 seconds left in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, LeBron James bricked a 3-point attempt. It was Wade -- the player who many thought should not have been on the court that series -- who jumped up with Kawhi Leonard to battle for the loose ball. James found the ball and made his next 3-point shot. (Go to the 1:20 mark in the video below.)
When LeBron James left Miami, I was so happy that Wade ended up staying. "Loyalty over Royalty," some called it. Just a few weeks ago, when Wade sunk 3-pointers on the road with Miami's season on the line against the Charlotte Hornets, I had a huge smile on my face. Here he was again -- the player who was constantly called out for not improving his 3-point shot, for bitching to the refs instead of getting back on defense, for being injury-prone -- showing up for his team.
Wade had flaws, but he is one of the best players to ever pick up a basketball. He'll get a statue in front of the AmericanAirlines Arena. He should. He was the first truly great player to play for the Heat. Alonzo Mourning was good, but never great. Shaquille O'Neal was at the tail-end of his career (in terms of productivity, not in terms of length) by the time he got to Miami. Whenever I saw Wade play well, I felt proud to be a Miami Heat fan.
And now the Heat/Wade marriage has come to an unceremonious end. It's sad to see happen. Pat Riley wanted to keep a talented 27-year-old center who notches triple-doubles with blocks. He also wanted to lure Kevin Durant for one last championship run. He asked Wade to sacrifice money when no one else in the league was.
Would I have liked to see Wade take Tim Duncan money to allow his team more flexibility to sign players? Of course. With Chris Bosh and his maximum salary in question, it made sense why the Heat wanted Wade to take less. I can see why both sides felt steadfast in their desires.
But Wade felt slighted. I respect his decision to join the Chicago Bulls and wish him nothing but the best. I'm glad to have seen more than a decade of him in a Miami Heat uniform. He still is my favorite player.
This is the ugly side of professional sports. Even for a team that talks about "family" and "#HeatLifer," business can get in the way. When it happens, all a fan can do is thank the player for good times. Up until probably July 4, I thought Wade would stay in Miami for his entire career.
Being a die-hard sports fan is about going through the whirlwind of emotions over the years -- the elation upon winning, the anger at the players and coaches and executives, the numbness of repeated disappointment. And sometimes, it means just sitting with shock upon seeing your favorite player walk away from your favorite team.