The NBA’s owners and players association negotiated an end to the lockout around Thanksgiving of 2011, setting up a Christmas Day start to the season. The Big Three and the rest of the Miami Heat would have a chance at redemption.
But over that long offseason, Dwyane Wade made space for LeBron James to become the unquestioned leader of their team — after a season of “my turn, your turn” offense. It was no small thing for Wade, a former Finals MVP and the Heat’s best player in the 2011 Finals, to do.
Wade and the Heat faced a significant test in the second round of the 2012 playoffs. Chris Bosh suffered an injury in Game 1 of that series, and the Pacers blew out the Heat in Game 3 to go up 2-1. Wade stunk up the joint in that game, going 2-for-13 from the field. Erik Spoelstra called out Wade in a timeout huddle, and the Heat star’s frustrations boiled over. Wade yelled at his coach.
Suddenly, Miami was on the ropes. Afterward, reports surfaced that Wade had his knee drained just prior to that abysmal performance in Game 3. Wade met with his college coach, Tom Crean, to get back in the right head space after his worst playoff performance.
And in Game 4, Wade turned it around with 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists, teaming up with LeBron James to tie the series. He was even better in the clinching Game 6, going for 41 points and 10 rebounds.
Wade dedicated the game ball to Udonis Haslem, who was suspended for Game 6 after he committed a flagrant foul on Tyler Hansborough to defend Wade.
The Heat went on to defeat the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder to win their second championship in franchise history. The next year, the Heat won 27 straight games, the second-longest streak ever. In Game 4 of the 2013 NBA Finals, Wade had another great performance, going for 32 points and six steals to tie the series at 2-2 and retake home-court advantage.
It was one of the best Finals series ever (of course, we all remember the Ray Allen shot), and Wade scored 23 points on 11-of-21 shooting in Game 7. Miami edged out the San Antonio Spurs 95-88, and Wade won his third championship.
Miami’s next year wasn’t great. Spoelstra managed Wade’s minutes and limited his appearances in back-to-backs, but that didn’t prevent him from looking gassed in the 2014 Finals. San Antonio dominated the Heat in the Finals in a 4-1 gentleman’s sweep. Wade later said that 2013-14 season was “like a bad marriage.”
Perhaps seeing Miami’s championship window closing, James announced he was “coming home” and signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wade and Bosh opted to stay with the Heat, but Miami missed out on the playoffs the following season. Bosh suffered his first bout of blood clots in February of 2015, dooming Pat Riley’s hopes to build another playoff contender just after trading for Goran Dragic.
Next year, the Heat had their backs against the wall in a first-round playoff matchup with the Charlotte Hornets. Dwyane Wade scored five points and blocked a shot in the final minute, forcing a Game 7. With a Charlotte fan in a purple shirt taunting Wade courtside, the three-time champion had the last laugh.
The Heat advanced to the second round, but lost to the Toronto Raptors in seven games. And the relationship between Wade and the Heat descended to its lowest point ever, as Miami again asked Wade to take less money. After agreeing to paycuts throughout his career, Wade thought he had earned one final payday. In a Miami Herald article published just two days ago, Riley expressed regret for not paying his franchise player.
“I think at times, you do take your greatest player for granted and that he’ll do this and sacrifice more for the team,” Riley said. “And at times, that player might feel dismissed, taken for granted, all of that. … It was like the abyss. It was. It was the abyss of our relationship.
And just like that, Wade did the unthinkable — the player who was a “Heat Lifer,” synonymous with the Heat franchise, signed with the Chicago Bulls.
Read Part IV of Dwyane Wade: An Unparalleled Legacy here.