MIAMI — Just because Dwyane Wade left the Heat doesn’t mean he’s forgotten about the organization he spent 13 seasons with.
In fact, Wade still gets mixed up when he looks at the schedule.
“There are times when my mind if I look at the schedule and I see the Heat playing someone, like if it says the Heat vs. Denver, I’m like, ‘Dang, we go to Denver.’ It’s in my mind — 13 years,” Wade said during an appearance on The Vertical Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski.
Even when Wade asks his son to grab his Bulls shorts, his Heat memories resurface.
“I remember I just asked my son recently, I was trying to tell him to go into the room and grab my Bulls shorts. But what I said was, ‘Hey, go grab my Heat shorts,'” Wade said on the podcast.
The Miami Heat organization is obviously still the organization Wade identifies his basketball legacy with. Even after a breakdown in communication with Pat Riley led Wade to leave Miami to sign with the Chicago Bulls, the 12-time All-Star made it clear he still cares about the Heat organization during his appearance on The Vertical Podcast.
“I look back at those 13 years and I just smile,” Wade said of his time with the Heat “It’s hard to reflect while you’re in it. But now that I’m out of those 13 years with the organization, I look back. I think people think that I want the Heat to do bad or people probably think that ‘Oh, he still follows the Heat?’ Yes, I follow the Heat. I watch all their games. I’m checking up on them because at the end of the day, it’s always going to be a part of me. Their organization is always going to be my organization in some form and some way because of what I was able to accomplish there and where my career stands. I want nothing but success for them.”
And Wade has enjoyed watching his former coach Erik Spoelstra lead the Heat back into the playoff race this season. Miami used a 13-game winning streak, which ended with Saturday’s loss in Philadelphia, to go from owning the second-worst record in the NBA to now sitting just two games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
After the Heat defeated the Bulls in Chicago on Jan. 27 to grab their fifth consecutive win during the streak, Wade said he was able to catch up with Spoelstra.
“The last time we played — for the third time — after the game we had a moment where we kind of sat down and talked,” Wade said. “I think it was a five-game streak at that time, but I was really telling him how proud I was of him as a coach. From what I’ve seen from afar, but also from what I know he does, and what the organization does from the standpoint of the players really holding them accountable and really making them, no matter what, they always play so hard. No matter what their record was, they just played so hard.
“I just really know it comes from him, it comes from his assistant coaches, it comes from that culture that was built. And I just gave him praises for it. And I don’t think he expected it from me at that time. But me and him have gotten a better relationship. I thought last year our relationship was probably at the highest its ever been. And, it doesn’t change. We still text each other. There’s times he sends me pictures of him and the staff. They’re my guys. That’s always going to be there. None of that stuff can be erased because you change your zip code, your area code. Not for me. He’s somebody that’s been in my corner and I’ve been in his corner. We’re linked together forever.”
Does Spoelstra get enough credit around the NBA? Not in Wade’s eyes.
“They don’t [show Spoelstra enough appreciation],” Wade said. “And I think now they will because he doesn’t have the star name players on the team. What they’re accomplishing now is remarkable.”
Wade didn’t stop praising the Heat organization there.
Wade added that the Heat’s 13-game winning streak is just as impressive as the 27-game winning streak Miami put together in the 2012-13 season during the Big Three era. While the Heat were led by three future Hall of Famers during their longest winning streak in franchise history, this season’s 13-game streak came from a roster that features 10 players who have played in the D-League — Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Okaro White, James Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Willie Reed, Josh McRoberts, Luke Babbitt and Marcus Georges-Hunt.
“They have eight D-League former players on their roster and this is the NBA,” Wade said. “On any given night anybody can beat anybody. They’re doing an amazing job running the table, winning games multiple ways.
“To be able to keep those guys, those young guys, get them to stick with it and keep believing in themselves is a testament in itself. So I think this streak they’re on right now is as just as impressive as the streak we had when we won 27 games. We did it with Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Ray Allen. This streak right here to me is as just impressive with guys’ names that aren’t as big as we sit here today.”
Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who was also a part of the roster for the 27-game streak, believes the most impressive thing about the recent string of wins is that Miami went 1-10 before recording 13 straight victories.
“The most impressive thing about it is that we just stayed with it,” Haslem said Monday in advance of Miami’s game against Orlando. “The most impressive thing about it is that the streak came after I think we went [1-10]. It wasn’t like we were playing great and won six, lost one or won eight, lost two. We were [1-10] before we went on the streak, so that’s the impressive thing about it is that we just stayed with it. The streak came at a time where we could have cashed in our chips, but we didn’t.”
But Spoelstra would not get caught up comparing the two streaks. With Miami (24-31) still seven games below .500 and currently out of the playoffs, he’s looking ahead.
“We still have 31 losses so let’s not get carried away,” Spoelstra said Monday when told of Wade’s comment. “Look, I love Dwyane. I didn’t see what you’re talking about. Dwyane is somebody that is very dear to me. There’s so much exaggeration in this league. There’s exaggeration when we were 1-10. There was exaggeration when we won 10 in a row. It’s very challenging to stay focused on what matters and that’s the task at hand. That’s the challenge right now.”
With all these positive emotions flowing, why did Wade leave the Heat? He said on the podcast that his “deciding factor” when choosing to leave Miami for Chicago was his lack of communication with Riley during free agency.
“I did feel that at the end of the day, it’s Micky Arison’s team, but this is Pat’s show,” Wade said. “No matter if somebody said, ‘Pat, don’t call Dwyane.’ Whatever was said, that’s not Pat. That’s my guy. I love Pat and I know he loves me. The fact that we didn’t talk, that hurt. And that was my deciding factor. … It wasn’t about the Arison family, I know they love me and I know they wanted me there. I know Spo wanted me there. I know Udonis and those guys. But at the end of the day, I didn’t hear from the guy I needed to. … I was waiting for him to step up and meet me somewhere, call me, do something, and it just never happened. That’s not Pat. That’s not the Pat I know.”
But Wade still appreciates Riley, even more now that he’s with another organization. With Chicago at 26-29 and facing plenty of off-court adversity this season like when Wade felt the need to call out his younger teammates’ drive to win, that’s not surprising.
“I will be man enough to say I definitely have a little bit more appreciation for [Riley],” Wade said. “I had a lot of appreciation and admiration for that guy. But definitely taking a step out of it and going on the other side, you really try to bring what you learned there to where you’re at. LeBron tried to bring it to Cleveland and the thing in Chicago, you try to bring the [Heat] culture, the accountability. That’s what I want to bring and that’s what I learned there. I don’t think you do that everywhere. I don’t think everywhere someone goes, they try to bring what they got from another organization.
“What Pat and Micky have been able to establish in Miami has been incredible and there’s some great things about it, and there’s some things that are not so great from the standpoint of how controlling it can be at times. But from a basketball standpoint, it’s phenomenal.”