MIAMI – Dwyane Wade was loose. He was funny. He was, well, home.
After an emotional return to his second home (for Wade, Chicago always will be home), the most decorated player in Heat history sat at the podium late Friday. He had just had what would be, on any other night, a performance easily forgotten – three points on 1-of-6 shooting, two rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks and four turnovers – in the Miami Heat’s 91-85 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks that snapped a five-game losing streak.
But this was not any other night. This was the #R3TURN. And judging by the smile on Wade’s face most of day. … It was right.
“My family, they’re happy,” Wade said about his wife, actress Gabrielle Union, and his three boys.
“They’re not only happy for themselves, they’re happy for me. My family in Miami – Miami’s my family – I think as you’ve seen with the crowd, they’re happy. All is good in the Wade household and all is good in Wade County.”
Wade then paused, thought about what he said and seemed pleased.
“That was a good way to end. That was a drop-the-mic moment.”
Actually, the mic drop moment came after Wade re-entered the game with just more than a minute to play and the Heat frittering away what was once was a 19-point lead. Miami lead by four points when Josh Richardson lost the ball, Eric Bledsoe gathered it and sprinted down court. The 36-year-old Wade stuck with the guard eight years his younger and as Bledsoe got to the rim Wade leaped the rejected the shot.
Goran Dragic picked up the ball and the Heat withstood the Bucks’ rally.
“It was a turnover and you got to get back and I got a chance to time it and it felt like old times,” Wade said. “I don’t jump as high as I used to so I got to have great timing and I’ve always had that.”
Wade played a little more than half of the fourth quarter, a role most anticipate he will fill during close games. Coach Erik Spoelstra saw more than Wade’s two missed shots – and block and two steals – when looking at his contributions in the final 12 minutes.
“He got us settled a couple possessions there where in a three-minute gap we were just really struggling to get good, coherent, clean offense,” Spoelstra said. “I put him in on the side out of bounds, he made a terrific play to J-Rich. Then a couple of other inbounds he was great and obviously the block. He’ll find a way to make winning plays down the stretch and it will be on both ends of the court.”
Wade was so comfortable putting on the uniform he had not worn since May 15, 2016, that he said everything felt “normal” before the game. It was a “little weird” starting the game on the bench – in 1,021 previous games with the Heat, including playoffs, he came off the bench 11 times – and even more so when he heard the “We Want Wade” chants about three minutes into the game.
“The chants kind of started a little too early,” Wade said. “I was like ‘Not right now, not right now.’”
But the entrance, which came 5:19 into the game when Wade replaced Dragic, was grand.
The crowd noise started building in anticipation and when Wade popped up from out of his seat it became deafening, so much so that every player interviewed following the game said it felt like a playoff game.
“The fans were in an uproar,” Hassan Whiteside said. “Miami was rocking. It hadn’t felt like that in a while.”
Wade entered the game as Tyler Johnson was ready to shoot a free throw, walked to half court and waived to the crowd.
“He’s a Heat lifer,” Dragic said. “He’s helped build this franchise, won three championships with them and has a lot of experience so we know he has a really strong aura. When you’re around him you feel more comfortable and more energetic. You believe in yourself and that’s something not a lot of players have.”
But Wade wasn’t thinking about those banners, or his jersey one day joining them in the AmericanAirlines Arena’s rafters. He was making sure that transition from the team he spent the first four months of the season with – Cleveland – to the one he spent the first 13 years of his career with was going smooth.
“I was trying to focus on trying to relearn everything on the fly, the offense, the defense,” said Wade, who arrived at the facility early Friday after being acquired Thursday for a 2024 second-round draft pick. “You try not to make too many mistakes.
“I tried to learn my new teammates. I definitely feel like there are a few things I have to work on the next few days before we play again. But I definitely felt like I did some good things and my teammates did some things for me that we can definitely get better at.”
One thing that will not take much time to learn is getting used to calling Miami his team. … again.
“It’s right. It sounds right. It’s second nature,” Wade said. “I was telling somebody recently that I was in my kitchen in Cleveland and watching ESPN and something came up and it said Heat versus somebody and I said, ‘We play?’ And I’m like ‘That’s right I don’t play in Miami no more.’”
And now he does. … and that makes everybody happy.