Friday, July 8, 2016

An Era Ends in Miami

By Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial)

For years, I’ve visualized what this moment would look and feel like.

The ten minute standing ovation.

The crowd chanting “M-V-P” until their lungs gave out.

Maybe a little confetti, and even more tears.

Sentimental thoughts from number 3, standing on the logo he helped make famous.

Instead -- emptiness, disillusionment and heartbreak. 

A fruitful and rewarding 13-year relationship vanished suddenly. Egos have a tendency of breaking up even the most unbreakable of bonds, and that is surely what has happened here.

Money is always a part of the equation when it comes to any negotiation, and this was no different.
But you’re kidding yourself if that’s what you think started this mess.

This was about priority and a lack of appreciation that’s been bubbling to the surface for years now. Like a neglected spouse, who's partner doesn't suspect a thing until they're hit with the divorce papers. Most of us were just too blind to see it, the organization included.

In the coming days the mud will be slung. Both camps will release information in an effort to win the P.R. battle and things may get worse. Fans will be divided and memories tarnished. But when the dust settles and the pieces are collected, clarity will be gained.

We will look back at the most beloved athlete South Florida has ever had, its greatest champion.

The shy kid from Chicago who nobody knew on draft night, spelling his name incorrectly, wondering why we didn’t take T.J. Ford. We watched him grow up from a baby faced assassin who attacked the rim like it owed him money. He hit the game-winning shot in his very first playoff game, showing a killer instinct that was vital in luring Shaq to the franchise.

Down 13 with six minutes to go in game three of the 2006 NBA Finals, he said “I’m not going out like this." Wade put an entire team, and city, on his back, scoring 42, 36, 43, and 36 to win four straight and capture the Heat’s first title.

Then, he toiled on mediocre teams full of youth and immaturity, willing them to the playoffs with stats fit for an MVP -- And dammit, he deserved at least one.

He helped bring his friend, LeBron James, to us, and created the most interesting team this city has ever known. The “Big Three” made the impossible routine, dropping our jaws and spilling our beers. They made it to four straight finals, won 27 games in-a-row, and delivered two titles. Pat Riley gets all the credit for the coup, but it was Wade who made it possible.

Wade was the one who had to sacrifice his ego and turn over the team. His pockets were the ones hit the hardest then, and throughout his career. Never the highest paid player on the team, Wade sacrificed nearly $25 million over the course of his career to keep the franchise afloat and competitive.

Wade watched Pat Riley identify Hassan Whiteside as “our No. 1 priority, period” in free agency, backing up the Brink's truck packed with a four-year, $98 million contract. Then he watched Riley salivate over and pursue his “whale,” Kevin Durant, only increasing his initial offer to Wade after Durant chose Golden State.

But let’s be honest: Both sides failed each other.

Pat Riley is as old school as they come. The camaraderie and buddy-buddy relationships with your fiercest rivals makes the old man uncomfortable, and borderline furious. Even worse is when that buddy is LeBron James, and you're sailing across the Mediterranean during the start of free agency, sending subliminals via Snapchat.

Riley is now 71-years old and his time is limited. He doesn’t play for playoff appearances, but championships. Flexibility is paramount, because even with Dwyane, this team wasn’t winning a title as presently constructed. Riley is a trafficker of nostalgia and emotion as long as your loyalty lies with him, and him alone. Stray off course and he turns into an killer --just ask Zo, Shaq and LeBron.

Deep down, Pat must've felt that loyalty waning, so the organization became passive aggressive. It was your quintessential relationship where one side doesn’t want to be the one to break it off, but does just enough shit to force you to leave first.

In the end, he was protecting the franchise’s salary-cap situation and immediate future, to allow future star collecting by not overspending on an aging Wade. What he let happen seemed cold and heartless, but might prove to have been smart business.

Whichever way you fall on this, it's a tragedy. How the communication and love became so toxic is a riddle that may never be solved.

But there’s one thing I do know.

A little bit of my childhood died last night.

As I've gotten older, the losses just don't seem to sting as much. Genuine love for a player is few and far between, and adolescent joy only escapes for only the most special of moments.

But not with D-Wade.

Every time he played, I felt like that kid again.

Every time he roared “this is my house," regardless of its tenants. Every time you thought he was done, but he came back stronger, proving you wrong for just a little while longer. Every time he made me leave bruises on my friends from dead arms after posterizing dunks.

And now it's over. Gone like his nickname, The Flash.

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