‘All Wade items are $13 in honor of 13 unforgettable seasons’.
So tweeted the Miami Heat (hence the abominable spelling of honour) in the wake of the team’s most celebrated player, Dwyane Wade, announcing his signing with the Chicago Bulls.
A very different response to the teeth gnashing and mass jersey burnings that followed LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland a number of years ago. You can find a few number 3s in flames though if you take a peek on the interwebs.
I grant you there is an argument for the tweet being shameless commercial opportunism in an effort to shift unmovable t-shirts and caps. However the true spirit is evident in the accompanying countdown on the Heat’s website of the 13 greatest moments from D-Wade in “Wade County”. Ok, a true spirit mixed with a little shameless commercial opportunism.
If you thought the love-in was unrequited you haven’t read Wade’s farewell to Miami. After explaining the difficulty of the decision he expressed “it has been an honor (Americanisation of our language again) to have played with them (Miami) and help build a winning franchise with three NBA championships”. He later expressed his appreciation to the Heat’s fans “from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the Miami community and especially #heatnation for all their love and support over the years.” He expanded further: “The memories including championship parades and five conference titles are incredible moments we have shared that I will always remain close to my heart as I begin the next chapter of my life.”
A potentially fraught exercise has instead been a remarkably well managed exit.
Pat Riley is a shrewd operator. The Miami Heat President knows what it takes to win championships – all told he has nine as a player, coach and administrator. He also knows how to use this to his advantage when recruiting. The story of him emptying his bag of championship rings on a table in front of a wide eyed Lebron James, who described it “like jingle bells”, is now part of NBA folklore and a key plank in recruiting the King and adding rings eight and nine to his collection.
What no doubt made the already impressive “jingle bells” a little more impressive was the fact the bag contained not just the seven rings but their duplicates of each in yellow gold, sterling silver and platinum. It is said that Riley measures greatness by big moves and small details. Which means that impeccably styled Riley requires his suits, ties and belt buckles all to match his hard won championship rings.
While Riley’s nose for a championship wouldn’t be required, despite the Heat forcing a Game 7 in the Conference Semi Finals on the back of an Indian Summer of a season from Wade, to know the Heat’s roster is a long way from championship calibre. His knack will be tested to ensure it gets back there.
An overhaul was required and an overhaul requires cap space. If this wasn’t a problem enough, into the mix came Dwyane Wade and free agency. Dwyane Wade a 3 Time NBA Champion, 2006 NBA Finals MVP, 2009 NBA Scoring Champion, 12 Time NBA All Star, Miami Heat’s leading scorer and assists leader and “Heat Lifer”. The same Dwyane Wade who is nearly 35 with creaky knees who before the season just passed missed nearly as many games as he played the seasons prior. The scales said the Miami needed to keep their man, but not at all cost.
The cost they decided upon was $40m over two years, no paltry sum in anybody’s language but there were bigger offers out there. Wade wanted to remain in South Beach but not at any cost and is now heading home to Chicago.
Both sides of the negotiation have handled it and the other party with respect and dignity. As a result there aren’t the usual recriminations evident when a favourite sun departs for (in this case less) sunnier pastures. He is correct when he says he will be a “Heat for life”, there will be no awkwardness when he returns to American Airlines Arena to see his number hoisted to the rafters, just rapturous applause.