(AP) — Dwyane Wade did not see this coming.
Not right now, anyway. He has fully believed for many months that he would eventually return to the Miami Heat, though he figured it would happen in a free-agent deal this coming summer and not on a Thursday afternoon while he was headed into Cleveland’s practice facility for a workout with LeBron James.
Then came the text from agent Leon Rose: “Call me 911,” he wrote.
“So if you get a text like that and the trade deadline is coming up and you know the team that you’re on is going to be very active, you know something is going down with you,” Wade said. “And my mind went right to, ‘No, it’s not Miami. There’s no way.’ My mind went right to that because I felt like that’s the only other place I can be.”
He was right. Wade, who left Miami in 2016 for his hometown of Chicago, is now back in his NBA hometown. He’s with the Heat again, getting traded as part of Cleveland’s massive roster shake-up Thursday in exchange for a second-round pick in 2024.
“I always felt that one day it would happen,” Wade said in an interview with The Associated Press. “For me, it’s always been a hope. You just don’t know how or when you’re going to get there.”
How, that became a hastily arranged flight out of Cleveland on Thursday afternoon.
When, that will be Friday night, with Wade saying he intends to make his second Heat debut when the Heat play host to the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s Miami’s only home game between now and Feb. 24, and Wade doesn’t want to make fans wait.
“I’ve missed them and I know they’ve missed me,” Wade said.
Wade is Miami’s all-time leader in points, games, assists and steals, shots made and shots taken. He returns to Miami with the Heat on a five-game slide, one he helped contribute to when the Cavaliers beat his then-former, now-current club last week. His mission, he said, is simply to help the franchise — the one that drafted him in 2003 and had him for 13 seasons the first time around, winning three titles — reach its potential.
He raved about the player Heat guard Josh Richardson — who coach Erik Spoelstra has compared to a young Wade on more than one occasion — has become. Wade is back to both help Miami win now and win in the future by mentoring young players.
“This is definitely a playoff team,” Wade said. “This is a team that a lot of teams around the NBA respect because of the way that they play the game.”
Heat President Pat Riley said that in the beginning of this reunion, Wade will likely come off the bench.
“Don’t matter,” Wade said. “I can’t wait to embrace whatever role I have.”
This trade, in the minds of many involved, will down as the last deal that Henry Thomas ever swung.
Thomas, until his death last month, was the agent for both Wade and Heat captain Udonis Haslem. Thomas had deep relationships with the Heat, through his representation of those two players as well as Chris Bosh, Tim Hardaway and Shaun Livingston and others. The Heat even had a moment of silence before a home game on the day that Thomas died.
At Thomas’ funeral in Chicago, fences were mended. Wade and Riley, whose relationship would best be described as strained since Wade left for Chicago in the summer of 2016, hugged. Simple as it sounds, that’s all Wade needed to be convinced that his plan for returning to Miami one day would become reality.
“Hank’s still doing his job from above,” Haslem said.
Less than two weeks later, Wade’s back in Miami.
“The hug that we embraced was real and it was all we needed,” Wade said of the brief encounter with Riley at the funeral. “That’s it. That’s all we both needed. I walked away and I felt better about everything, without even getting into anything.”
Wade kept his home in Miami, and his two sons and a nephew that he is raising have been back in school there this year. Wade was back in Miami a few days ago, albeit briefly, to celebrate his oldest son Zaire’s 16th birthday.
“That was the best moment I’ve had in a long time,” Wade said.
The kids are thrilled. His wife, Gabrielle Union, is thrilled. His teammates are thrilled. James wished Wade well, both on social media and in person before they went their opposite ways Thursday. Even the Miami Police Department couldn’t contain its excitement, tweeting that a “missing person” has been found and “recovered in good condition.”
“I can’t wait to get back to my environment,” Wade said. “I can’t wait to see the smile on my wife’s face when she’s sitting out tanning outside and all those things, and I can’t wait for the drive to the arena that I can make with my eyes closed.”
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