MIAMI (AP) — For Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, Thursday seemed like a day of business as usual.
Of course, that was anything but the case.
In New York, Wade was mobbed by autograph-seekers when he left his guest-hosting appearance on the syndicated morning talk show “Live With Kelly,” talked to fans on Snapchat alongside wife Gabrielle Union and finalized his plans for this weekend in Miami. Meanwhile, back in the arena that Wade called home for 13 years, the Heat completed the signing of center Hassan Whiteside to a four-year deal.
Ordinarily, those things would have complemented one another. Not now, now that the moving-on process for both sides has started. For the first time in 4,760 days, Wade awoke as a member of another team. And the Heat began dealing with the aftermath of him leaving Miami and deciding to sign with his hometown Chicago Bulls.
“Surreal,” Wade said on the television show, alongside host Kelly Ripa.
It will likely seem that way for a while.
Wade will be back in Miami this weekend, honoring his commitment to appear at a two-day youth basketball camp that bears his name. As part of the registration, all kids get a bag of gifts and a 1-on-1 photo opportunity with Wade, and most of those campers — if form holds from previous events — will be Heat fans who have watched him play for as long as they can remember.
They can still watch the man who was instrumental in bringing three titles to Miami, only now from afar.
“This man is a true mentor, friend and big brother,” Heat guard Josh Richardson wrote on Instagram, alongside a photo of he and Wade from this past season. “I only got one season under his wing, but am fortunate to have had his guidance in laying the ground work for my career. There’s a lot about this man’s character and respect for the game that the world may not know and I’m honored to have been a part of his legacy in his final season with HeatNation.”
The tributes won’t end anytime soon. Wade-related merchandise was still selling around South Florida on Thursday, people apparently wanting to gobble up some more before it’s gone for good.
“Miami-Dade County to me..will always be Wade County!!!” Wade said on Twitter.
Whiteside’s contract signing — a $98 million deal — was done quietly, no fanfare or news conference involved, though it’s likely such an event will occur in the coming days. The Heat also signed guard Rodney McGruder, who is with their summer league team.
Before anything else, the Heat will pay tribute to Wade.
Calling his career “unforgettable,” the Heat announced plans to honor Wade throughout the day Friday on their digital and social-media platforms. The 3,400-square-foot mesh video screen on the exterior of AmericanAirlines Arena will feature images of Wade, vignettes honoring some of the best moments of his Miami tenure will play and the team will release photo galleries of his career.
On Wednesday night, Wade released to The Associated Press a letter he penned to Miami with hopes of explaining some of the reasons for his move back to Chicago and his emotions about the decision. He had more written words to share Thursday — this time, a letter to Heat staff, a copy of which was obtained by AP.
“Thank you for taking care of my family and my team over the years,” Wade wrote in the staff letter. “Thank you for helping me transcend the sport of basketball and become a global presence. Thank you for the memories. The championships…the parades….the division titles.
“Everyone from the coaching staff to the trainers and doctors…parking attendants to the ushers, store employees, sales team, HEAT TV, Marketing, ticket office, executives, assistants, game operations and community (affairs)…You have all had a part in who I am today. We won together. We lost together. We made magic together.”
His longtime agent, Henry Thomas, did not sound as conciliatory in an interview with Miami television station WFOR.
“Dwyane expected to return to Miami. I expected him to return to Miami,” Thomas told the CBS affiliate. “We didn’t think it would come to this.”
Wade, in his television appearance alongside Ripa, said he’s never stopped fantasizing about what it would be like to play in his hometown.
“I’m excited to go back to the place that I’ve always envisioned playing basketball,” Wade said. “You know, being a kid, growing up, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls was the team for us. And I’ve always envisioned myself being in the backyard, always had a Bulls jersey on, always envisioned Dwyane Wade’s name being called in the United Center. And I get an opportunity to live that dream out.”