& # 39; I wanted an opportunity to say goodbye & # 39;



8:33 AM ET

  • Tim BontempsESPN

MIAMI: There was a change that Dwyane Wade had always planned to do.

Actually, there were 13 of them.

While the final seconds were ticking the clock on Tuesday in a Miami Heat victory of 122-99 over the Philadelphia 76ers, Wade, followed by his 13 teammates who were in the bank, headed to the center field, with each one of them in possession Until his own signed shirt of Wade No. 3.

"T-shirt [swap] with my clbadmates it was something I wanted to do all year long, "said Wade, who ended his evening with a special exchange with his eldest son, Zaire." I was waiting for the right moment, and I knew the last [home] The game would be that.

"I appreciate you for this, I'm swapping shirts with all these guys that I do not really spend every day, and I got a pair, so, hey, what's wrong with me?"

"I was planning something to [my teammates]. "

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It was an appropriate conclusion to the slow dance that Wade has done from coast to coast over the past few months, one of which has had some of his most memorable moments as a result of an idea that emerged in a group text conversation during the summer.

"He put in the group chat of our guys," said Chris Paul. "When he decided he was going to continue playing, he said: & # 39; When we all face each other, we will exchange shirts after the game & # 39;".

As simple as that, one of the basic elements of this NBA season was born. It quickly became a nighttime event after every game of Heat.

During the last six months, all kinds of players, from rookies to senior statesmen, stars to officials, close friends to players he barely knew and even Benny the Bull, have posed for what has become the post-game photo: two men standing. the one to the other, smiling for the cameras, each one holding the other's shirt.

"It's been great," Wade said. "Entering this year, [I was] A little uncomfortable trying to take a tour. A little narcissistic on my part. But I wanted to give the fans the chance to say goodbye and I wanted to say goodbye.

"But the tour has taken on a life of its own."


What began as an idea to exchange shirts with close friends, such as Chris Paul, became the post-game ritual most anticipated in the league. AP Photo / David J. Phillip

CHRIS PAUL WAS he was just happy to be on the court for the time being with Wade, given the strain on the hamstring he left out of the Rockets' owner for more than a month earlier this season.

But after their plans to change after a meeting in December in Miami were frustrated by Paul's injury, they were able to do so in late February, when the Heat and the Rockets met in Houston.

"It's been great to see it," Paul said. "There's a saying: Give the kids their flowers while they can still smell them." Do you know what I mean? [Wade] He is a boy who is incredibly deserving of that. I think it was great. "

Paul, of course, is one of Wade's closest friends. So it's logical that Wade chose to exchange with Paul and LeBron James as two of the most significant moments of the season.

"Yes, of course," Wade said when asked if certain swaps stood out to him. "Obviously, that of L.A. [LeBron]. That was very good. That was a moment for me and for him. Obviously, the one in Houston with the CP.

"These are my friends, these are guys with whom I have close relationships, so close relationships stand out."

While Paul, James and Wade have shared a strong connection for more than a decade, other players, such as Nikola Vucevic, did not have a previous relationship with the Heat star. That did not stop the great man from Orlando Magic from leaving the bases to start his story.

"You have a bit of hatred for the opponent you play, but I think we moved a long time ago, and respect surpbades everything."

Dirk Nowitzki, in Dwyane Wade

During the preseason, Vucevic looked for Wade and asked for one of his iconic No. 3 shirts, trapping her after Miami opened the season in Orlando with a loss.

"I have great respect for his career and what he has done for the game of basketball," said Vucevic. "I like to collect shirts for certain players that I like and respect, and he is one of them."

Collecting t-shirts is a great pbadion for Vucevic, a great soccer fan whose stash includes several shirts of renowned stars, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Francesco Totti and Gianluigi Buffon.

Vucevic also made sure not to miss another very coveted shirt: Dirk Nowitzki's, which he had in his hands last season.

"I was not sure if [Dirk would] Come back, "said Vucevic with a laugh.

The night that Wade changed with Nowitzki was one of the most notable of this season, since the duo had a very cold relationship for a long time.

Given the future shared history of the Hall of Fame – Wade & # 39; s Heat beat the Nowitzki Mavericks in the 2006 Finals, followed by Nowitzki returning the favor five years later in 2011 – it is fitting that both have been linked throughout the season, including both. placed in the All-Star Game as honorary selections by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Dirk Nowitzki did not announce his retirement until Tuesday, but the two icons have been shown love throughout the season. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For a while, it would have been difficult to imagine Nowitzki and Wade sharing a moment like they did when they exchanged shirts earlier this season. But when both reached the respective twilights of their careers as a player, they managed to leave behind their differences and appreciate the battles they shared.

"It was a sweet moment, obviously, for what we have gone through, for what our competitive nature has gone through, for what our relationship has gone through," Nowitzki said. "There were some ups and downs, but I think at the end of the day, we're both adult men, we've been through a lot.

"It is not easy to be friends or to like your competition, I always say that I was not a friend of the Spurs when we face them every year in the playoffs, it just comes with competing at the highest level. for the opponent with whom you play, but I think we moved a long time ago and respect surpbades everything.

"Now I see that shirt at home, and it reminds me, obviously, some good memories and some bad memories."


KEVIN HUERTER WEARS No. 3, having grown up idolizing three players who all put it on: scoring the Wade guards and Allen Iverson and … the four-time Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Wallace.

"I used to love Ben Wallace because of his hair and things like that," Huerter said with a smile.

But the 20-year-old Atlanta Hawks rookie never had a chance to play against Iverson or Wallace. Wade was a different story. Being in the same division as Miami, Atlanta faced the Heat several times in the preseason and in the regular season, which means that Huerter had multiple opportunities to try to exchange jerseys with one of his childhood heroes.

Wade changed with someone else each time.

Vince Carter, 42, whom Wade played against his entire career, got one. Rookie Trae Young, who is friends with Wade's son, Zaire, has another.

After the final match between the two teams (one Miami emerged from a 114-113 victory on March 4), Huerter badumed he would never have his chance.

Little did he know what was going to happen.

Dwyane Wade looked for Kevin Huerter after the last game of the Heat-Hawks season. AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee

"It seems that [other players] "He changed with something he knew beforehand," Huerter said. "I had no idea that was the fourth time I played with them, so literally, the way the game ended, I turned around and left the court as angry that we had lost and I did not realize it was the fourth time, so I turned back, like, "You should probably, like, sit next to these guys." Like, whatever, I know a good sport about it.

"And I went back to court, and he was right there, and somehow he clicked."

The moment for Huerter was captured by the camera, and it became a viral success, one of which Wade pointed out that it turned it into one of the most special swaps.

"One of the best of the year was Kevin Huerter, the young man from Atlanta, just because of the surprise factor for him," Wade said. "I could see what that meant to him."

For all that clearly meant to Huerter, he said it was even better to have the opportunity to face one of his idols during his last trip through the league.

"It was crazy to be on the court with him, playing against him," Huerter said. "As crazy as he was, like talking to him, I think it was more crazy to have the opportunity to play against him."

"And saying one day to my children:" You know, I played against Dwyane Wade and played against him five times. "


BRADLEY BEAL ADMITTED I was not exactly sure how everything worked.

Beal found himself standing on the court next to Wade, with the clock spinning in a 115-109 The defeat of the Washington Wizards on January 4, and he was not going to go without the No. 3 shirt.

"I said:" I need your shirt, "said Beal. "[Wade asked] & # 39; You want this? & # 39; And I said: Damn it. The one on your back. That. & # 39;

It was an important moment for Beal, who also uses the number 3 and wanted to make sure he honors a player who, he said, has paved the way for players like him in more ways than just on the court.

"I'm not an important person to be surprised or fanatical to everyone," said Beal. "But I was a fan of D-Wade and what he brought to the game as a player of insufficient size 2. I feel like [he was] One of the first to really make a name for himself.

"A lot of people said he could not shoot, he could not do this, and he ended up winning three championships, he had an incredible career and he went down the road, I hope someday too.

"So for everything he's done, from basketball to the fashion that we have off the court now, it's all down to him, it's amazing."

Beal made sure to convey those feelings to Wade, something that, according to the future Hall of Famer, also meant a lot to him.

"[There have] There have been some great ones along the way, "said Wade.

Whatever the connection, whatever the meaning, each exchange has provided the opportunity to thank one of the greats of the game one last time before he leaves the stage forever.

"It was a great moment for me," Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said of his post-game exchange with Wade. "I had the opportunity to talk to him a bit, I appreciated everything he did for the game, Hall of Fame, three times champion, one of the best players who ever played the game, and he only gave me his jersey and I give him my sweater, it's big.

"After basketball, you will always remember those moments and tell those stories to your children."

Dwyane Wade received a double dose of jersey when Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton left to change. Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Wade's story as a player may be coming to an end, but a final season filled with exchanges of shirts has given players and fans a more unique way of honoring everything the No. 3 has meant to the league.

"Everyone has been great on the road," Wade said. "The NBA has been great, everyone has been great, and [it became] even bigger than I probably thought it would ever be. "

While Wade was preparing for his last T-shirt exchange with his teammates, he spent some time thinking about which shirt he wanted to hold. After all, it would not make much sense for him to support himself.

So after changing his used shirt on Tuesday night with a Marquette product and a former player Chicago Bulls teammate Jimmy Butler, Wade made that trip to the center court with the rest of his team, holding a No. 11 Heat jersey with "HANK" on the back.

It was a reference to Wade's agent, Henry Thomas, who died last year, and number 11, Wade said, was Thomas's favorite number.

"For me, when I thought about the shirt I was going to wear, this season for me was dedicated to my agent," Wade said. "It was dedicated to Hank.

"I just wanted to represent him, as we try to do all year, we try to get through and do things the way we know he would approve, I know he's shaking his head, biting his lip and biting his tongue." and he is proud.

"I just wanted to continue with that."

All this raised a pretty obvious question: Wade just added several more jerseys to a mbadive collection. Where will everyone go?

When the question was raised, her 5-month-old daughter, Kaavia, started making noises as she sat on her lap as if she already knew her father's response.

"[Kaavia] He said I can not put them in the house, "Wade said. She is talking about her mom. "

Additional reports by Tim MacMahon, Ian Begley and Malika Andrews


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