For a generation of South Floridians, Dwyane Wade is the last connection to a long-gone period of sports fandom. When Wade arrived in Miami in 2003, there was no Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, or Instagram. "Hot takes" seemed more like the name of a food truck than a way to describe controversial sports opinions. The only analytics most of us cared about were gut judgments that told us this kid might be pretty good.
Wade's career in Miami coincided with the internet age, something that has completely changed the way we experience our sports stars. Now you follow them on and off the court. Now you feel you know them, even though you don't really know them.
That's one of the many reasons Wade's departure hurts so badly. That's how you know Wade accomplished something unique in Miami. If his departure didn't hurt, it would be just about sports. It would be just about wins and losses. It wouldn't feel like this.
Since 2003, Dwyane Wade has been a bookmark in your life. Maybe you went to his games as a kid and just graduated college. Maybe you watched him in college and now have teenagers who love him. Maybe some of your favorite memories with a family member are enjoying watching Wade and the Miami Heat together. Wherever you were in 2003 and wherever you've been since, like clockwork, Dwyane Wade was always right there every October to June.
But not anymore. At least not for your team. At least not in your town. That's hard to stomach, but it was bound to happen.
ESPN used to have this daily series Who's Now that introduced viewers to the next up-and-coming sports stars. The gist of it was to get viewers ready for the guy who might replace the guy. The realization that Dwyane Wade is now absent from the Miami sports scene for the first time since 2003 has South Floridians asking themselves: 'So who's our Who's Now?"
The answer is nobody. Not like that. Not for so many of us. Maybe there will be another D-Wade for someone younger, who is just entering that part of his sports-watching life, but not for the rest of us.
Justise Winslow might be it for your son, but for you, Winslow is more likely to be a salary-cap slot in a few years. He will have to move mountains to come close to Wade. He's Who's Now, which is both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
There is a finite amount of time a sports fan has to truly fall in love with a sports hero. There's a sweet spot in life when you're old enough to truly appreciate a sports star and his worth to your team, yet at the same time not too cynical to still experience him as a kid.
Life comes at you fast. Responsibilities change, and so does the prism through which you view a game surrounded by an ever more concerning real world.
Chances are that sports just don't seem as important to you today as they did when you first began watching D-Wade. In turn, most sports stars don't either.
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That part of your life will never come back. You don't make new high-school friends. You don't enjoy sports like the kids from the movie The Sandlot at 36 years old. You could spend your entire life trying to duplicate it, but you'll never get the recipe just right. It's something in the water. It's something in your blood.
It will be some time before there's someone comparable to Dwyane Wade who comes along in Miami. Who knows when we'll have another athlete whose departure could make us feel like we're in withdrawal from a hard drug and who could make fans line up around the block to buy a jersey after he announces he's leaving.
What makes Wade so special to so many in South Florida, though, is just that: Wade will eventually be replaced on the court, but it's difficult to wrap our heads around imagining anyone who could replace him in our hearts. We don't get to fall in love for the first time again. We grew up with Dwyane Wade, and now we go our separate ways.
There will never be another Dwyane Wade, but that's our favorite part.