I'll never forget how regretful I was. In 1993, just six days shy of my 14th birthday, Michael Jordan abruptly announced his retirement from the NBA. I promised myself if he ever came back, I would watch every game intently and appreciate him for what he was -- a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. In 1995, Jordan returned to the NBA, and I got the chance to follow through on my promise. I made a point to watch every Heat game as well as every minute Jordan played, even if it meant recording Bulls games broadcast on WGN on a VHS tape and then watching them the next day after school while I did my homework. I didn't want to miss a moment of his greatness.
I tell this story because today I feel like some Miami Heat fans need to refocus, step back, and appreciate what matters.
I've read a thousand columns about LeBron James' departure from the Miami Heat. I've seen a million tweets containing the hashtag "#ThankYouLeBron." I've seen fans express how ecstatic they are to see Chris Bosh remain with the Miami Heat.
What I haven't seen is enough space dedicated to thanking Dwyane Wade for making it all possible. So I figured I might carve out a little myself. After all, when you trace back everything the Miami Heat was able to accomplish these past four years, it all leads back to the greatest player in the history of the franchise. None of it happens without Dwyane Wade.
So thank you, Dwyane Wade, for always believing in Pat Riley, the Miami Heat, and the fans. In a world where it seems like every star player is hell-bent on being the odds-on favorite NEXT YEAR, you've always shown you are committed to the bigger picture; no matter how pie-in-the-sky it may have seemed, you've always been patient with us and our team.
You're the reason I can dream of taking my son to a Heat game in ten years and pointing up to the championship banners in the rafters with pride. Somewhere a 10-year-old playing basketball will one day be on my Miami Heat and look up every game at what you accomplished. Hell, I hope the guy will be YOUR son. A guy can dream.
Thank you, Dwyane Wade, for carrying yourself with such class while also admitting your faults -- and owning them; that's how a real man handles his business. We've seen you grow from a fresh-faced kid from Marquette to a grown-ass man, and it's been great to see.
By now everyone knows your story, the things you've overcome, and the real-life issues you've dealt with along the way. You've fallen down seven times and stood up eight. Your knowing you're not perfect yet always dominantly overcoming that fact has always made me respect you more. I also pay more attention to my dress-sock collection because of you, so you've added a little class to my life that way too.
Thank you, Dwyane Wade, for being the best teammate I've ever seen. People will always remember how you sacrificed the past few seasons for the greater good of the Miami Heat, but I'll always remember that you showed your true colors much earlier than 2010.
When Shaq came here, you made it work; when he left, you turned the page. When your team won 15 games in 2007, you didn't completely lose your cool, no matter how heavy the team you carried on your back became. When it came time to share the stage in 2010, you did it, even if it meant sacrificing a few dollars and attention along the way.
People flock to play with you because of who you are, and it's the biggest reason the Miami Heat has won three championships since you've been here. You're a champion because of it. You're respected because of it. In a sport filled with "me, me, me," you have always known the power of "we." It's a throwback to a time in sports when "we" didn't mean today or next year; it meant forever, because the name on the front meant more to a guy than the name on the back.
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Thank you, Dwyane Wade, for bringing Miami together over the past 11 years. Heat Nation thanks you for everything you've done and looks forward to the next chapter in your career, whatever it may be.
This isn't a thank-you because you're leaving or I think the good times are past; it's an acknowledgment of what you have done for South Florida since you stepped on that stage in 2003 and put on that Miami Heat hat. So much of what Heat fans have enjoyed is because of you, and I just wanted to thank you. I don't know what the future of this team holds or how many years you plan to be a part of it, but I don't plan on missing a single second of it.