Miami guard Dwyane Wade, owner of three NBA championship rings in a 16-year Hall of Fame career, made his final stop at Target Center on Friday night with a Heat team trying to qualify for the playoffs.
It was, he said, fitting.
For a guy who grew up in Chicago, played college ball in Milwaukee and spent his entire career in the Eastern Conference, Wade has made some strong memories here. And they started with the 2003 NCAA tournament. The Metrodome was the site of the Midwest Regional that spring, and Wade was here with Marquette. Two days before the Sweet 16, the Timberwolves played host to the Heat and Wade went to the game.
“I was talking to [teammate Udonis Haslem] about it,” Wade said after the Heat’s morning shoot. “I remember coming to the game, watching the Heat play Minnesota, then getting the opportunity to go into the locker room and meet Kevin Garnett after the game. Being a college kid, exited to meet one of my favorite players, it was so cool. It’s full circle in a sense.”
The Final Four is being played across town at U.S. Bank stadium this weekend, and it got Wade to thinking how interesting it is that the Heat again is in town, playing the Wolves. “These young individuals are about to start it all,” Wade said. “Some of these young individuals will start their careers pretty soon at this level, where 16 years ago I had visions of starting mine. Weird how it all worked out.”
Wade, who now comes off the bench for the Heat, has been working his way through a season-long farewell tour. Miami fell a game out of a playoff spot with Friday night’s 111-109 loss. But, playoffs or not, his career will end soon.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was a Miami assistant when Wade was selected No. 5 overall in the 2003 draft. He marveled at how well Wade — who played center in junior high, forward in high school and small forward in college — responded to being switched to guard. And how the team went 18-4 down the stretch that rookie season to reach the playoffs.
Since then? Wade has won three titles, adapting his game to play with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
As for Target Center? Wade recalled making a half-court shot here in 2015. He also scored a last-second basket off an inbounds lob from James here early in the 2011-12 season. He had a chance to add to those memories Friday, but he missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.
In 2003, Wade took a quantum leap at the Metrodome. After he scored 22 points in a victory over Pittsburgh in the regional semifinal, Wade had 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in beating top-seeded Kentucky in the final.
“As a team, we played one of the best games we ever played,” Wade recalled. “I think there was a little fear in there, we were playing the No. 1 team in the country, but we performed. For myself, I performed at a level I never went to before that time. That’s something we’ll always have. It was sweet.”
• In consecutive games the Wolves have played against Dirk Nowitzki and now Wade. “His competitiveness will go down as one of the best ever,” Wolves interim coach Ryan Saunders said of Wade.
• Wolves forward Taj Gibson (calf) was held out again. With few games left, it appears a long shot either Gibson or Luol Deng (Achilles’ tendon) will play before season’s end.