There’s an alternate universe beginning in 2010 in which the Big Three never exists. No epic first-season meltdown. No Game 6. And no “I’m coming home.” Maybe LeBron James signs with the Knicks or never leaves Cleveland. Perhaps Chris Bosh joins Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. And maybe our country isn’t considering electing a reality TV star as president.
As for Dwyane Wade? In this scenario, the third-best shooting guard of all time has already joined the Chicago Bulls, returning home to team up with Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah (in their primes) and form one of the most stacked teams in the East.
As it turns out, Wade was extremely close to making that scenario a reality. Like, I Have To Leave This City So I Don’t Make An Emotional Decision close. Of course, things changed for Wade that summer once he found out he could form a superteam in Miami with his Olympic teammates, forcing him to suppress lifelong dreams of playing in front of his hometown fans.
Six years and two championships later, James is back in Cleveland, Bosh is in limbo, and Wade is home, back in the city where he would sit on his living room floor and watch Michael Jordan lead his team to six titles. Now Wade is playing the position his idol did, looking up at the banners that inspired him to take up basketball in the first place.
There’s palpable excitement around Wade in Chicago. The media wants to know how the Bulls’ newest toy will fit in on an eclectic roster. Everyone else is shaking his hand and welcoming him home. Wade himself is already fully committed to reimmersing himself in his old hometown, rocking a “Chance 3” hat when he arrives for an interview, a nice bit of Chicago and self-marketing synergy. The hat, which bears a big, bold #3 we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on Wade’s jersey, certainly looks like a better fit on Wade than his jersey, which at times still feels like a relic of a 12-year-old’s NBA 2K fantasy draft.
In an exclusive, wide-ranging sit-down interview on the eve of Bulls camp, Wade spoke about the journey that’s led him to Chicago at this stage of his career. Wade also revealed the moment he knew he was leaving Miami, what it’s like to watch his contemporaries retire, and how he’ll coexist with his former nemesis Rajon Rondo.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Rohan Nadkarni: Did teams take you seriously when you first entered free agency?
Dwyane Wade:No, they didn’t think it was serious. And rightfully so. I’ve been in one place for 13 years and have a, quote-unquote, legacy in Miami. I’ve opted out of my deal a few times and been back. They didn’t take me seriously. It started getting serious, especially in Chicago, when I talked to Jimmy [Butler] and they realized, “Okay, it’s a little bit more serious.” And then it really got serious when I said [to Chicago], “XYZ, if it happens, I’m there.” There were a few teams I looked at for different reasons, but ultimately, I always said, and people around me know this, “If I’m going to leave Miami, it’s going to be for Chicago.” Did never think that was going to happen. Did never know that was going to happen.
RN: What was the hardest conversation you had to have when you decided to leave Miami?
Wade: There really wasn’t no hard conversations I had. I told my wife first, “This is what I’m thinking. How do you feel about it?” I posed it as a question more so than this is what we’re doing. [Laughs] She was supportive. My kids knew along the process, I’m very open with my kids, they knew along the process what I was thinking and there was a chance we may not be in Miami. I really didn’t have to have a hard conversation. Obviously I had to reach out to the Miami Heat organization, and talk to Nick Arison—because Micky Arison wasn’t available—and I had to have that conversation. But it really wasn’t hard. Because this is my career, and this is what I wanted to do. The hardest part was just saying it, and making a decision. I have a home in Miami and built everything there, my life was running like this [snaps fingers] and then I uprooted my family. That was the hardest thing more so than telling anyone where I wanted to play basketball.
RN: Do you remember the moment you decided you were leaving the Heat?
Wade: Yeah, I do. I had just left the meeting with the Heat and wound up going to get some pizza because I knew I had a long night in front of me. Me and my business manager stopped off and got some pizza, and I got back to the hotel and my mind was racing. I was sitting in my manager’s room, and I was thinking about this moment, this decision. I knew that Miami wanted me to make a decision by midnight that night, and I start saying, “Who am I making this decision for?” Once I realized I was making this decision for me, I wanted to be selfish for once. You put yourself in a position where you’re always sacrificing for other people—and not bad sacrifices, great sacrifices, we won championships and did a lot of amazing things—but you’re always doing things for the good of others as well. This time I said, “You know what? It’s okay to be selfish.” And it started going through my mind, “Go home, go to Chicago. Do what you’ve always wanted to do.” And I just said it out loud. When I said it out loud that’s when it became real. My agent was like, “Are you sure? Are you sure this is what you want to do?” From there it just became about the business side, the Bulls obviously had to do certain things to get me here. I was waiting by the phone for like an hour, it was the longest hour ever. Then the media gets a hold of it, my phone starts blowing up, and I was like, “Whoa, this is happening.” But all in all, I was happy. I was happy with my decision to do what I wanted to do.
RN: It seems like there was a breakdown in communication when LeBron left Miami, when you left, and now with Chris Bosh. Is there any awkwardness there between you and the organization because of how those things went down?
Wade:I have a lot of people in that organization I’m still in communication with because they’re friends or they’re family. You know, it’s a business hat that people have to put on. And I’m a businessman so I understand it. From a standpoint of relationships that I’ve built, the real relationships will stand the test of anything. At the top of the chain, they have a business to run. And it’s their job to run it any way they want to. My business is myself and it’s my job to look out for me. I had 13 great years in Miami. I have no ill will toward the organization. I wish them nothing but success in their future. But right now, it’s what’s best for me. It’s unfortunate that a lot of stuff played out in media, whether it was right or it was wrong, but at the end of the day, like I said, I have no ill will. They drafted me, they gave me an opportunity to live my dream out. I thank them for putting me on that platform to go out and try to be great.
RN: When you were on vacation with LeBron, Melo and Chris Paul, did you get their advice on switching teams?
Wade:We talked. We talk about a lot of things. We had one day when we were on vacation and they wanted to know what was going on. I expressed to them what I was thinking. I didn’t ask for advice on what I should do, but more for advice on how they’ve been through it before. Obviously they’d all been through it, and they all had their views on how it was handled. From there the rest was just on me.
RN: Are you guys cool with being called the Banana Boat Crew?
Wade: That’s cool. [Laughs] We have fun with it. We had a Snapchat banana boat filter. It’s all good.
RN: Did you come up with Lying-Ass Randy for Snapchat by yourself?
Wade: I was Reggie! Yes, I did come up with Lying-Ass Reggie. I was on the couch one day, me and my wife were watching TV and I came up with this character. And I took it to Bron and CP when I was on vacation. Bron was Lying-Ass Randy, and CP was Lying-Ass…something with an R? Reginald? Just having fun with it. I wish Snapchat would have kept the filter a little longer, they killed my character.
RN: How close were you to signing with Chicago in 2010?
Wade: I was very close. In my mind, I was going back home. But things change a little bit when you got Chris Bosh and LeBron James on the phone saying we can play together. That changed everything. The opportunity to play with those great players—in my wildest dreams I never thought it was possible. So it was tough. I was actually in Chicago, that’s where I was doing all my meetings. I had to leave the city because my emotions were playing on me. I wanted to be a part of that team, they had some great young talent. And I’ve always wanted to play at home. But I had to take myself out of the situation and make a decision where it was about championships, it was about now. And, with Chris and LeBron, that was now.
RN: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are all gone. How weird is it to see these guys you battled with leave the game?
Wade: It became real when it was Kobe’s last year. For me it was like, this does end. This was a guy who, when I came into the league, I was like, "This is where I need to get." I need to get where Kobe’s at. That’s how hard I had to work. I wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as Kobe Bryant. And to see that he’s done playing the game of basketball, it’s eye opening. And really made me start appreciating moment even more. I’m like the most appreciative veteran player ever, because I know that it will end. I’m just enjoying the ride.
RN: I remember you ran up to Duncan after Game 7 of the 2013 Finals to give him a hug. What was it like competing against him?
Wade: For us, on that team, we were like, “We’re good, but if we beat San Antonio, we’re real good.” That was our second championship in a row. We beat a young OKC team, okay, they were talented but they were young. But if we beat this veteran team right here? Now we got something. We were able to beat them in a tough game. Obviously they had us, Game 6, and to fight back and win that Finals it felt so great. It made us feel a sense of accomplishment to beat that organization, beating those players. That’s why I ran right up to him and thanked him for what he’s meant to the game, thanked him for the competition and for allowing us to get that championship as well. [Laughs]
RN: You and KG always had a very intense relationship on the court. What will it be like the next time you run into him?
Wade:When you’re competing against a guy, you’re competing against him. Their job is to get under your skin, to get you off your game, to beat you however they can. We’ve had some battles with Boston, had some battles with KG, some hard fouls, some junk talking. At the end of the day, there are so many more positive moments I remember with KG than I do competition. I remember the first time I played KG early in my rookie season. We were like, 0-for. We started the season 0-7. I looked so deflated at the end of one of the games, but I still played hard all the way through. We were down like 20 and I was still going hard, scoring like 10 points in a row, trying to bring our team back. KG grabbed me after the game, grabbed me by my head, and talked to me like he was my dad, you know? And he told me, “That’s the way you go. That’s what you do. You never give up. Don’t ever show any give. Don’t ever show any quit.” For a young guy, that was huge. It was Kevin Garnett. He was MVP of the league. It was huge for me to hear that, see that and feel that. What that meant for me and my career, I don’t even know if he knew how much that meant.
RN: Speaking of those battles with Boston, how much communication did you have with Rajon Rondo over the summer? What will it be like playing alongside him?
Wade: It’s going to be fine. We’ve been able to communicate. Obviously we’ve been adversaries, we’ve been opponents and we’ve been in some epic battles. When you play somebody in the playoffs, it’s a different kind of relationship. We played each other for a trip to the Finals, so there have been some battles. But at the end of the day there’s always been a mutual respect. When he signed with Chicago, that was one of my real eye opening moments and I thought, “I could see myself there.” Because I want to play with somebody who I’ve competed with for [a trip to] the Finals. I want to play with somebody who I almost came to blows with because we’re both that competitor. I have no concern about him, and vice versa. We’ve both talked about our role on this team. We’ve both talked about the past, what we’ve done to make our teams successful. And I told him, “There ain’t many people in this league that I disliked. I disliked you because you were a hell of a competitor and you were in my way of getting to the Finals. Not because you were Rajon Rondo.” Now I get a chance to know him as a person, not only as a competitor, and I want the competitor on my side.
RN: How pumped are you to play with Jimmy Butler? Is the Marquette connection really a thing?
Wade: I’m very excited. The Marquette thing is real. We don’t have a lot of Marquette guys around here, we’re not Kentucky or Duke. We’re a small fraternity. Jimmy, obviously I’ve played against him, I’ve seen him in college, as an alum, I’m proud, as a competitor, I know he goes as hard as anyone is this league. As his teammate? I’m like this [rubs hands together Birdman style]. He’s in the prime stage of his career, and I can’t wait to see where he ends up.
RN: What are your realistic expectations for this Bulls team?
Wade: I want us to have the mentality that we can compete for a championship. I want us to know that we can be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland’s very good, they’ve won two times in a row, they won the Finals and they have the best player in the game. That doesn’t mean we can’t compete to go to the Finals. There are some good teams in the East—Toronto, Boston, Indiana and so forth. But I feel like we’re just as good as any of them if we get on the right page pretty quickly around here. If all our common goals are the same, there should be nothing stopping us from reaching that common goal.
RN: Who do you measure yourself against every night?
Wade: My measuring individual was Kobe and he’s gone. I even asked myself, “Who am I measuring myself against now?” But for me it’s all about the challenge. I’ve been to the Finals five times, I’ve won three championships, I’m looking for a new challenge. And to be in my 14th season, I’ve taken myself out of my comfort zone. I’ve taken myself out of what I know into a brand new situation, the unknown. And that’s exciting, because I want to see how I respond. I’m looking forward to it.
RN: What does it mean to you, after looking up to Michael Jordan, to play shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls?
Wade:That hasn’t even set in. Every day I come into this arena, I look up at the banners, I look up at the success this organization has had, and it gives me extra motivation. To me, it’s an honor to have a vision as a young child. To be sitting on my floor, watching TV, to see my favorite team, my favorite player win a championship, and me to say to myself at nine years old, “That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want to become.” And my vision started with the Bulls jersey, with the city of Chicago. And now to be able to live that dream out, a lot of people will say it took a long time to get to this point, but I got to it. I’m just excited.
RN: You mentioned some of your accolades. What’s left for you to accomplish in this game?
Wade:As a player, I want to defy odds. I’m going to be 35 this year. Every year I go out and say I want to be in the discussion with the top players of that age group. If it was Larry Bird at 33, I wanted to be talked about with one of the best seasons like Larry Bird. If it was Jordan and Kobe at 34? I wanted to be talked about with them. There’s all these things. As an individual player, I’m trying to defy odds at every level and stage of my career. As a team, I’m a winner, man. I know you can’t win every year, but when you have a team and you see that talent is there, you want to seize that opportunity. And I’ve been able to do it. I’ve been to the Finals five times, I’ve been able to seize these moments. Haven’t won every time, but I’ve won more than I’ve lost, and I’m happy about that. I want to bring that here, that championship experience and swagger. It’s so small, man, from a player that has that confidence to a player that doesn’t.
RN: How come you’re so much more comfortable at this point in your career speaking on social issues?
DW: I’m at a certain age where I’m not worried about the same things I used to worry about. You get to a point where, I’m 34 now, when I was 24 I was a little more quiet, a little more shy, a little more scared to speak out, not really understanding how my voice could affect change. The moment I realized it could affect change or shine light on something was probably the Trayvon Martin situation, when we all took that picture with our hoods on.
RN: Who are the people in your inner circle you reach out to before deciding to speak out?
Wade: My wife, obviously. My wife is one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. Sometimes I talk to my wife about it. Sometimes I reach out to people on my team to get their take on it. Sometimes I’m just flowing, whatever comes to mind. The biggest thing is, it’s what I want to do. I don’t need permission to do anything, it’s just more so, maybe I’m looking for the right words. Maybe I’m looking for the right meaning. But if it’s something I feel passionate about, something I live—like the Trayvon Martin thing, I have young, teen boys—then that’s something I will get behind, I will support.
RN: Obviously you’re excited about your new situation, but have you thought about the end at all? Do you have an age you want to stop playing?
Wade:No. If you had asked me when I was young, I would have been done by now. You really can’t say when. For me, it’s more so my body is going to tell me, “Yo D, we hurtin’ a little bit too much around here, let’s go.” I think I was rejuvenated last season. Last year I didn’t have setbacks. It’s about how long I can play at the level I want to play at. How long can I play without being in so much pain. If I can do that I will keep playing, and if I can’t won’t. But right now I’m cool.
RN: You went from hero to villain in your career, to now loved a little bit more again. How do you want to be remembered after you retire?
Wade: I want to be remembered as a competitor. I want to be remembered as someone who gave everything he had to the game. Someone who got the most out of his talent and his ability. I want to be remembered as a great teammate. And I’m cool with that. Oh, and as a winner. That’s it. I’m cool with it.
RN: You didn’t hit a three in all of 2016 until Game 6 against Charlotte. Did you shoot those only because you were pissed at Purple Shirt Guy?
Wade:[Laughs] No, no. You know, I didn’t shoot a lot of threes. And the ones I shot were all bad threes, like shot clock. So it was never really a true indication of what I could do. I’ve never been like, go out and shoot eight threes and hit three of ’em. But I’ve always been a player that, whatever the moment calls for, I want to do it. If it calls for me to get a blocked shot? I’m going to do it. If it calls for me to get a steal? I’m going to do it. If it calls for me to hit some threes at the end? I’m going to do it. I have the confidence to do it. Even though they said I hadn’t hit a three since December, in my mind the shot was good as soon as I took it. That’s the way you have to be. Short-term memory. You have to think of the moment.
RN: Are you ready for the winters in Chicago?
Wade:No. I’m not. But I’ll get through it. I’m a tough guy. I’ll find a way to get through it. It’s only winter. It’s only cold weather. There are worse things that could happen.
RN: What’s your favorite game you’ve ever played?
Wade: There’s two. One against the Knicks. I got busted in my mouth. We were down almost 20. And we came back and we smashed ’em. I scored almost 24 points in the fourth quarter. [Laughs] I went off. And then the other one was against the Bulls. I had a game winner against the Bulls in double overtime. One-legged game winner. That’s the game in Miami when I jumped up on the stands and said, “This is my house.” That’s the most memorable game of my career.
RN: There’s a hilarious look on Brad Miller’s face after you hit that game winner against the Bulls.
Wade:Oh I remember! That’s the look of defeat. That’s the look of—I remember looking at him. [Laughs] Yeah, I remember.
RN: I thought you would pick Game 4 against Boston in 2010.
Wade:Yeah, I had 46 or something like that? That was a good game. I was bombing threes. It was a good game. [Laughs] But it didn’t mean as much to me as beating Chicago in that game. Got the steal and you know, hopefully something that I remember for a long time. Obviously I want to create new memories, but that’s always going to be near the top.
RN: Will you ever play another game for the Miami Heat?
Wade:I don’t know. I never thought I would not be there. At this point in my career, I’ve been asked that, and it’s not a focus of mine. I’m happy where I am. I gave Miami everything I had for 13 years. The years I have left, hopefully I can give as much to Chicago. You never know what the future holds so you never want to say yes or no. Anything is possible. But, I’m cool right now. I’m good.