NEW YORK — After Dwyane Wade went for 30 points in the final home game of his career Tuesday night, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra tried to downplay expectations for what Wade would be able to do for an encore Wednesday night in the final game of his NBA career.
He didn’t need to worry.
With best friends LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony — the so-called “Banana Boat” crew — all sitting courtside watching him play for the last time, Wade rode off into the sunset with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, recording the fifth triple-double of his Hall of Fame career in its final game, a 113-94 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center.
“I don’t like shooting every time down,” Wade said during an on-court interview with Fox Sports Sun after the game. “That’s not the way I play. I was so uncomfortable tonight taking that many random shots … I like playing a competitive game, so this is not the kind of game I wanted to play in.
“But to be able to go out here and understand that my last game, I wanted it to be about my teammates as much as possible. To be able to pass the ball, get the triple-double and all those things.
“So I accomplished that.”
It became the final accomplishment of his storied career, one that spanned 16 years — 14-and-a-half of which came with the Heat. And, all along the way, Wade’s friendship with James, Paul and Anthony became as associated with him as his legendarily effective pump fake.
So it was fitting that, as he took the court for the last time, they were on hand to witness it. With none of them having games of their own to worry about — James’ Lakers and Paul’s Rockets played their final regular-season games Tuesday night, while Anthony hasn’t been on a team since being released by the Chicago Bulls in February — they all made a pact to be at Barclays Center Wednesday night to see their friend’s final game.
“Listen, we all started this journey together,” James told Fox Sports Sun during an interview early in the second quarter, when asked why the three of them came to the game. “Obviously CP came into the league a couple years after us, but we have a brotherhood that is just so much more than basketball. CP played last night, we had our last regular-season game last night, and Melo is right here in New York so we kind of made the plan and made the decision to come up here.”
Moments before Wednesday night’s game began, James, Paul and Anthony exited the arena’s underground elevator inside a private SUV, and walked into the bowl of the arena just as the night’s rendition of the national anthem was being completed.
That meant all three of them were able to get to their seats in the corner of the court across from Miami’s bench in time for a tribute video honoring Wade before pregame introductions to be played.
Wade, who was introduced first to a standing ovation by the crowd, then went over and hugged each of them before taking the court in the starting lineup.
“Obviously it means a lot [to have them here],” Wade said. “They know that I will always be there for them, especially in a moment like this. No matter what I’m doing, I will be there for their last game. It was cool to see those guys over there. I’m glad they came, but at the same time I wish they weren’t here because the whole time they kept telling me to shoot, shoot, shoot. But it was great. We’ve got a brotherhood. Those are my brothers.”
After starting slow, and with plenty of questions about his ability to play a full game after his fall on the scorer’s table during his postgame celebration Tuesday night had seemed to cause his knee to act up, Wade eventually began racking up stats.
And, by late in the third quarter, he found himself on the precipice of a triple-double with 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
He hit a 3-pointer to get himself to 20 points, and then grabbed a rebound and an assist to move within one more pass of the milestone. And then, after driving from the right wing, he kicked the ball out to his longtime teammate Udonis Haslem at the top of the key, and raised his hand to celebrate before Haslem’s shot even went in.
Then it did, sending the crowd into rapturous applause in celebration of his feat.
“For me, I wanted to make that night memorable for him,” Haslem said. “What other way than to be the guy that knocked down that last shot to give him the triple-double. I swear when I shot the ball, it felt like a game-winner. I felt the pressure, I felt the pressure of a game-winning shot.
“I was happy I was able to come through for him. He’s come through for me in so many different situations. [It was] probably the best way I could end it for him.”
From that point forward, the game devolved into a carnival of sorts. As the game progressed, James, Anthony and Paul — who were sitting in the corner across from the Heat bench — were imploring him to shoot whenever they could. And, when he wasn’t in the game, they would join in with the crowd in egging Spoelstra on to put Wade back in the game.
At one point, a loose ball bounced to Anthony, and the entire crowd begged him to shoot it. He initially stepped onto the court and looked like he might — only to instead hand the ball to the referees, and go back to his seat. Meanwhile, during another stoppage in play, Wade’s wife, actress Gabrielle Union, was firing T-shirts into the crowd.
In the end, though, things went back where they were supposed to be: about Wade. And, after he checked in for a final time midway through the fourth quarter, and had a few highlights along the way — including his final basket, a 3-pointer with 2:48 remaining — he found himself with the ball, dribbling it at center court with about 30 seconds remaining. Rather than try to get one more shot off, though, Wade just stood and dribbled the ball until there were 10.1 seconds left.
At that point, the shot clock expired, he flipped the ball to the referee, raised his arms to the crowd, hugged his teammates and left the court for the final time as an NBA player.
“For me I’m happy with this season,” Wade said. “Unfortunately for the organization, our team, we weren’t in position to make the playoffs, but I’m happy to say I completed it.
“I almost messed it up when I fell on the scorer’s table. But it’s been great. I’m thankful for it and I can retire and be happy about my career my body of work and everything I’ve been able to accomplish.”
That only left Wade with one thing to do. So after he took pictures with his three friends, he did one final jersey exchange — this time with Anthony, the one player he wasn’t able to throughout this season.
“It was fitting,” Wade said. “I didn’t get the opportunity to play against Melo this year and exchange jerseys with him. That was the missing piece out of this whole season. So everything worked out great, with him being here, and being able to give him my jersey.
“I was thankful I could do that. Obviously I’ve talked about this, but Melo was one of the nudges, to help me look at it a different way. I was looking at retiring before I came back, and he helped nudge me to go on this tour.
“It was fitting that the last one was him.”
He lingered on the court for a while after that, greeting several people — including Heat owner Micky Arison, general manager Andy Elisburg and Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker — and eventually doing a full lap around it with his arm around Union, soaking in the cheers from the few thousand Heat fans still in attendance at least 20 minutes after the game had ended.
But then, he walked into the tunnel and, after signing autographs and greeting another former teammate, Mike Miller, he finally exited the court for one final time.
And when Wade was asked about the possibility of this not actually being the end of his “One Last Dance,” he quickly threw water on the idea.
“I think everybody close to me understands that this is a for real thing for me,” Wade said. “I haven’t wavered at one point at all. And I’ve had everybody’s support along the way. That’s been the cool thing about this. I’ve always had a lot of support.
“I think everybody knows that this is for real, and I won’t be making a comeback.
“This is it.”