Regardless of whether he plays for the Miami Heat beyond the 2017-18 season or hangs up his sneakers this offseason, Dwyane Wade's NBA legacy is unforgettable. He's a surefire Hall of Famer who will one day reside in the pantheon of shooting guards.
That much shouldn't be questioned.
But now that he's offered the possibility of impending retirement, that legacy deserves a closer examination.
Never one to covet the spotlight or engage in farewell tours, Wade told the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson he's entering uncharted territory and doesn't yet know if he'll sign a new contract for 2018-19:
"I don't know. I have told everybody around me that I am taking it after this season and go from there. It's the first year I've ever went into the summer with that mind-set. I always went into it as a free agent or opting out of a deal to get another deal. This is the first summer I can say I'm just going into the summer and see how I feel and see the position this organization is in and go from there. I'm not really concerned with it, honestly. I'm cool with whatever I decide to do. It will be my decision."
For our purposes, the upcoming decision is largely irrelevant. Fun as it might be to see the 36-year-old living legend continue to ply his trade for his adopted city, he's already cemented himself as the greatest player in franchise history, a venerated playoff performer and so much more.
Class of His Own in Miami Heat History
Since the Heat entered the NBA in 1988, selecting Arvid Kramer, Billy Thompson and Fred Roberts with their first three expansion picks, they've held up the Larry O'Brien Trophy on three separate occasions. Wade was a part of the roster each time.
Eight different players have represented Miami in an All-Star Game, but Wade's 12 selections outpace all other multiyear representatives by a substantial margin. Next up? Chris Bosh (six), Alonzo Mourning (five), LeBron James (four), Shaquille O'Neal (three) and Tim Hardaway (two), while Anthony Mason and Goran Dragic have each participated in the midseason festivities once.
For that matter, 239 different men have thrown on Miami threads for at least a single game. No one has more appearances than Wade, and that's far from his only lofty placement on the franchise leaderboards:
- Total points: Wade is first (20,291); Mourning is second (9,459)
- Total rebounds: Wade is fourth (4,152), behind Rony Seikaly (4,544), Mourning (4,807) and Udonis Haslem (5,707)
- Total assists: Wade is first (4,960); Hardaway is second (2,867)
- Total steals: Wade is first (1,420); Mario Chalmers is second (791)
- Total blocks: Wade is second (763), behind Mourning (1,625)
- Points per game: Wade is second (23.6), behind James (26.9)
- Rebounds per game: Wade is down at No. 38—still respectable for a 2-guard
- Assists per game: Wade is fifth (5.8), behind Rod Strickland (6.1), James (6.7), Hardaway (7.8) and Sherman Douglas (7.9)
And we haven't even touched on the advanced stats yet.
James is his close friend's only superior in player efficiency rating, though he maintained his mark over a much shorter stretch. Wade's 113.7 win shares trump No. 2 James (65.3) and No. 3 Mourning (64.9) by a significant margin. His value over replacement player actually outpaces the sum of Mourning and James' efforts.
All these numbers matter. There's no debate about whether he's the best player in franchise history. But they still sell him short because of what he's meant to the organization.
Wade is the Heat. He's been a part of the roster for 13 full seasons and part of the 2017-18 campaign, with only brief detours for his hometown Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But he's so much more than just another player; he's become a living, walking, breathing, dunking embodiment of the franchise.
Remember when county commissioners voted to briefly change the name of Miami-Dade County in honor of Wade? Recall the pay cuts he shouldered and short-term contracts he signed to grant his team more financial flexibility? Did you listen to the ovation he got upon returning to the team midway through the first quarter of a recent outing against the Milwaukee Bucks?
Once more, Wade is the Heat, and he's served as such for quite some time now. That's still just part of his legacy.
Regular season productivity is one thing, but Wade has shined when the results matter more. His per-game lines are fairly comparable—and the same is true of his advanced metrics—an achievement given the increased quality of competition in the postseason and the added workload Wade typically shoulders.
Memories of Wade's 2006 title run endure to this day, even if they're partially steeped in complaints about how frequently he found the free-throw stripe in the Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. Still, he averaged 28.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game during the title run, shooting 49.7 percent from the field, 37.8 percent from downtown and 80.8 percent from that frequented charity stripe.
Of course, his postseason resume isn't unblemished. He struggled with his shot during a first-round loss to the Bulls in 2007. Despite submitting a jaw-dropping five-game stretch in the 2010 playoffs, he couldn't will the Heat past the Boston Celtics, perhaps setting the stage for the acquisitions of James and Bosh.
But more so than any singular moment or run through Eastern Conference competition, the totality of Wade's playoff efforts allows for praise. Maintaining such a high level for so long is an accomplishment of which few stars are capable. It's why this future HOFer fares so well on some all-time leaderboards.
Only 15 NBA players have earned more postseason win shares throughout their careers, and the names are significant ones. The impressiveness of this collection basically forces us to list them out in alphabetical order: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Dirk Nowitzki, Scottie Pippen, Bill Russell and Jerry West. It's a veritable whos-who list of NBA legends.
Similarly, Wade sits at No. 14 in career total points added (TPA) during the playoffs, per NBA Math. He's No. 21 in lifetime PER. Everything he's done during the league's second season has helped establish him as an all-time performer when an entire campaign hangs in the balance. Even when he suited up alongside James as a member of the Big Three, he was an integral part of the ring-earning process and played like an unabashed star.
A Signature Shot
You can't think about sky-hooks without picturing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Every one-legged, fadeaway jumper is tied to Dirk Nowitzki. George Gervin has the finger roll. The Allen Iverson crossover and Hakeem Olajuwon "Dream Shake." LeBron James might not have a singular signature, but his chase-down blocks, hammer passes into the corners and cock-back dunks all come close.
Wade, too, has a helpful legacy accoutrement: his signature pump-fake-and-jump-into-the-defender jumper. He's fooled countless opponents throughout his career, and the move is still working against youngsters who get caught in the seemingly unavoidable trap.
Ben Simmons was just seven years old when the Heat icon made his NBA debut and likely grew up watching him thrive, but he still fell for the trick deep in the fourth quarter of a late-February matchup:
If you haven't been baffled into a foul by this move, you might as well have never played in the NBA. Plenty of men have tried to imitate it, but none have experienced the same level of success. And speaking of copycats...
Who's Got Next?
There's always someone waiting to take over.
Think about it this way: Currently, it's foolish to say we'll never see another LeBron James because, in all likelihood, we will. Athletes get better over time, and the idea of present-day mega-studs would have been inconceivable prior to them entering the public consciousness. Maybe it seems improbable to think someone will eventually join James in the 30K/8K/8K club, but someone will. He will come. Ditto for a player showcasing Giannis Antetokounmpo's or Anthony Davis' abnormal skill set.
Remember, Michael Jordan was never supposed to exist and become capable of challenging the legacies of legends who preceded him.
Right now, Wade belongs in the pantheon of shooting guards. He's top five at his position, trailing Jordan, Jerry West and Kobe Bryant but firmly ahead of Clyde Drexler, Allen Iverson and the next tier of 2-guards.
But eventually, someone will challenge him. And if that someone is already in the league, the best bet is Utah Jazz rookie stud Donovan Mitchell.
To be fair, we've been down this road before. Back in 2012, head coach Erik Spoelstra said James Harden reminded him of Wade, and, per Shandel Richardson of the Sun-Sentinel, Wade himself agreed. The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, then writing for Celtics Blog, made the connection between Terry Rozier and Wade in 2015. Victor Oladipo has also drawn the comparison.
But Harden has gone down a different path toward greatness. Oladipo now plays a similar game, but the breakthrough came in his fifth professional season, leaving him unable to replicate the lifetime legacy. Rozier is still developing.
Plenty must go right for Mitchell to break into such vaunted territory, but the rookie comparison is already one between equals:
- Mitchell: 19.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks per game while slashing 43.7/35.2/83.5
- Wade: 16.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks per game while slashing 46.5/30.2/74.7
Their PERs differ by 0.9, and their other advanced metrics are similar across the board, as well. But watching them play is even more important since you can see Mitchell replicating the slashing habits of a younger Wade while leading the charge for the Utah offense. He's not a carbon copy of his predecessor—the outside shot is already more developed, and he lags a bit behind on the defensive end—but the influence is palpable.
And isn't this what we want? Isn't the ultimate part of a legacy a command over future generations, inspiring them to not just look up to what was done before them, but actively strive to emulate it?
No one talks about the next Dwight Howard, even though he should also one day be a lock for the Hall of Fame. The world isn't looking to find the next Pau Gasol, Paul George or LaMarcus Aldridge. That's a conversation reserved for an exclusive class of living legends.
Wade earned entry into that group. But there can only be a "next Wade" because the original existed, thrived and guaranteed himself an everlasting spot in the sport's history.