Posted by: Mike Cornelius | March 1, 2018

A Memorable Night, For The Worst Reason

Over fifteen NBA seasons Dwyane Wade has thrilled fans with an untold number of big nights. He should surpass 22,000 career regular season points later this month, and has added nearly 4,000 more in the playoffs. He is a twelve time All-Star and three time champion. He was the MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals, leading the Miami Heat to the franchise’s first title. Wade teamed with LeBron James and Chris Bosh from 2010 to 2014, and Miami’s Big Three took the Heat to four straight Finals, winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013. After thirteen seasons Wade departed South Beach in 2016 after a contract dispute, playing one year in his hometown of Chicago with the Bulls before reuniting with James in Cleveland at the start of the current season. Last month, when the sputtering Cavaliers opted to reshape their roster at the NBA trade deadline, Wade was traded back to Miami less than two weeks after he had mended fences with Heat president Pat Riley when both attended the funeral of Henry Thomas, Wade’s long-time agent.

Now 36 years old, Wade is more role player than star. He started just three times in Cleveland and has come off the bench in each of his six games since again donning a Heat uniform. But as Miami’s all-time leader in points, assists, steals and a host of other statistical categories he remains beloved by the team’s fans, who greeted him with an enthusiastic standing ovation when he entered his first game back on February 9th.

Wade’s career is all the more remarkable considering the long odds against it ever happening. He was born to a teenaged drug-addicted mother in the roughest part of Chicago’s South Side. As a child he witnessed police raids and saw dead bodies in alleyways. It was an environment far more likely leading to gang membership and street violence than an NBA contract. But at the age of 8 Wade was taken by an older sister to live with his father, who a year later moved the family out of the inner city. As a teenager he found sports more alluring than gangs, and eventually emerged as a high school basketball star in Oak Lawn, Illinois, and then for two years at Marquette University. Riley and the Heat made Wade the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.

A full and fantastic career later, Wade returned to Miami. One of the many south Florida residents who cheered when he did so was 17-year old Joaquin Oliver, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, an hour’s drive north of American Airlines Arena. Known to fellow students by the nickname “Guac,” Oliver immigrated to the U.S. with his family from Venezuela when he was just 3, and was naturalized early last year. After becoming a U.S. citizen Oliver posted pictures on his Instagram account, along with the message “MAMA WE MADE IT!!!! 14 years ago we move to this wonderful country and 14 years later we are officially citizens of the United States of America. Never been more proud.”

The teenager played basketball in a local recreational league. He loved the Heat and especially Wade, the singer Frank Ocean, and the Venezuelan national soccer team. He had a girlfriend and his social media accounts were filled with photos of family and friends. On Valentine’s Day none of that goodness could stop the bullets from an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in the hands of 19-year old former student Nikolas Cruz. Oliver was one of fourteen students and three adults gunned down by Cruz in the hallways of Stoneman Douglas High.

On Monday Wade learned that Oliver’s parents had chosen to bury him in a Heat number three jersey – Wade’s jersey. Two days earlier, prior to Miami’s game against visiting Memphis, Wade had addressed the crowd on behalf of his teammates following a video tribute to the victims. “Tonight we honor the seventeen lives that were tragically lost in Parkland,” Wade said. “We applaud the fearless students that are fighting for their lives. We also make sure that their voices are heard around gun safety. You are our nation’s inspiration. We salute you and we support you.” After hearing of the decision by Oliver’s parents, an emotional Wade dedicated the remainder of his season to the young victim. For Tuesday night’s game against Philadelphia he wore shoes with Oliver’s name written on one and the name of his late agent on the other.

The contest with the 76ers was an important game, with both teams fighting for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots. Just before the buzzer ending the third quarter, Wade sunk a jumper from beyond the arc to pull Miami to within two points at 75-73. The three-pointer gave Wade twelve points on the night.

He didn’t score again until there were just less than five minutes remaining to play. The reverse layup he made then tied the score at 87-87. He scored again on the Heat’s next possession and then sunk a pair of free throws on Miami’s following trip down the floor. There was a jumper at the 2:54 mark and another one thirty seconds later. As the final minute of play began to tick away, Hassan Whiteside sunk a hook shot, the only Miami points by any player other than Wade in those final five minutes. Fouled with twenty-seven seconds remaining, Wade sunk all three to again knot the tally at 100 points a side. As the final seconds ran off the clock, he dribbled near the top of the key, feinted left and then launched a pull-up jumper. The ball swished through the net with 5.9 seconds remaining. When Philadelphia’s J.J. Redick missed a desperation heave at the buzzer, Miami had a 102-101 victory. Wade scored fifteen of the Heat’s final seventeen points, and a season-high twenty-seven on the night.

After the game Wade said he felt like “I was playing with angels,” adding that it “was a special night…to be able to have something to smile about” and that he was “just trying to show some due respect to him (Oliver) and his family.” Tuesday night an NBA superstar honored a life cut short by adding one more big night to a career filled with them.  But having grown up hearing guns firing nightly and seeing firsthand the awful toll of their indiscriminate availability, what is beyond doubt is that Dwyane Wade will always wish that his performance could be remembered for anything but that.

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Responses

  1. This was difficult to read through watery eyes, Mike. Nobody would believe this storyline if it was made into a movie and yet it happened in real life. Good job and props to Dwayne Wade for being a standup guy.
    Ω

    • Thanks very much Allan. And yes, the real praise quite rightly goes to Dwyane Wade.

      M-

      Michael Cornelius
      603.498.527
      http://www.onsportsandlife.com


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