MILWAUKEE (AP) — A win inside the building where as a skinny kid two decades ago Dwyane Wade dared to dream. Displays of love from the city where he was raised. Shows of love from the school where he became a national name. A surprise arrival by family members to cap a celebration that included ovation after ovation after ovation.
This was Wade’s weekend.
It wasn’t the last steps of Wade’s final season as an NBA player, but what took place in Chicago on Saturday and Milwaukee on Sunday will be among the most memorable moments he cherishes during this yearlong commemoration of his basketball life. Chicago celebrated a native son who has never forgotten where he came from. Milwaukee and Marquette celebrated the hero of their Final Four team 16 years ago.
Summing it all up in one word, Wade chose “perfect.”
“Having my last Chicago game, and then to follow it with Dwyane Wade Day at my college, for ‘One Last Dance,’ besides my last game in Miami this is the peak of it,” Wade said after 15th-ranked Marquette beat Providence on Sunday. “And it’s been great. It’s been good to go into Chicago and get that win, and have that love there, have that moment there, and then the next day to come here and be able to have all this … it gets no better.”
There was nary a moment over the two days where Wade couldn’t stop smiling, as nearly 40,000 fans over two days braved frigid temperatures to go see him.
In Chicago, fans wore Wade’s Heat jerseys in white, red, black, black with pastel highlights, and laser fuchsia — not to mention a few who donned either his high school or Bulls jerseys. In Milwaukee, fans wore yellow shirts with “Marquette” on the front, “Wade” on the back and No. 3 on both sides.
Wade played two seasons at Marquette. He played only one for the Bulls.
“I’ve been following him since Marquette,” said Fernando Alejandro, a Chicago man who wore a Heat jersey and got Wade to sign a Heat championship hat after Miami’s win over the Bulls. “The fact I got his autograph means everything to me. … He’s meant everything.”
Wade grew up in Robbins, Illinois, the corner of 59th Street and Prairie Avenue, a tough part of a tough Chicago suburb. He and his siblings often found themselves wondering where the next meal would come from, yet the shy kid who relatives called Pac-Man — because if there was food, “he ate everything in sight,” his sister Tragil Wade said — eventually found basketball as a possible way out.
And then an assistant coach on his high school team asked if he wanted to go see a college game. Wade said yes on one condition: They had to go eat on the way. The game was at Marquette, maybe an hour and a half north of Robbins. Wade had never heard of the school. He fell in love with the college game that night.
“He’s proven that you can be a successful, Hall of Fame guy and be a great person,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said softly, toward the end of a pregame media session Saturday night that was largely devoted to him singing Wade’s praises. “I like that. He was great to me.”
It’s a Wade character trait.
That’s why hundreds of Bulls fans stayed long after the game Saturday night, hoping for a glimpse, a photo, maybe an autograph. That’s why hundreds of fans lingered well after the Marquette game Sunday, looking for a hello or a handshake. And it’s a major reason why he’s been hearing cheers in NBA cities all season long, as this farewell tour hits the home stretch.
“For me, I know, for sure that this is the thing he’s going to remember,” said Tragil Wade, who brushed away tears as she watched Sunday’s events unfold. “All the things and all the places he’s been, this is the most memorable one. Why? Because this is where it all started. This is where the dream began.”
Marquette went all-out. A suite was set up off the court for Wade’s family: His mother and sister chatted at one high-top table, his wife Gabrielle Union was talking at another a few feet away. Some yellow pom-poms were laid out on a counter alongside a platter of cookies decorated with the Marquette logo, while last-minute orders for new Golden Eagles souvenir gear were getting made.
Meanwhile, Wade was greeting old friends and getting ready to take his baseline seat. He didn’t know what was coming.
“I tried not to know everything,” Wade said. “I didn’t ask them everything that was going on because I wanted the element of surprise.”
They came in bunches.
Videos from Jimmy Butler, Travis Diener and more former Marquette players. Another from his coach in college, Tom Crean. A proclamation from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett declaring Jan. 20, 2019, as Dwyane Wade Day in the city. The announcement that Wade was getting a distinguished alumnus award. The arrival of three boys who he thought were home in Miami because of their own schedules.
Wade’s oldest sons Zaire and Zion walked out of a dark corner of the arena toward their dad, joined by their cousin Dahveon Morris, who lives with Wade. Only some Marquette officials and the innermost members of Wade’s circle knew the boys — who came out bearing some gifts — had been secretly flown up for the game. While Wade sat on one end of the arena, they were positioned in a corner by the other bench.
Their surprise appearance capped the “perfect” weekend.
“I didn’t know what to ask for,” Wade said. “But I know I couldn’t have asked for more than this.”