By Tim Reynolds
AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI — Dwyane Wade never really planned for this to happen. He wore shirts that called Miami “My City” and referred to AmericanAirlines Arena as “My House.” He knew where the three boys that he’s raising would go to high school. He had plans for what he wanted to do in South Florida whenever his basketball days were complete.
He called himself a #HeatLifer.
It was his plan. It’s no longer his reality.
In a decision that essentially started what will become a massive shake-up of the franchise, Wade decided Wednesday night that he will leave the Miami Heat after 13 seasons. He agreed to terms on a two-year contract with the Chicago Bulls and will earn about $47 million, instantly making him the highest-paid player on his new team — a distinction he never had in Miami.
Miami had become home. Chicago was his first home, and is now his next home.
“This was not an easy decision, but I feel I have made the right choice for myself and my family,” Wade wrote in a letter to Miami, released to The Associated Press.
On Thursday, while guest-hosting the popular morning television talk show “Live with Kelly” alongside Kelly Ripa in New York, Wade paid tribute to Heat fans again and thanked them for their support. He also made clear that he’s long dreamed of hearing his name called out and cheered in Chicago, the city where he grew up.
“I just want to thank all my fans,” Wade said on-air, before a studio audience that included at least one person who waved his now-former Heat jersey. “We call it Heat Nation … and we did some special things together.”
Also, in what seems coincidental, the Li-Ning shoe line that bears Wade’s name released a new two-pair pack Wednesday.
The pack’s title? “Miami and Chicago.”
One pair is orange in a nod to Wade’s beloved Chicago Bears, and the other is aqua to pay tribute to the Miami Dolphins and the water of the South Florida coastline.
By nightfall, Miami and Chicago were linked again in Wade’s world, and no one was thinking about sneaker colors.
His name already hangs from the rafters at what is now his former home arena, commemorating his Olympic success while with the Heat. Eventually, his No. 3 will be hoisted as well. And regardless of how long he’s with the Bulls or any other club, on the night he goes into the Basketball Hall of Fame, the tribute videos will be dominated by what he did in a Heat uniform.
Wade is Miami’s career leader in games, minutes, field goals, field goal attempts, free throws, free throw attempts, assists, steals and points. He’s even second in blocked shots, perhaps the most impressive stat of all considering Wade is listed at 6-foot-4 — which is generous, probably by about an inch.
He played for all three Heat title teams. He was the Finals MVP in 2006. He was a 12-time All-Star. He was beloved like only a handful were in Miami, reaching a stratosphere perhaps only seen by the likes of Dan Marino, Alonzo Mourning and Jason Taylor. And Wade won more rings than all of them, combined.
“Thank you @DwyaneWade for a great 13 yrs!” Heat managing general partner Micky Arison wrote on Twitter. “You’ve had a tremendous impact on our community and our organization. We wish you all the best.”
Everything that followed Wade’s decision, which was first reported by Yahoo Sports, reflected all sides putting their best foot forward. Wade’s letter showed how difficult the decision was to leave; Arison’s tweet was a far cry from how Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert infamously reacted in 2010 when LeBron James left the Cavaliers for a four-year, four-Finals run in Miami.
In actuality, there were hurt feelings on both sides, and understandably.
A year ago, Wade and the Heat nearly parted ways before settling on a $20 million, one-year deal. Miami offered more of the same this summer — $40 million for two years, the second year at Wade’s option. And when factoring in tax ramifications, that offer wasn’t too far off from what the Bulls will pay Wade in the next two seasons.
It was simply time for a change. Maybe even more simply, it was time for Wade to go home.
“Watching the Bulls growing up inspired me at an early age to pursue my dream of becoming a basketball player,” Wade wrote in the letter. “My most treasured memories were watching my dad play basketball on the courts of Fermi Elementary School and developing my game at the Blue Island Recreation Center. I have never forgotten where I came from and I am thankful to have an opportunity to play for the team that first fueled my love of the game.”