In an off-season in which the basketball talk revolved almost exclusively around LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrating, and what the Golden State Warriors were going to do to get revenge (see: Kevin Durant), it was almost like things that would have been huge news during any other time in human history were sort of just little blips on the radar: Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett retiring, Russell Westbrook becoming the lone star in Oklahoma City and the Chicago Bulls saying goodbye to Derrick Rose, and hello to Dwyane Wade.
One homegrown big name whose best days some figured might be behind him came in after another, who grew up in the city and had some dazzling seasons before the last few were plagued by various injuries, was shipped off to New York City. There was something fitting that Wade, whose time with the Miami Heat made that franchise one of the best in the NBA, would go back to the city where he was born, a place that has produced a handful of great former and current players, but that maybe only he and Isiah Thomas have any real shot at saying they’re the best Chicago-born players of the last 30 years. Rose had a few years with the Bulls where you had to watch every game he played, but Wade’s career in Miami was exceptional. The numbers don’t lie.
And so he went to do the exact opposite thing you’re supposed to do, and he left the Sunshine State for the cold winds off Lake Michigan to spend his golden basketball years in the city of his birth. It was a coup for the Bulls, one that people weren’t entirely sure meant since the team looked to finally hand the keys over to Jimmy Butler, and also the signing of Rajon Rondo made fans wonder what the plan exactly was.
Any hope for figuring that out over the months leading up to Wade’s debut as a Bull were overshadowed by the news in late August that his cousin, Nykea Aldridge, had been shot and killed while pushing her baby in a stroller, another random victim of the city’s awful gun violence. As horrific a homecoming as one could imagine.
Thursday night, however, hopefully helped Wade cope with the family tragedy a little. He got to do what one would assume he loves to do best, and he did it in front of his hometown crowd at the United Center. He scored 22 points as the Bulls beat the Boston Celtics, 105-99, with half of his points coming from the four three-pointers he hit throughout the game. He hit seven of those all of last season.
All that, and he was the one who finally finished off the team’s opponent in the first game of the year.
It was the first game of the season. You don’t know what’s going to happen from here on out. You can’t say the Warriors are doomed because they couldn’t gel right off the bat. You don’t know if the reigning champs are going to even make it to the second round in the playoffs. Of course, the chances of them getting back to the Finals are very high considering the fact that they have one of the greatest players ever leading them, but the fact of the matter is these early games count towards the end of the season when you’re looking at where teams will land in the playoffs, but ultimately, the first game is a prototype, a soft open; it isn’t what you’re going to get in a month, in January or down the stretch when teams make that final push for the playoffs.
Yet for Wade, his first game playing for the Bulls, there was something both inspired and inspiring about his performance. Chalk it up to adrenaline or something like that if you’d like, but seeing a guy who is no doubt going to the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible go out there and have a performance like that the first game out, it gives you a little hope, but more importantly, it makes you want to cherish certain little moments a little more. The moments you might not think are that important. Moments that could come into play down the line, but for the time being are just fun to watch.
“I’ve been waiting on that moment for a long time,” Wade said after the game. A guy who has proven everything, who was the anchor of a great franchise, who has done all there is to do in the sport and has been both the hero and villain in basketball, was waiting for that game. It was obvious how important it was for the guy who has been an all-star every year since 2005 and has three championship rings and a gold medal that going out and putting on a show for his hometown, the place where he’s from, in a season that everybody figures they know the conclusion to after the first games, meant a lot more than anybody could have expected.