Dwyane Wade is going home, making what he called "an extremely emotional and tough decision" to leave the Miami Heat after 13 seasons and sign with the Chicago Bulls.
During an appearance guest hosting on "Live with Kelly" Thursday morning, Wade called the situation surreal before thanking fans of the Heat and the organization over the time he spent with the franchise. The show's main host, Kelly Ripa, joked with Wade about the cold winters he will now have to deal with.
Miami was known to have offered Wade roughly $40 million over two years in recent days. On Wednesday, Wade met with team owner Micky Arison in New York where it is likely that Miami raised its offer. Last off-season, Wade and Arison worked together to finalize a one-year deal worth $20 million. The two-year deal with Chicago is worth a reported $47 million.
"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.
This will be a homecoming for Wade, who was born in Illinois. Wade also drew interest from the Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers during free agency.
"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.''
Wade was a member of all three championship teams in Miami and was the unquestioned leader of the team. In his 13 years with the Heat, Wade made 49% of his field goal attempts and was known for his clutch performances in the regular season and in the playoffs.
The 34-year old still has plenty left in the tank and could take a revamped Chicago team back to the playoffs. Even though, the Bulls lost Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, they still have talent on their roster. Playing alongside Wade should be Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo.
During the 2006 title run, Wade teamed with Shaquille O'Neal to bring home the first championship trophy in Heat history. In that series, Wade put his body on the line to bring home the title. Playing with reckless abandonment was something Wade was known for during his time in Miami and it was even more evident when everything was on the line.
When the "Big Three" era began with LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Wade stood tall as an important part of two championship teams. Despite the fact he was no longer Miami's top option, Wade was still a critical reason that the Heat won those championships.
Replacing Wade will be no easy task for team president Pat Riley. Not only was Wade still producing at an All-Star level, but his leadership skills can't be found easily on the market. For the minutes on the court, Miami could turn to Josh Richardson or potentially match an offer sheet waiting for Tyler Johnson. For leadership, Bosh could take on an increased role.
Dwyane Wade is the Heat's all-time leader in Games, Minutes, Field Goals, Free Throws, Assists, Steals and Points. 2nd in blocks. — NBC 6 Sports (@NBC6Sports) July 7, 2016
"I started my NBA career with the Miami Heat in 2003 and it has been an honor to have played with them and help build a winning franchise with three NBA championships,'' Wade wrote. "I look back with pride and amazement at all we have accomplished together. I want to express my gratitude to the Arison family, Pat Riley, Coach Erik Spoelstra, the coaching staff, and the entire Miami Heat organization. "From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the Miami community.''
Head coach Erik Spoelstra will have his work cut out for him next season. For many in the organization and in the stands, this will be their first experience of Heat basketball without Wade.