The chant started slowly, from the practice court, down the stairwell, to the locker room.
"D-Wade! D-Wade! D-Wade!"
These were not fans, groupies, autograph seekers. These were NBA players. Several of whom were former teammates. Grown men.
The NBA trading deadline can mean many things for many teams. For the Miami Heat, it meant closure Thursday, a franchise icon back to where he lifted South Florida to NBA-championship heights three fold.
Dwyane Wade is back with the Miami Heat.
"He put this franchise on his back and we need him," guard Goran Dragic said, like so many Heat players, initially disbelieving until the trade for a 2024 second-round pick was confirmed. "It will be awesome to bring our captain back."
It was just two summers ago, amid a contentious free-agency impasse, that Wade left the Heat, after his first 13 NBA seasons, for his hometown Chicago Bulls.
But with the Cavaliers struggling to regain the chemistry that produced trips to the past three NBA Finals, and with Cleveland stocking up on perimeter depth at Thursday's deadline, it became apparent that Wade faced a future of limited playing time in Cleveland.
That's when Wade, in consultation with the Cavaliers, agreed to move on. The Heat was the most logical landing spot, Wade still with his South Florida home, his son playing basketball at American Heritage High School in Plantation.
"It is a beautiful moment for us, for the city and for the fans," Heat President Pat Riley said. "All of us embrace it in the manner that we want to win and that's why we brought Dwyane back home. We look forward to having a great end-of-season run as we fight for the playoffs."
Riley said Wade likely will make his return as a reserve.
"I would imagine he would morph right back into the role of being a frontline scorer for us, a crunch-time scorer for us, a defender on the ball in need situations," Riley said.
The Heat waived G League center A.J. Hammons to open the needed roster spot for Wade, with the forwarded second-round pick so heavily protected that it likely never will be conveyed.
Shortly after the trade became public, James posted on Instagram, "Truly happy for my bother. It's how it's supposed to be. Love you my guy!"
James tagged the post with, "WadeCountyBack."
Before that Wade's wife, actress Gabrielle Union, posted on Twitter emojis of the sun, fire and palm trees followed by, "305 Home!!! Let's goooooooo Heat!!! Can't. Wait."
For a team on a five-game losing streak, Thursday returned a winning buzz back to the practice court at AmericanAirlines Arena.
"You joking or are you for real? For real?" center Hassan Whiteside said as the news was breaking. "I love D-Wade. Deee-Wade! I love D-Wade, man -- throw them lobs."
Whiteside is among several players with the team from Wade's last action as a member of the Heat, when the team closed within one game of the Eastern Conference finals in 2016.
"It's crazy. I mean it's a steal. It's a steal," said guard Tyler Johnson, who broke into the NBA as an understudy to the franchise's all-time leading scorer. "I couldn't imagine it happening like this, but obviously we'll take a Hall of Famer back. You know Wade County and all that.
"Who could have called it? Nobody called D-Wade coming back for a second-round pick. It sounds made up. It sounds like a 2K trade."
"I was like, 'What?!' " said guard Josh Richardson. "But it's awesome to have him back with us. He can come back and be a great leader for us."
To a degree, Wade, 36, returns when needed most, with the Heat lacking a veteran perimeter closer beyond Dragic at the ends of close games, and with guard Dion Waiters out for the season following ankle surgery last month.
"He put this franchise on his back," Dragic said, eager to see Wade back in his iconic No. 3. "He's got a lot of experience. His ability to lead the team and his experience can help a lot with this young team.
"He'll fit perfectly. You need to understand we play a halfcourt game, I think that's perfect for him. He can handle the ball. He can make plays. He can score."
It was just a week ago, while mourning the passing of their agent, Henry Thomas, in Chicago that Wade and Heat captain Udonis Haslem spoke of a Heat reunion. Neither anticipated it happening just days later.
"This is something him and I talked about playing together," Haslem said. "But we didn’t see it happening so soon.
"I just immediately thought about our agent Hank. Hank is still doing his job, he's still making moves, he's still looking over us, he's still taking care of us from up top. We talked about it, but we figured it was probably a situation where we talk this summer and figure it out from that point on."
Instead, the Heat seized the moment amid the Cavaliers' Thursday makeover.
"He's excited. He's looking forward to it," Haslem said. "It's a lot of things that factor in, not just coming home. But his son is playing high school basketball. He’s never been away from his kids playing in another city."
Even Riley recognized the emotional element to the equation.
"It was a sad day when Wade left," he said, "and it's a beautiful day now that he's back."
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