Earlier this summer, Miami Heat fans worried shooting guard Dwyane Wade might leave the Magic City. Only a few weeks after he opted out of his contract, though, news broke in July that Wade and the Heat had agreed to a one-year, $20 million deal.
Many fans were ecstatic.
But it’s reasonable to wonder if Wade is really worth that much at this point in his career. He was drafted in 2003, and at 34 years old, has already played 12 seasons in the NBA.
He missed a quarter of last year’s games due to injury, and even more the year before that. And his performance on the court has declined over the past few seasons.
Even so, clearly the Heat have decided this is an investment worth making, even in a sport with a salary cap, where more money for one player means less for others. So what are you really paying for when you keep an aging athlete like Dwyane Wade?
Wade has long represented an important figure in Miami life and culture. He played a major part in three different championship seasons, leading the Heat to victory in NBA championships in 2006, 2012 and 2013. He was named Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals in 2006. But his influence extends beyond the court, and even into the daily lives of many South Floridians.
His Wade’s World Foundation supports disadvantaged youth in South Florida by providing funding to community-based organizations. In 2008 Wade bought a family a new home and even donated new furniture after they lost theirs in a fire. He has also been known to visit sick children in local hospitals.
Miamians have been appreciative of Wade’s involvement in the community.
Take, for example, the Miami-Dade County commission’s response the last time people thought Wade might leave Miami. Back in June 2010, commissioners voted to change the county’s name to “Miami-Wade County” from July 1 to 7 of that year.
The resolution originated with Joe Martinez, commissioner for District 11, who was then Chairman of the County Commission. According to Martinez, the move was an expression of gratitude for Wade’s loyalty to Miami and of hope that his commitment would endure.
“Loyalty in that business, same as politics, is a word people throw around but it doesn’t really exist,” Martinez said. “It was mainly just… to show Wade that the political will was behind it and that we did want him to stay, and that the sports team was very important to us. And the accomplishments, the goals and all that was important to us.”
Gil Pagovich, a partner at the sports marketing firm MAXX Sports in New York, agrees that Dwyane Wade’s connection to Miami is special.
“When you have an aging superstar, you say to yourself, 'Wow.' This guy’s done a lot for this community, and he should stay here and continue these efforts,” said Pagovich.
But Pagovich also stressed Wade’s importance as an example for his younger teammates.
“Certainly guys like Dwyane Wade, who are wily veterans, who’ve been around the block, who are leaders, who have won championships, you can’t have enough of those guys around,” Pagovich said. “Because you need to be able to teach the young guys the way to achieve and the way to get to the championship mountain, and certainly not many guys can do it like Dwyane.”
Tracy Towle-Humphrey, a self-proclaimed lifelong Heat fan, still cherishes a Dwyane Wade jersey from his rookie season, as well as a load of other Wade and Heat memorabilia. She echoed Martinez and Pagovich’s praise for D-Wade.
“Dwyane Wade not only is a great basketball player, but a terrific person off the court and a good role model for children and adults and a good family man,” Towle-Humphrey says.
She has a young son of her own, and says seeing Wade with his boys makes him seem like more than just a superstar athlete.
“You always see pictures of Dwyane Wade with his sons, which is nice," she says. "And just to be able to be admirable, what he does on the court and off the court is excellent, especially in sports. Hopefully [he will] always be a Heat lifer.”
For Towle-Humphrey, Wade's share of the Heat's $20 million salary cap is a small price to pay for a player as special as him.
"I think he's definitely worth it. And even after he plays, it'd be great to keep him with Miami in the front office, like Alonzo Mourning did," Towle-Humphrey says. "He's definitely a great face for the Miami Heat, and someone that all Heat fans love."
Fortunately for Heat fans, they can count on Wade for at least one more year. As for Wade? He can count on at least another $20 million.