For years, Erik Spoelstra has kept this framed photograph in his home, blown up to poster size. It's a winning shot from Dwyane Wade's first chapter, a cathedral to his greatness, with the moment frozen forever with eight-tenths of a second left as the ball leaves Wade's hands.
This is what South Florida is left with now. Memories. Keepsakes. And photos that tell a larger story, as this one in Spoelstra's house does. The Heat coach remembers the exact date: Nov. 19, 2004.
All that summer, the young player and young assistant coach worked on Wade's game-ending shot, the exact one Wade used to shake loose just enough to get off that buzzer-beating shot against Utah.
After each practice, Spoelstra remembered Wade taking dozens of shots, even 100 at times, he says. Spoelstra downplays his role as simply "shagging balls," to feed Wade, who the coach described as being in a different place than those empty practice courts.
Wade transported himself to a full arena, in the closing seconds. On the night he hit the winning shot with the form they perfected, Wade did something telling of his coming career.
He found Spoelstra in the locker room and hugged him.
"Thank you," he said.
Spoelstra told the story this week before Wade's final home game. The private side of coaching doesn't come better than that. He then gave the real message behind the photo: "I spent the past 14, 15 years trying to pay him back for that one thank you. Everything I did was motivated by that one action."
That's an anecdote of a star who shared his talent, who brought everyone in, who even in his final moment on the court was thanking teammates and taking a team picture with them.
But here's the larger point before he fades completely from everyday view, the one Spoelstra understood and spent all these years attempting to live up to:
Shouldn't we be thanking him?
For his joy.
For his dignity.
Thanks for the three championships, sure, but also for being a champion in all those years the Heat didn't win a ring.
Thanks for coming back this season, despite the health concerns, despite the role concerns and, yes, despite making a fraction of anyone else in the Heat's plans. You can say money didn't matter. But no one likes to look across the office at lesser talents making far bigger money.
Thanks for leaving South Florida for those 18 months, too. There was pain all around in that move. But that time away from the Heat, and the Heat's time away from Wade, made this reunion all the more rewarding, this final goodbye all the most special.
Thanks for that miracle shot against Golden State in March.
And that buzzer-beating one at Madison Square Garden in 2005.
And that "This-is-my-house" winner against Chicago in 2009.
Thanks for all the final-shot misses through the years, too. Just this Feb. 27 you missed at the buzzer against Phoenix and again down the stretch in Minnesota. Seriously, you have to embrace those. Only the greats can live with them and still want the ball at the end.
Thanks for realizing the world is bigger than a basketball court. From the Trayvon Martin shooting, to the book on Fatherhood, to the Parkland shootings, Wade regularly had a good voice on public issues.
Thanks for that 34.4-point average in the 2006 Finals.
And that Game 7 series-winner in your first playoffs against New Orleans, just to show greatness reveals itself early.
Thanks for constantly wanting to improve, too. Most stars can't be bothered. But here's a small thing: The 33 percent rate you shot 3-pointers in the final season wasn't great. It was, however, the highest rate of your 16 years.
Thanks for - a chest tap and point to the skies - staying healthy this final season.
Thanks for giving South Florida something worth watching. The Dolphins and Marlins haven't had any postseason success since Wade's first game in 2003 (OK, this is a small play on dates. The Marlins won the World Series on Oct. 25, 2003. Wade's first game was Oct. 27, 2003. The larger point stands).
Thanks for rising from that broken home in Chicago, from being lightly recruited to college - from being a statistic with little chance of making it - to being an inspiration to others.
Thanks for being the magnet that assembled The Big Three, which delivered two titles, four Finals appearances, a 27-game win streak and gave full meaning to the meaningless regular-season game in the most remarkable stretch of sports South Florida has seen.
Thanks for putting not basketball, but humanity in everything, too. Once, I went to his mother's church in Chicago for a Sunday service that lasted three hours of singing and clapping and in some cases running around the sanctuary. "A little energy in there, isn't there?" he said, smiling.
Thanks for the style, the grace, even the odd wardrobes only he could get away with wearing (a flaming red suit at that last home game?)
Thanks, for the hug of Spoelstra, for what it said, for what it meant.
Thanks for how a simple thank you can last all these years.
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