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Like Bulls, Erik Spoelsta appreciates Dwyane Wade’s leadership

Before Saturday night’s game, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was asked when it will stop being weird seeing Dwyane Wade in a Bulls uniform. Spoelstra coached Wade for eight seasons, winning a pair of titles and making four trips to the NBA Finals together to help Miami become one of the most famous sports teams in the world, with Wade cementing his place as one of the game’s most respected and influential players.

After all that and only half a year since Wade bolted for the Bulls, Spoelstra clearly wasn’t at the point where it’s normal to see his former player in somebody else’s uniform.

“Will it ever (stop being weird)? I will never admit,” Spoelstra said before the Bulls beat Miami 105-100. “That’s not ever going to look right, him in a Bulls uniform.”

Considering what Spoelstra and Wade did along with LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami, that answer’s not surprising. Unlike James and Bosh, Wade was drafted by Miami and was there when the Heat won their 2006 title and helped them pull off its league-altering free agency coup in the summer of 2010 that set the stage for their dominant run.

Erik Spoelstra still has trouble picturing Dwyane Wade in a Bulls uniform. | Associated Press

On Saturday, Wade scored 28 points for the Bulls, who struggled with a Miami team playing its fourth in five nights and only clinched the win after a Heat turnover on their final possession. Wade’s highlight came with 9:03 left in the third when he drove the lane, dunked with one hand and was fouled by Hassan Whiteside for a three-point play. Jimmy Butler had 31.

“Dwyane obviously had it going tonight,” Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought he had a lot of pop. Had good legs. That and-one dunk he had looked like a young 22-year-old Dwyane Wade.”

Wade and Butler helped the Bulls avoid what would have been a bad loss. Wade, however, wasn’t complaining about the result.

“There’s going to be some nights you’re not going to play well,” Wade said. “Some nights you’re going to play just good enough to get a win. Never begrudge a win. We played good enough to get a win tonight.”

During his career, Wade has been a star and also matured into a leader. That maturity and steadiness is something Wade has been lauded for during his brief time with the Bulls, and it’s something Spoelstra clearly values.

“It’s invaluable. He’s a Hall of Famer on the court but he’s a Hall of Fame person,” Spoelstra said. “Those qualities immediately are felt in a locker room. He’s a standup human being. Believes in the right things. He’s a family man. A great leader in the locker room.”

Those qualities have rubbed off during his time with the Bulls. His influence has been hard to miss, and Spoelstra wasn’t surprised Wade has had that impact since signing as a free agent.

“You infuse him into a veteran locker room that has young players, it won’t take very long before they’re standing for the right things,” Spoelstra said. “He’s going to make sure that happens.”

Of course, Saturday wasn’t the first time Spoelstra has seen Wade in person in a non-Heat uniform. On Nov. 10, Wade scored 13 points on just 5 of 17 shooting in his return to Miami, a 98-95 Bulls win.

That game was complete with the tribute video, standing ovations, overwhelming emotions and over-the-top nostalgia that comes when a player like Wade returns to his former home. Saturday wasn’t quite like that. It was a home game against a struggling Heat team that doesn’t look like it did during the glory years. And as Hoiberg pointed out, Wade has played against them before.

But that doesn’t it mean Hoiberg expected it to be ho-hum.

“I think any time he plays against Miami he’s going to have some emotions involved, just like any player that’s played their entire career in one uniform,” Hoiberg said.

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