Bulls

No longer the shy teenager, Dwyane Wade returns home to Chicago as the Prodigal Son

No longer the shy teenager, Dwyane Wade returns home to Chicago as the Prodigal Son

I remember the first time I met Dwyane Wade, during his senior year at Richards high school in Oak Lawn. Wade had just burst onto the scene as the latest Chicago area prep sensation with a series of dominant performances in a holiday tournament, scoring 40 points in a couple games. His athletic ability and creative scoring skills were incredibly advanced for a player of that age.

At that time, I was working at Channel 5 and we did a weekly segment honoring prep athletes. I made the trip out to Oak Lawn to interview Dwyane and his coach Jack Fitzgerald following one of the team’s practices. Wade couldn’t have been more polite, but he was painfully shy and spoke softly and modestly about what he had been able to accomplish during the early part of his senior year.

Wade had already accepted a scholarship to Marquette, and told me only two other Division I schools had shown any serious interest because of academic concerns. Being a Milwaukee native, I shared a few stories with him about the city and what he could expect at a tradition-rich program like Marquette. I really enjoyed our conversation and decided on the spot I would pay a little extra attention to see how Dwyane Wade’s career developed.

As it turned out, Wade had to sit out his first year after failing to meet the standards for eligibility under the old Prop 48 academic guidelines. But once he hit the court with the Golden Eagles (I always want to type Warriors) in the fall of 2001, the fans of Milwaukee quickly realized they had a new star to enjoy. Wade averaged 17.8 points during his first season at Marquette, led Conference USA with almost 2.5 steals per game, and helped the Golden Eagles to a 26-7 record, their best since the 1993-94 season.

Wade was even better the following season, leading Marquette to a Final Four appearance, averaging 21.5 points and earning first team All-American honors from AP. After declaring for early entry in the NBA draft, Wade was projected as a mid-1st round pick. The Bulls held the No. 7 overall pick and fell in love with Wade after an individual workout. They had him in for a second visit just before draft night, and basically told Wade he would be their selection if he was still on the board.

Unfortunately, Miami Heat coach Pat Riley won a draft room argument with the front office to select Wade at No. 5 instead of their consensus choice, big man Chris Kaman, and the Bulls were left to think about what might have been after drafting Kirk Hinrich at 7.

Wade became an instant star in the NBA, and in his third season, teamed with Shaquille O’Neal to bring Miami its first NBA championship. Shaq gave him the nickname “Flash” and it definitely fit. Wade was named Finals MVP in 2006, averaging 34.7 points per game as the Heat blazed past Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks to win the title in six games. The former Richards high school star had made it big on the national stage and I was happy to see him achieve so much success.

Then came a series of mediocre seasons with the Heat that required Wade to carry the franchise on his back. He led the league in scoring in 2008-09, but the grind of doing everything just to earn a first round exit in the playoffs started to wear on Wade, and as he approached free agency in the summer of 2010, it appeared he was ready to move on to a better situation. Count me among the many Bulls fans hoping Wade would come back home to play a starring role with a Bulls’ team on the rise.

Unfortunately, we remember all too well what happened that summer. Wade had two separate meetings with the Bulls on the first day of free agency, giving the front office hope he was ready to come on board and bring either Chris Bosh or LeBron James with him. Wade told the Bulls he wanted to go back to Miami and take a few days to think things over, but at that point no one really knew the formation of the Super Heat was already in the works, with both James and Bosh coming to South Beach to team up with Wade.

And, that’s where the disconnect came with Wade and many of his hometown fans. Why did Wade take two meetings with the Bulls if he intended to team up with Bosh and LeBron all along? Was he disingenuous, or even worse, spying for Pat Riley on the Bulls' free agent strategy? The soft-spoken kid I met at Richards high school had suddenly become the villain.

The cheers Wade used to hear at the United Center turned to mostly boos, with the Heat becoming the Bulls’ unconquerable foe during the Big 3 era. Wade still came back to the Chicago area every summer to run a basketball camp, but the feeling just wasn’t the same when he talked about his love for his hometown.

I have to admit I was extremely skeptical when reports started to emerge about the Bulls expressing interest in signing Wade this time around. Surely, he would just use other teams’ interest as leverage to extract a better contract from Riley. What I didn’t know is the bond between Riley and Wade had been irreparably damaged over a perceived lack of respect shown to the 12-time All-Star during a series of difficult contract negotiations. Wade was looking for a new home and Chicago was at the top of his list.

Give credit to Bulls’ executives John Paxson and Gar Forman for acting quickly when Wade let them know he was serious about a homecoming. The Bulls were able to shed the contracts of two older veterans who no longer fit — Mike Dunleavy and Jose Calderon — allowing them to make a big enough financial offer to secure a deal with Wade.

The Prodigal Son is coming home, and I can’t help but think about how much Dwyane Wade has changed since I first met him over 16 years ago. He’s now a multi-platform celebrity, poised and confident in front of the camera. He talked about his decision to join the Bulls on the nationally-televised "Live with Kelly" last Thursday morning, saying he always imagined himself wearing a Bulls’ jersey and being announced to the home crowd at the United Center.

Well Dwyane, you’re finally getting that wish. The soft-spoken kid from Richards high school is coming home, and I can’t wait to see how the next chapter of his career unfolds.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.