While Dwyane Wade’s intention to commemorate games in his final season with a jersey swap was originally meant for close friends such as LeBron James and Chris Paul, he recently acknowledged that the soccer-style ritual had “taken on a life of its own” and quickly extended the gesture to all sorts of NBA opponents. Still, after Monday’s Heat-Hawks contest, the 13-time all-star got a surprised reaction when he indicated that he wanted to trade game-worn apparel with Atlanta’s Kevin Huerter.
The Hawks’ rookie shooting guard, drafted 19th overall last year out of the University of Maryland, was only too happy to participate in the ritual.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” Huerter said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “I turned back to the court, realizing it was our fourth time playing those guys and knew I should probably tell a bunch of them, ‘Good game.’ Obviously I won’t see them again until the following year. Then when I turned back, he was just on the court, motioned me over and then we had the jersey swap.”
After the game, Wade told reporters that he was well aware that he was Huerter’s childhood idol.
“Earlier in the year, a good friend of mine told me about [Huerter] when he was younger, that he used to wear my shoes, he wore number three because of me, he looked up to me,” he said. “So I knew I was going to surprise him after the last time we played [the Hawks].
“I really like his game. He’s someone that, ever since preseason when we played them, all the way up till now, he’s gotten so much better.”
“So from one number three to another,” Wade added with a smile, “I thought I’d switch jerseys with him.”
Huerter, 20, didn’t hesitate to offer words of praise in the other direction, saying of Wade (via the AP): “He’s always done it the right way. You never hear him with off-court type of stuff. He brought championships to this city. He’s been with the Heat for the majority of his career. He’s been loyal to them.
“And as a guy coming up, a young guy, starting out with the Hawks, I hope I can continue a long career with them. The league’s going to miss him, for sure.”
While Wade, 37, has billed this season as “one last dance,” he’s not exactly shuffling stiffly around the ballroom. His player efficiency rating is a solid 15.3 and his per-36 statistics aren’t far off his numbers from an overall career that will soon see him enshrined in basketball’s Hall of Fame.
The three-time NBA champion authored one of the season’s more memorable moments last week when he banked in an off-balance three-pointer to beat the Warriors, and on Monday he made the difference in a 114-113 win over the Hawks. Wade scored 14 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, including a vintage drive to the hoop for his team’s final points with less than a minute to play.
“That’s textbook, Hall of Fame poise,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s playing his best basketball of the season right now.”
Along the way, Wade made history by passing Michael Jordan with his 1,052nd blocked shot, more than any other guard in NBA history when playoff games are included. His performance and subsequent gesture had a guard now on the first leg of his NBA journey recalling the impact Wade made.
“It was just somebody that both me and my brother always looked up to growing up,” Huerter told The Post of Wade. “We used to have his shoes. Obviously I wear Number 3.”
“I always want to be someone that a player like that can count on, can reach out to,” Wade told reporters Thursday, adding that the jersey swap was “a cool moment” for him, as well.
After a Heat-Hawks game in November, Wade traded jerseys with a decidedly more likely suspect in fellow living legend Vince Carter, and made a widely noted swap last month with the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki, who is also thought to be in his final season. Wade has performed the postgame honor with the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, as well as with lesser-known players such as the Magic’s Nikola Vucevic, the Jazz’s Jae Crowder, the Raptors’ Delon Wright and the Cavaliers’ Collin Sexton.
Oh, and even Chicago mascot Benny the Bull, representing Wade’s hometown, got into the act.
“Couldn’t say enough about D-Wade and what he has been to this league and, honestly, what he has been for my development,” Thunder all-star Paul George said after swapping jerseys with Wade following an OKC-Miami game in February. “He played a huge role in my development and who I am now as a player.”
On Monday, Wade singled out another, much younger player who regarded him as a role model. He said of Huerter, “The look on his face, I understood it meant a lot to him.”
“I can’t wait to get it framed,” Huerter told reporters.
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