Detroit Pistons fans will have a chance to see Miami Heat veteran guard Dwayne Wade for the final time in Detroit tonight. Before this season, Wade announced that this would be his final year in the NBA.
Of course, Pistons fans may wince a bit when they remember just how good Wade was against them in the NBA Playoffs – or the fact that he was available for them to select in the 2003 NBA Draft. Darko Miličić – to put it nicely – did not have a memorable NBA career. But that’s a story for a different day.
Ahead of Detroit’s matchup with Miami, Wade looked back at the playoff battles over a decade ago between the Pistons and Heat, and had some very praise-worthy commentary.
“That was the team for us that we had to get over the hump [against],” Wade said at Heat shootaround Friday morning. “It was very challenging to go against the Pistons with Chauncey [Billups] and Rip [Richard Hamilton] and Ben [Wallace] and then Rasheed [Wallace] and those guys. Once we got over that hump, we felt that we could get over that next level and win a championship.”
“I grew up versus Detroit,” he continued. “They’re the ones that made me mentally tough. You had to be mentally tough vs. those guys. That’s why when we got to the Bostons of the world [during the Heat’s Big 3 era], I was a little more prepared for the mental game.”
The Pistons were able to defeat the Heat in the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals in a hard-fought seven game series en route to their second straight NBA Finals, which they’d eventually lose in another hard-fought seven games. But the Heat would have their revenge on Detroit the following year, beating the Pistons in the Eastern Finals in six games.
“It sucked,” Wade said. “That was the longest summer, probably ever – or first – I had another after we lost the Finals in ’11.”
“I remember that was the quietest I ever heard a locker room at that time, but we worked all summer just to get back to that game and that moment, and we did,” Wade continued. “We played the whole regular season just for both teams to get back to that same series.”
Of course, Detroit’s fan support back then was far stronger than it is now.
“If we went to dinner, we went to the movies, it would be a crowd of people outside chanting, “Deeetroit basketball!” like the whole time,” Wade recalled. “Just the fan base early on here – before you got to the game – was already on.
“When you got off the bus, wherever you go, it was ‘Detroit basketball!’ all over the city. It made the rivalry fun. It’s not just the players; it’s the fans. It was all in good fun. There wasn’t nothing disrespectful about it. Just a town that really had a great team and really got behind their team.”