THERE'S AN alternate universe in which the Big Three never existed. Maybe in the summer of 2010, LeBron James signs with the Knicks or stays in Cleveland. Perhaps Chris Bosh joins Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. And Dwyane Wade? In this scenario he signs with the Bulls, teaming up with Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah to form one of the most stacked teams in the East.
How close that vision came to reality wasn't clear until Wade, now 34, sat down with The Crossover, SI's new NBA-focused website, last week. Now, finally suiting up for the team he grew up dreaming of playing for, Wade opened up about the advice he got from Kevin Garnett, his feud with Rajon Rondo and his dislike of winter.
How close were you to signing with Chicago in 2010?
Dwyane Wade: I was very close. In my mind, I was going back home. But things change a little bit when you got Chris Bosh and LeBron James on the phone saying we can play together. So it was tough. I wanted to be a part of that [Bulls] team, they had some great young talent, and I've always wanted to play at home, but I had to make a decision about championships.
What does it mean to you, after looking up to Michael Jordan, to play shooting guard for the Bulls?
DW: That hasn't even set in. Every day I come [to the United Center], I look up at the banners, I look up at the success this organization has had, and it gives me extra motivation. To me, it's an honor. To have been sitting on my floor watching TV, to have seen my favorite team, my favorite player win a championship, and for me to have said to myself at nine years old, "That's what I want to become," and now to be able to live that dream, I'm just excited.
Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are all gone. How weird is it to see these guys you battled against leave the game?
DW: It became real when it was Kobe's last year. For me it was like, This does end. And it really made me start appreciating the moment even more. I'm just enjoying the ride.
You and KG always had an intense relationship. What will it be like the next time you run into him?
DW: We had some battles with Boston, some battles with KG, some hard fouls, some junk-talking, but there are so many more positive moments. I remember the first time I played KG, early in my rookie season. We started 0--7, and we were down, like, 20 [to the Timberwolves], but I was still going hard, scoring, like, 10 points in a row trying to bring our team back. KG grabbed me after the game, and he told me, "That's the way you go. That's what you do. You never give up. Don't ever show any quit." For a young guy, that was huge.
Speaking of those battles with Boston, how much communication did you have with Rajon Rondo over the summer? What will it be like playing alongside him?
DW: It's going to be fine. We've been able to communicate. Obviously we've been adversaries, but there's always been a mutual respect. When he signed with Chicago, that was one of my real eye-opening moments, and I thought, I could see myself there. I want to play with somebody who I almost came to blows with because we're both that competitive.
What are your realistic expectations for this Bulls team?
DW: I want us to have the mentality that we can compete for a championship. I want us to know that we can be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference. If our goals are the same, there should be nothing stopping us from reaching them.
Are you ready for the winters in Chicago?
DW: No. I'm not. But I'll get through it. I'm a tough guy.
"When Rondo signed with Chicago, I thought, I could see myself there. I want to play with somebody I almost came to blows with because we're both that competitive."