MIAMI (AP) _ The word went out early Monday morning, July 5 to Miami Heat fans. Show up at 8 a.m. and welcome Dwyane Wade back to South Florida, they were told.
So they did.
Right time. Wrong location.
Wade arrived back in Miami, but instead of flying on a private jet into a charter facility _ as the Heat marketing department expected _ he took a commercial flight into one of the airport's main terminals. So about 50 Heat fans, as well as a handful of team employees, left without a glimpse of Wade, who is expected to decide his playing future in the coming days.
“He'll hear that we were here,'' said 20-year-old fan David Figueroa. “That's enough, right?''
Sure enough, Wade's representatives confirmed that the six-time All-Star was aware of the gathering, albeit after he left Miami International Airport.
The Heat leaked his travel plans overnight, telling fans to greet Wade at the Signature Air terminal at the airport.
One of the triumvirate of marquee stars in this NBA free-agent megaclass, Wade could decide this week between the Heat, the New Jersey Nets, the New York Knicks and his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls. Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh began getting formally wooed on Thursday by several clubs.
The Heat turned to social media, both Facebook and Twitter, around 12:50 a.m. Monday to rally fans. Even at the late hour, buzz grew quickly, and some fans were in place _ the wrong place, unknowingly _ by 7 a.m. An employee at the Signature Air facility said staff is typically told when a high-profile person like Wade is arriving, and that transportation for him is usually arranged ahead of time.
That wasn't the case Monday.
“Bad information,'' Heat executive vice president and chief marketing officer Michael McCullough told the sign-waving, T-shirt-donning group.
Before arriving Monday _ Miami-Wade County, officially, until July 8 by order of the county's commissioners _ Wade had been in Chicago since the start of free-agent mania.
He took his meetings there, including formal sit-downs with three clubs, plus an informal chat with the Heat. Now back in Miami, Wade will meet with Heat president Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison this week.
Although Wade often has said he would like to remain in Miami, provided the team's roster is upgraded to his liking, tension is clearly high around 601 Biscayne Blvd., the Heat home address.
Forget June 20, 2006, the day Miami won its NBA title, as the defining day for the franchise.
No, July 8, 2010 _ the first day of this free-agent signing period _ could be the day that shapes the Heat for years to come.
“We love him,'' McCullough said. “We're not the only ones, and we hope that he comes back. … It's time for him to make a decision, and we want to help him make that decision by showing him all the support he has from fans in South Florida and around the world.''
Heat officials were asking fans to reach out to Wade on Facebook at 3:33 p.m. Monday, a nod to “3,'' his jersey number.
“Got to do what we can,'' Figueroa said. “I called in sick to work today for this. I guess I can just show up now.''
Wade was scheduled to appear at a basketball camp about 30 minutes north of Miami on Tuesday, plus take questions with Alonzo Mourning about their charity weekend later this month. The Heat expect hundreds of well-wishers there, including dozens of children who are working on a “special'' presentation for the 2006 NBA finals MVP.
Plans have been in place for Wade to be at an amusement park with his sons in Orlando on Thursday, the first day free agents can sign. Tentatively, Wade is scheduled to be back in Miami on Friday.
Pictured above is Dwyane Wade.