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Dinero Talks: Wade's Miami Return

Dwyane Wade returns to South Florida for the first time in a Bulls uniform on Thursday, which should spark the Heat’s notoriously late-arriving crowd into making sure they’re in their seats for introductions.

Normally, Heat nation being situated prior to tip-off at American Airlines Arena would be an upset on par with Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown, but there won’t be anything normal about the biggest sporting event of the year there. Because of who’s back in town, Miami fans paying their respects to the most revered player in franchise history is something that should be expected.

In fact, oddsmakers had to consider something that practically never comes into play when placing a number on this one: the visitors might wind up with a homecourt advantage.

Think that’s unlikely? Wade just recently did something once considered impossible in the region. Upon leaving, he inspired debate over who that area’s all-time sporting icon was, Dan Marino, or him?

Miami is listed as only a 1.5-point favorite despite being off on Wednesday night while Chicago played a difficult game in Atlanta.

Don’t question whether he’ll have the juice to make it through games on consecutive nights, especially this early in the season.

"Even coming off a back-to-back, if my team don't have energy for that night, (it’s) going to be a problem," Wade told reporters after the Bulls destroyed Orlando on Monday. "I expect us to come in and give whatever we have. Go out there, and I want everyone to enjoy the environment, enjoy the moment. It's going to be a great environment to play in. I want our team, early in the season, to experience that kind of environment and try to seize it."

They’re planning a video montage for Wade and he’ll undoubtedly get a standing ovation, but it could go beyond that for him.

If anyone boos Wade when he’s introduced, they’ll be drowned out. It wouldn’t be surprising if he’s cheered every time he touches the ball. If the Bulls are down late and Wade squares off against Justise Winslow or Josh Richardson, terrific young second-year defenders he helped mentor as rookies, it wouldn’t be surprising if most Heat fans are cheering on the familiar No. 3 despite him now wearing the Bulls’ red and black.

This isn't like LeBron James returning to Cleveland, or for that matter Miami. It's not Dwight Howard playing in Orlando for the first time after breaking hearts. Those guys got booed. Throughout the years, players like Shaquille O'Neal, James Harden and Amar'e Stoudemire have returned to old stomping grounds to varying receptions. This won't be like that. This is in the same vein as Karl Malone returning to Utah, Allen Iverson to Philadelphia, Steve Nash to Phoenix, Kevin Garnett to Minnesota or Paul Pierce to Boston. Reverence will reign.

That should be worth a few points to the books.

Because of the way he left, walking away from a contract offer that should’ve come earlier and been more lucrative, many of the team’s fans saw Wade’s departure as him moving on so the franchise would. Upon signing with Chicago, he discussed the lure of coming home after commenting that it would’ve been nice to have felt more wanted. He'll turn 35 this January.

Wade left for a two-year deal worth $47 million that he can get out of after one season, so he got himself a raise over what the Heat offered, but there’s no question his decision to leave wasn’t financial. It was personal.

This is not just a sentimental return, but a revenge game,

Team president Pat Riley chose to turn the page. Given what has happened with Chris Bosh, it’s probably the right move to chalk this season up to rebuilding with youth and clearing cap space for a run at free agents next summer, but it had to hurt to see center Hassan Whiteside courted while he was asked to bide his time. The franchise leader in every major category except blocks and 3-pointers made was put on the backburner. Wade has gone out of his way to say how much he loves and respects Riley, but has made no secret he felt slighted.

Wade and Riley haven’t spoken since last season ended, which tells you how serious the Heat were about keeping him. He's talked to good friend Udonis Haslem. He's texted with head coach Erik Spoelstra and even former backcourt mate Goran Dragic, but the divide between him and Riley is apparently deep.

“I know who Pat is. It’s no secret to me,” Wade told reporters in Atlanta on Wednesday. “If you’re not with him, you’re against him. That’s just the way he is. You’ve got to understand that, man. I’m cool with it. I’m fine, 100 percent. I was there 13 years and I’ve seen a lot of video tributes. I’ve seen a lot of players come in and go out. And I’ve seen how he responded to them. And I know if you’re not with him, you’re against him.”

And I know, since Riley can’t get out there and guard him, being 50 years removed from his best days athletically, who this favors in this particular game. Wade, one of the most resilient players of his generation, a three-time champion who has thrived on grit as much as his talent, is going in attack mode.

Wade still has juice, too. He’s turned back the clock with a few springy dunks to christen his Homecoming in Chicago and is averaging 16.9 points despite easing into the season by playing a career-low 28.1 minutes entering the Atlanta game. He’s shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range and 89.7 percent from the free-throw line, numbers that can’t last but would blow out career-bests. Clearly, he’s locked in.

Heat fans, unlikely to be immune to nostalgia with the wounds still so fresh, are going to back him. “Let’s Go, Heat” will be audible, but there are going to be too many people in that building whose heart strings are being pulled. This is Wade’s only appearance all season. The die-hards can boo him on his next visit. He’ll be back home in Wade County here. Fans will back him. He’ll bring it.

That’s why the Bulls should win. It’s why Miami shouldn’t be favored.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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