Sometimes the end just happens. For Alonzo Mourning, there was not even the ability to walk away.
Sometimes the end comes with a roadmap. For Shane Battier, the finish line was plotted with precision.
Sometimes, while in the moment, the emotions are conflicting. For Dwyane Wade, it has him bristling at the term “farewell tour,” even as he has titled this 2018-19 Miami Heat season his “One Last Dance.”
But it is moments such as these, during the longest trip of the season, that it seems most real, the final visits in an NBA uniform for Wade over these next 10 days to Phoenix, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Memphis and New Orleans.
To Mourning and Battier, now executives with the Heat after championship moments with the team, the path to closure is a study in contrasts, with both appreciative of what awaits Wade for the remainder of his 16th and final season.
“The day that we all walk away. It’s a ‘when’ game, not an ‘if’ game. So everyone faces that door,” said Battier, the Heat’s director of basketball development and analytics.
For Wade, the door swings open for one final time against former Heat championship teammate and longtime friendly rival LeBron James on Monday night at Staples Center, when the Heat face the Los Angeles Lakers the final time this season.
There will be other similar heartfelt moments along this journey. That, Battier said, is a gift, to be able to delineate the markers of closure.
It is why, before the 2013-14 season with the Heat, Battier decided to announce it as his final season.
“What I learned through my transition,” Battier said, “was there is no right or wrong answer. There’s not one right way to do it, or one wrong way to do it. Obviously every player wishes they can walk out the door instead of being carried out. And I had that privilege.”
That stands in stark contrast to Mourning’s farewell season with the Heat, in 2007-08, one he neither announced nor intended as his last. On Dec. 19, 2007 against the Hawks, with friend Magic Johnson watching courtside in Atlanta, Mourning tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. He was carried off — never to play again.
“It was so ironic,” said Mourning, the Heat’s vice president of player programs and development and a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. “I was trying to make a defensive play. And if it was going to end, that was the way I wanted to end it, going after somebody’s shot, trying to block somebody’s shot.
“But the perfect ending for anybody is to end on your own terms. Unfortunately, that did not work out the way I wanted it to. But you deal with it and you move on. I have no regrets, whatsoever. I think I played the game the right way. I think any professional athlete on any level wants to bow out on their own terms than be forced out by an injury.”
For Wade, health has not been an issue through these early stages of “Once Last Dance,” his lone absence the seven games missed on paternity leave.
It wasn’t for Battier, either, able to savor each step along the way to what proved to be a second consecutive championship parade with the Heat.
“I was able to be a little more self-aware and maybe look around a little more than if I decided after the season that it was my last year,” he said.
Those are the moments Mourning most missed.
“The perfect ending to a career would be to stop in every city and reminisce and think about the old times, and, ‘Hey, this is going to be my last time here,’ ” he said. “But, unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way. That’s why you have to take every moment in this league and can’t take it for granted.”
Wade isn’t. There have been jersey exchanges after most games, from those with long-time veterans such as Vince Carter to emerging potential successors such as Donovan Mitchell.
And yet, Battier said, there also is enough familiarity with routine that in many ways a final season can feel as routine as most that have come before.
“Once you’re in the season, you’re worried about winning games,” he said. “You’re worried about the same preparation that you’ve had, for me, for the previous 12 years in my career. The last time I went to Staples Center, you sort of stop and look around and say, ‘This is it.’ But when you’re in the fight, you’re worried about, ‘What do I have to do to prepare tonight to be ready for a win?’ “
That doesn’t mean that Wade’s final chapter against LeBron won’t feel different, with Battier experiencing his own Staples Center moment in his final go-round against long-time nemesis Kobe Bryant.
“The last time I played Kobe, I may have eaten an extra bowl of Wheaties that morning,” Battier said with a smile.
“The transition is different for everybody and it’s not easy, any way you do it. But you want to be able to appreciate and enjoy your last year, in whatever form that takes.”
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