Dwyane Wade wore a wistful smile as he talked to the media at the Advocate Center, knowing the quiet dream he had of meeting one of his best friends for a playoff battle was extinguished.
The "pop-pop" he felt in his right elbow was the first sign last night things weren't going to fall his way, followed by his teammate Jimmy Butler telling him his experiences with the same injury.
But he still felt somewhat optimistic.
Until his MRI showed not the worst possible news but not great news by any stretch, that he'll miss the remainder of the regular season with a small fracture in his right elbow.
"Technical terms would be a sprain or whatever, but things like that," Wade said. "But the good thing about it is it did go back in. Obviously it's a big injury in baseball when it comes to baseball and pitchers — the Tommy John word that everyone in baseball and pitchers are afraid of – so it was big in that way.
"But I was lucky that it went back in and now the biggest things is about protecting it, making sure it heals the right way, so I can get back to my football passes on the basketball court.''
Thus, it ends the dream of hoping the Bulls would go on some magical playoff run to meet up with LeBron James for a showdown. Wade wouldn't say it publicly, but it's a small part of what kept him going through a tumultuous homecoming in Chicago.
He'll be in a soft cast for the next two weeks then start his rehab from then. He didn't seem too optimistic about his prospects for returning in the event the Bulls qualify for the playoffs, but wouldn't commit to anything in the moment.
"I told them that I heard a ‘pop, pop,' and I kind of said that [Wednesday night], and it was pretty much a dislocation at the time, and it went back in, so kind of dealing with the aftermath of what that looks like. This is what it looks like," Wade said.
What it looks like for the Bulls is anybody's guess, as they're 10th in the East, a game back of Detroit with one meeting left. Being without their second best player and mature leader makes that task all the more difficult.
It took the air out of Bulls practice, as Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg called it a "tough blow" more than once.
"It was a little bit of shock on guys' faces when he walked in, seeing the arm in the type of shape that it was," Hoiberg said. "It's just something where these young guys have to take it as an opportunity to step up, obviously when we need it most, it's a very important stretch of our season."
A very important stretch without a guy who played the way he's played the past three seasons, to large degree. On some nights, he was the Bulls best player and easily provided the most inspiration.
Averaging 18.6 points, 3.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds in 30.2 minutes per game, that production will be hard to muster for the rest of the roster as Wade will only be able to bring the inspiration from the sideline.
Hoiberg wouldn't reveal who would start in Wade's place for Friday's game against the Wizards or beyond, but he could start Denzel Valentine at shooting guard to spread the floor.
With 14 games remaining, there's far more questions than answers, which was the case for the Bulls even before Wade's injury.
"In this league it's an opportunity league for certain guys and it comes in different ways," Wade said. "So this opportunity for someone that probably wasn't getting enough time that they wanted, probably wasn't getting the touches they wanted. This is going to be an opportunity to step up and try and help this team as we are in this battle to make the playoffs down the stretch."
If they'll do that, Wade's biggest role will be turning into basketball's version of Bundini Brown for Butler, as Butler will have to reverse course from his post-All Star production to drag this group of inexperienced misfits to the playoffs.
"A lot is going to go on Jimmy's shoulders, but a lot has been on his shoulders already, so he'll be fine," Wade said. "He kind of told me what I was looking at. Like I said yesterday, I didn't want to believe him. I didn't like what he was seeing. It's not nothing he wanted. It's not nothing that anybody in here wanted. But it's something we gotta deal with."
And what Wade will have to deal with for his own future, a $23.8 million player option for next season he'll have to exercise or decline, is probably directly tied to whether Butler is on the roster.
"At this point, it's too much cart in front of the horse," Wade said. "Couple hours removed but definitely too soon."
But not too soon to say this isn't the way Wade's storybook return was supposed to end in his mind.