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Why I like Dwayne Wade

Dwayne Wade is a wonderful young man who has yet to be touched by his celebrity status. Some celebrities, especially professional athletes, are products of their publicists and media team. Not so with Wade. That's not to say that he's perfect --- no one is. But this young man is awesome. He can easily reach the legendary status of Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Larry Bird and Dr. J.

Here's why I like Dwayne Wade...

Heat star Wade-ing into special territory

By Jill Lieber, USA TODAY

MIAMI — He's one of the most electrifying superstars in the NBA. He is 6-4 and 212 pounds and has a 39-inch vertical leap, a near 7-foot wingspan and hands big enough to palm a medicine ball. He's arguably the best perimeter player in the game, and he's been compared to Michael Jordan.

However, what people remember the most about Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat's second-year guard, isn't what's on the outside.

Heat President Pat Riley is touched by Wade's genuineness.

"Life's not measured by the number of breaths one takes, but by the moments that take your breath away," Riley says.

"There's an awe about Dwyane, not only in his game but in his whole approach to life. His sincerity, his humility. All of those things are strengths when it comes to greatness."
Wade's teammates are inspired by his blue-collar approach.

"He doesn't buy into the NBA superstar hype because he's a special kid," guard Damon Jones says. "He's all about the team. He wants to win at all costs, and he understands he's a very integral piece of what we're doing around here. I can't even count the number of game-saving plays he has made, and never once does he boast or brag.

"He just goes about his work."

And Marquette coach Tom Crean is moved by Wade's sincerity.
"He has a gift of honesty," says Crean, who coached Wade from 2000-03. "He can be honest with himself and his teammates. What you see is what you get. In this day and age, so many people flash their agenda. His agenda is about winning, being a good teammate, being a good husband and a good father."

In the background

Wade, 23, the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, drives a Chrysler, lives in a middle-class neighborhood, doesn't have a tattoo and never says the wrong thing. His entourage consists of his wife, Siohvaughn, and their 3-year-old son, Zaire.

His emergence this season — he leads the Heat in scoring (23.5) and assists (7.3) — combined with the arrival of a rejuvenated Shaquille O'Neal have been the catalysts for the Heat, who have the best record in the Eastern Conference at 40-14.

And his conduct on and off the court has caused folks to sit up and take notice.

Last year the Heat played in only two nationally televised games, including one on Telemundo. Tim Donovan, the team's vice president of sports media relations, and his assistant, Rob Wilson, called NBA beat writers across the country to try to convince them that Wade was a legitimate rookie of the year candidate.

"They all laughed at us, said we were blowing smoke," Donovan recalls. "We said, 'No, trust us, he's the real deal.' "

Wade finished a distant third to the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James and the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony in the voting.

But what a difference six months makes.

Today, at the season's midpoint, Wade ranks in the NBA's top 10 in scoring and assists.
Sunday, he'll join O'Neal in the NBA All-Star Game.

Now Donovan has more media requests for Wade than he has free time to talk about himself.
"This season, to a man, those same NBA beat writers are saying, 'Boy, you weren't kidding about this kid's talent,' " Donovan says.

The biggest stamp of approval, though, comes from O'Neal, who joined the Heat in July after eight seasons and three NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers — and a strained relationship with former teammate Kobe Bryant.

The instant he got to town, O'Neal declared Wade "a superstar," said the Heat were Wade's team and nicknamed him "Flash." Then he sat down with Wade for an hour to talk about the problems he'd had with Bryant.

"I wanted him to know all the stuff he read wasn't true," O'Neal says. "I told him it had nothing to do with me, and you'll see. This is stuff that happened between me and the other guy. And it can't ever happen between you and me."

Says Wade: "He was hurt by what happened in L.A. I told him, 'We aren't going to have any problems. I never had had any problems with my teammates, that's not the kind of person I am.' I said, 'I'm all about winning championships. If we're going to reach our goal, if I'm going to have the ball in my hand a lot and I'm going to be your sidekick, we've got to click.' "

They've been on the same page ever since.

Having dreams

"Dwyane respects the fact that Shaq respects and embraces him," Riley says. "That's where Dwyane is so different: A lot of young players come into the league and have no respect for greatness or for great players who have done it.

"Their relationship has flourished because of both of them cooperating, to be part of each other's games and to look out for one another. It's become a very dynamic duo."

O'Neal agrees.

"He's not a spoiled kid," O'Neal says, "and I'm not a spoiled kid."

The younger of two children born to Jolinda and Dwyane Wade Sr., Dwayne Jr., grew up on Chicago's South Side. His parents separated when he was young, and Jolinda struggled to make ends meet through welfare. Wade and his sister Tragil, who's five years older, bounced from place to place with their mother and her two daughters from a previous relationship.

"There were no birthday presents or Christmas gifts," Wade says. "You just didn't ever ask for what you wanted. It was my mission as a young kid to overcome being poor. I had so many dreams, so many aspirations."

It took several guardian angels to guide Wade through his turbulent childhood and lift him up to reach the stars.

When he was 8 and Tragil was 13, she changed the course of his life simply by tricking him into taking a bus ride.

Instead of going to the movies as she'd promised, she dropped him off at their father's home in another South Side neighborhood.

"It was two days before I realized she wasn't coming back," Wade says. "She was trying to get me away from the gangs and drugs, which were all right outside our mother's house, in our faces, every day. She didn't want me to get caught up in it."

Says Tragil: "We were raised to protect each other. It was a very stressful lifestyle with our mother. Our dad was with another lady, and he had three sons as well. I felt it would be better for Dwyane to be in that environment, with male role models."

Helping hands

The next year, Dwyane Sr. moved his family to a house in Robbins, Ill., a south Chicago suburb.
"It was a rough suburb, but it was a big step up," Wade says. "You could be outside late at night and not hear gunshots."

The new environment allowed Wade to play basketball with his stepbrothers and their friends, which included 9-year-old Siohvaughn Funches, who would later become his wife.

Siohvaughn's mother, Darlene, offered him a home to live in during his senior year at Richards High in Oak Lawn, Ill., when Dwyane Sr. and his wife were having marital problems.

Then, Jack Fitzgerald, the Richards High basketball coach, and several of the school's teachers offered their support by tutoring him for the ACT.

"His teachers came to me and said, 'What can we do to help him?' " Fitzgerald says. "Usually, with star players, the coach has to ask the teachers to give the kids a break. But we could all see how sincere he was about wanting to better himself through a college scholarship. We did everything we could to help him."

When Wade fell one point short of the qualifying ACT score, Crean went to bat for him, assuring Marquette's administration that he was well worth the risk of being the first partial qualifier in school history. As a freshman, Wade practiced with the team and dressed for home games but couldn't play or travel. And Crean rode him hard.

"Coach was harder on me than anybody else," Wade says. "When we lost, he'd come in the locker room and blame me, say it was my fault because I hadn't practiced hard enough. He wanted me to be a leader so he forced me to tell the guys how I felt about their performances. I wanted to call home and say, 'I can't do this.' It made me stronger, made me really want it more."

Says Crean: "We never treated him as a guy who sat out. We kept him at the front of the bench, either taking stats or notes. We never let him say, 'Woe is me.' "
In his sophomore year, Zaire was born, and he and Siohvaughn were married. They have been his guiding lights ever since.

"It gave me a home, something I'd been searching for all of my life," Wade says. "To have a person who believes in you so much and a child with a light in his eyes gave me the foundation I needed to flourish.

"My wife and son are invaluable to me. She inspires me, and our marriage has helped me mature and be responsible."

Jersey guy

When Wade decided to leave Marquette after his All-America junior season and enter the NBA draft, Crean gave his blessing. But he also cut Wade a deal: He promised to retire his No. 3 jersey, but only on the day Wade graduates. Crean says he has since changed his tune because of the way Wade has conducted himself in the NBA.

On Dec.7, Father Robert Wild, Marquette's president, honored Wade before the Golden Eagles game against South Dakota State, presenting him with the first Dwyane Wade Legacy of Leadership Award.

It will be given annually to the Marquette player who best exemplifies the traits displayed by Wade during his three years at the school.

Cheering on Wade from the stands that night were Heat coach Stan Van Gundy and several Heat players, including O'Neal.

On Jan. 17, his Heat teammates attended his 23rd birthday party at a Miami restaurant.
O'Neal, who'd spent the day shooting a commercial, was the last to arrive, carrying a Haitian rum cake loaded with candles. He led the singing of Happy Birthday.

Wade says the outpouring of affection was overwhelming.

"I'm living the life I imagined," Wade says. "I'm playing in the NBA. I'm playing on one of the best teams. I'm playing in one of the best cities. People know me around the world. I've got the family I want.

"Everything I wanted I got, and I'm happy."

© 2006 VANESSA BYERS, Vanessa: Unplugged
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