On the basketball court, Dwyane Wade describes himself as a lion. “I’m out for blood. But off the court, I think I’m a very likeable person. If you don’t like me, there’s something wrong with you,” he jokes.
His affability is even more notable given the start of his story.
Wade grew up as one of six children on the South Side of Chicago, and, because of his mother’s bouts with substance abuse, his father took custody when he was eight years old, moving him to Robbins, Illinois, a year later. “My dad wouldn’t let us wear hats or get earrings or tattoos,” he says. “I remember hating him for not allowing me to do those things. But being in Chicago back in the day, if you had your hat turned the wrong way, if you had the wrong color hat on, things could go all wrong for you, and my dad didn’t want us to be seen in that light. He never wanted us to be mistaken for something we weren’t.”
For the 35-year-old NBA veteran, clarity has come through building a family of his own. “My dad was all about tough love,” he says. “When I was a kid, I didn’t understand it. When I was in my adulthood, I didn’t understand it. Now that I’m a father and my kids are older, I see that my dad was not as crazy as I thought he was. … He was teaching us a lot of life lessons.”
Now that I’m a father and my kids are older, I see that my dad was not as crazy as I thought he was. … He was teaching us a lot of life lessons.
Wade’s own family is a blended one that includes his wife of three years, actress Gabrielle Union, sons from previous relationships Zaire Blessing Dwyane, 15, Zion Malachi Airamis, 10, and Xavier Zechariah, 3, plus his sister’s son, Dahveon Morris, 15, whom he helps raise.
“All the things I went through are the reasons I’m successful in life,” Wade says. “The DNA of what drives me comes from Chicago. … I selfishly wanted [my own kids] to have a different life than I had, even though [the struggle] made me who I am.”
After a 13-year run with the Miami Heat, during which he won three championships and was named an All Star 12 times, Wade returned to his hometown with his family beside him to play for the Chicago Bulls last year. “I enjoy a lot of things about coming back home — seeing my mother at every game, walking the streets as a different person than I was when I left,” he says.
His homecoming has given him a greater platform, too, especially when it comes to speaking out about city violence. It was events like the death of his cousin Nykea Aldridge — who was shot and killed in Parkway Gardens last year — that inspired Wade to launch the Spotlight On initiative, which recognizes young artists, athletes, musicians and students trying to change the city for the better. “Violence finds you anywhere,” he says. “Just like every other parent, every time my kids leave the house, I pray it doesn’t find them. That’s the only thing you can do.”
But in fact, Wade shows the same kind of ferocity in fighting for his family that he does on the court. In 2011, after years of tabloid drama, Wade was granted full custody of Zaire and Zion from his ex-wife Siohvaughn Funches. And he keeps looking forward.
Follow Wade on Instagram at @dwyanewade.
“My only goal is to make sure I can put forth a life for my kids that allows them to succeed,” he says. “It’s not about the adults. The kids get torn up and have to pull between parents. It’s very unfortunate that my kids had to go through that, but hopefully that’s something that can be a lesson learned. They live with me, but they love both their parents.”
Now, he’s focusing on being the best dad he can be to a house of boys, whom he happens to show off every chance he gets, be it in a Gatorade commercial or Christmas video for Tylenol’s #HowWeFamily campaign. “I try to showcase them when I can,” he laughs. “People love when I put Zion on Snapchat. They’re always tweeting, ‘Yo, we need more Zion.’ It’s cool to have a platform and see what they do with it.” (And he swears he’s just like every other dad, sharing stories about his kids with other parents at dinner parties. The only difference being that the “other parents” in his case are people like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.)
But with everything on his plate — from his basketball career, philanthropic work through Wade’s World Foundation and fashion lines — for Wade, it’s all about the family he comes home to. “When I’m going through anything, they’re the ones who help me, the ones who know me,” he says. “They don’t care if I score 35 points or if I score 2 points. I’m the same person to them, and there’s comfort in that.”
Photo by Bob Metelus