Even though Lebron James gets most of the headlines for the NBA’s Miami Heat, his teammate Dwyane Wade places a higher priority on getting the attention of his sons. It’s a habit he picked up from his father, an Army veteran, who believes that role modeling starts in the home.
“He was the tough-guy drill sergeant who showed up when it was report card, inspection, cleanup time,” Wade said of his father in his September 2012 biography A Father First, which chronicles his life, where he was taught early on the importance of giving back through a father-son relationship. “So I was prepared for the military mind-set of Dad, who was tough stuff, who laid down the law, and who would assure you that there was to be no stepping outside the lines and no mouthing off and no doing things halfway.”
Dwyane Wade – known as “D-Wade” to NBA fans – was born on the famously rough South Side of Chicago, Illinois to Dwyane, Sr. and Jolinda Wade, and grew up in the shadow of Chicago Stadium where his childhood idol Michael Jordan reigned over the NBA. Wade later moved on to Marquette University, where he earned a first team All-American designation, and led his team to the Final Four. The Miami Heat selected him as their #1 draft pick in 2003.
But the road to success was not smooth and straight. D-Wade faced challenges shared by other inner city youth: mean streets, drugs, and financial struggles. His parents divorced amid his mother’s addiction to drugs. And while it was mom who took initial custody of the children, it was D-Wade’s older sister, Tragil, who took on the responsibility of raising her younger brother, as the family eventually had to go on welfare. But by the time young Dwayne turned 8, Tragil decided he should live across town with his father.
“It was a rough childhood,” he told Oprah. But thanks to his time with his dad, “I got an opportunity to be a kid.”
”I needed the discipline. I needed someone to look at and say ‘I want to be like you.’
Ultimately, his father’s influence introduced Wade to sports such as basketball and football. Dad was coaching basketball at a local recreational center, helping his son to model himself after Michael Jordan on the court.
These days, D-Wade increasingly looks to his father for lessons off the court. D-Wade also suffered through his own divorce of his high school girlfriend, and is now working through the struggles of balancing a high-flying sports career with the demands of being a single dad. In 2011, he obtained full custody of both their sons, Zaire and Zion.
“All children need their fathers, but boys especially need fathers to teach them how to be men. I remember wanting that so badly before I went to live with my dad. I wanted someone to teach me how to tie a tie and walk the walk, things only a man can teach a boy,” he also says in his book.
In 2007, he was awarded the “Father of the Year” by The National Father’s Day Committee, an organization that strives to heighten the meaning and observance of Father’s Day, raise funds for philanthropic purposes and present “Father of the Year” Awards to deserving fathers of high accomplishment in their chosen fields who have also exhibited enormous achievement as parents.
A fitting Father’s Day gift was another NBA championship for D-Wade. But either way, three generations of Wades will feel connected this year.
“Looking back, I now see so many similarities between my own childhood and that of my sons,” Wade recently told The Daily Beast online magazine. “My father stepped in when I needed him, and that gave me the chance for a better life. That’s what I’m doing for my boys now.”