He’s already been to the top. Now he’s preparing for the Big Top. After the Heat picked him fifth overall out of Marquette in 2003, Dwyane Wade didn’t take long to become one of the league’s elite players, or a champion. In the 2006 NBA Finals, against Dallas, he almost single-handedly rallied the Heat from a 2–0 series deficit, averaging 34.7 points and winning the MVP. In the four years since, he’s suffered serious knee and shoulder injuries, dealt with several off-the-court distractions — including a contentious and public divorce — and not won nearly as much as he’d like.
But after exploring a free agent return to his Chicago roots — and scaring South Florida — he’s back with the Heat, and he’s got NBA superstars and former Olympic teammates LeBron James and Chris Bosh with him. And, suddenly, the Heat are the biggest, baddest show in sports.
“It’s beyond exciting,” Wade says. “I don’t know that we really even know yet, just how excited we are going to be.”
Or how good.
Athlon Sports: How much have you changed since you entered the NBA in 2003?
Wade: Man, so much. I mean, as a person, I’ve probably grown just by being more able to make decisions and more involved in my everyday life than when I first came in. Coming into this big world, you have other people doing everything, and trusting them and not being as involved as much. But I’ve decided to take a much bigger role in things now.
What’s the major misconception about NBA stars in general?
The biggest thing is that NBA players are selfish, and are all about money. There’s a perception that a lot of people don’t care about winning, per se. But I hope I’ve shown that I’m all about winning, that it’s most important to me. Of course, in life, everybody wants to get compensated for their efforts. There’s different levels of compensation, obviously. But if they took all the money away, we would all still be playing somewhere, and still trying to win, because we love the game.
How might the additions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh make you better?
First of all, their greatness as individual players. You know when you play with players that are very talented, of course in this case just as talented as you are, it makes your job a lot easier. Ain’t no double-teams, triple-teams, you’re not worried about just me. You’re worried about other guys as well. I think the biggest thing that’s going to change is our defense. LeBron every year competes for Defensive Player of the Year. Even though I’ve been snubbed twice on All-Defensive first team, I’ve been a pretty good defender. And Chris is an underrated defender — that’s what we really saw in the Olympics. I think our defense is what’s going to be the key, and we’re all going to help each other out with it.
What did you think when outsiders said it would be hard to put a good team around the three of you?
I’ve thought of this just like I’ve thought of everything else. I looked at it, and said, ‘They don’t know what they’re talking about.’ It is what it is. We knew that we had an opportunity. First of all, you understand that when you have a good team, a team that has an opportunity for success, guys are going to want to be a part of it. Guys are going to want to make the sacrifice. And we also knew the players that were out there as well.
Has it sunk in yet?
Not yet. It still seems surreal. Walking down the hallway, when we were on our way to do the congratulations, the “YES. WE. DID.” event, looking on my left and my right, it took me back to the All-Star Game. I was just like, it’s not real. We were just laughing, and we cannot believe we’re playing together. It just happened, and it was the best thing for all of us to do, and we took the opportunity to do it. I think it shows a lot about the three guys, to want to get together in the prime of their careers, and say, ‘Let’s do something for years to come.’ It’s not just about one year. It’s about years to come.
Do you feel you know more about NBA economics after this summer?
I do, I do. I’ve gotten more knowledgeable, on the insides and the outsides of the NBA game. And what it takes to have players here, and salary caps, and all of those things. More than I even want to know. But I’ve had to be a student of what can be accomplished in Miami, if this happened, or if that happened, or if this doesn’t happen. So I think I know a little more than I should.
What’s the one aspect of your game that you’re most trying to improve?
Besides everything? The one thing I always pride myself on is turnovers. So that’s the No. 1 thing. I’m not saying I’m not going to get any turnovers, because I’m a risk-taker, but some of my turnovers definitely are careless. So I’ll try to get rid of the careless ones. And if I just have the smart plays, the risks that just don’t go well, I can live with those.
Will you approach this season freer mentally, after the finalization of your divorce and the settlement of the case related to your former business partners?
Yes. Probably the (best frame of mind) since 2006 — with hopefully not too much on my plate. Coming into the year with a lot on your plate can take a toll mentally at times, even though I think I do a good job of not letting it (bother me). But I’m human.
What’s the most underrated quality in a person?
That’s a tough one. (Pause) Let me think about what’s the most underrated quality in me. (Laughs) I would think, in me, is just the work I put in. The most underrated is the hard work that everybody puts into their own job, no matter what their job is. People don’t say thank you enough, or appreciate you enough, for that.
When’s the last time you laughed really hard?
Oh, every day. I’m probably sillier than a lot of people even know. I’m always laughing. Laughter is healthy. I get my laugh on every day. You just sit and watch kids for hours, and you will crack up laughing, if it’s a facial expression, if it’s something they say, because they say the craziest things. I laugh at my kids all the time.
You can eat one thing at one restaurant in any NBA city. What is it?
I would say Prime 112. I’m going to keep it home base, in Miami, on South Beach. It would be a mixture of things, though, because I like different things. Sometimes the chicken and waffles, and sometimes the steak.
As an NBA fashion icon, are you embarrassed by anything you’ve worn?
Oh, for sure. Probably most of my rookie year, when I look back at the way I used to dress. Terrible. They have this one picture of me when I was speaking to the fans, with this flannel shirt and khaki shorts. It was something you would get from Kohl’s or Burlington Coat Factory. I was rocking it hard, but it didn’t fit right, especially the belt. Man, it was so bad. Maybe I could rock it now, but it would fit a little different.
How will you fill the competitive void when you’re finished playing?
I would hope to fill it in the business world. At 28 years old, you start thinking, ‘How do I have life after basketball?’ even more. And that’s why I am trying to get in relationships with people like Magic Johnson, learn how to make smart moves, and do the right things. Or maybe I would be an NBA general manager someday. The last two years, I’ve been thinking about it. I know I don’t want to coach, I don’t want to be a president of an organization. But being a GM interests me. Not as soon as I get done, because I think I would want to step back from game a little.