As he settles into his role as the Chicago Bulls’ newest star, NBA veteran Dwyane Wade shares his perspective on the state of the city, why it’s important for athletes to speak out, and what it means to finally be playing for his hometown team.
When the Chicago Bulls signed superstar guard Dwyane Wade to a contract in July, you could almost hear basketball fans across the city thinking the same thing: Finally. After all, hasn’t Wade always been destined to be a Bull? Even having played his entire 13-year NBA career in Miami (where he snagged three championships and was named an All Star 12 times), the Chicago native has maintained a rock-solid connection to the city through his family and his Wade’s World Foundation, which helps underserved communities and focuses on helping youth achieve their goals. Now, as number 3 grooves his game and aims to propel the team back into the playoffs, in an exclusive Michigan Avenue interview he opens up about his new life as a Bull, his perspective on the city’s recent violence, and what he sees as his most important legacy—both on and off the court.
Welcome home. How does it feel to be back in Chicago?
Thank you. It feels good to be close to family, and it feels good knowing that my mom, who’s my biggest fan, gets to see me play 41 games here. And also just understanding with my family that it’s the right time for me to be back.
What appealed to you about becoming a Bull?
One thing I always said to myself and to my fans was that if I ever wanted or had to leave Miami for whatever reason, I wanted it to be [to return to] Chicago. How many times do you get the chance to have the career I had [there] and still live out a life-long dream of playing back in your hometown, where your vision of becoming a NBA player started? Even though my career has been amazing—I’ve had way more highs than I’ve had lows—this is to me a great opportunity to control my destiny and do what I want to do with my career.
How has the adjustment been to playing on a new team?
I had so many different teams in Miami; in my 13 years I’ve played with so many different guys, so this is similar to that—it’s like coming to training and playing with different teammates. Obviously my surroundings are different, and a lot of things are going on in terms of getting the kids in school and moving into a new house, but from the standpoint of basketball, nothing’s changed. It’s just basketball. I’m trying to learn different terminology and get comfortable in coach’s system, but when we’re out there playing, the jersey at that point doesn’t matter to me as much as doing my job.
How has the dynamic been with your new teammates?
We’ve got a lot of young guys on this team, and one thing that’s cool this year [is that] these guys are very open to my form of leadership. They understand that I’m a three-time champion, so their ears and eyes are open to the things I have to say to them. They watch me and see what I do and how I take care of my body, how I’m the first one in the gym and I’m the last one to leave most days. Me and [Rajon] Rondo are probably tied for coming first and leaving last [laughs]. And just trying to say to them, be a professional
What are you most excited about for this first season?
Just to see how it goes. Individually, I want to see how I respond. I’m turning 35 years old this year, and that’s not a spring chicken in the NBA, so I’m always looking forward to the challenge of seeing how I’m able to keep defying odds. And then as a team, just trying to get this team back on the right path… We’ll make it our mission to make the playoffs and then go from there.
What has the response been from people in Chicago to you becoming a Bull?
It’s been great—everywhere I go I get a warm ovation, some places I walk in I get hand claps, and a lot of people come up to me saying it’s a very cool thing. Obviously a lot of people would’ve loved to see me get drafted here in ’03… or in 2010, but I’m here now, and I deeply appreciate being here. It’s exciting.
With all of your previous success, what’s left for you to achieve?
Just to continue to go out and do [my] job, and what comes with it comes with it. When I came into this league, my goal was to be the best player that I can be, and I’m still trying to be that—the best 34-year-old, the best 35-year-old, etc., until I decide to hang it up. I want to be successful. I don’t play for anything but trying to be the best for the team.
Obviously the city is struggling with an incredible violence problem, which you’ve experienced personally with the death of your cousin Nykea Aldridge. As someone who has been so active in trying to make young kids’ lives better, what do you think Chicago needs to turn things around?
There are so many issues, and it’s going to take a long time to see through all of them. I think the one thing that I try to do and that I think would benefit Chicago is try to focus on a need and try to make that need better. You can’t fix them all. For my foundation, we want to attack the [issue of] the youth, the future, and try to get them now… helping put an infrastructure in their lives, because then they can change things.
Talk about your connection to the Willie Mae Morris Empowerment Center—what does that project mean to you?
I bought my mom a building years ago, and she started her own foundation out of it. The building was so huge I didn’t know what we [would do with all the space], but I always had a vision and my mom had a vision of a center where kids could be helped with after-school programs, for kids to have the opportunity to live their dreams out and have courses that help them with those dreams. So my mom put it in motion in Chicago and she and my sisters have been working on it for a few years. Without me they put the walls up, [envisioning] what it could be, and now it’s about me and my team figuring out how we can best utilize the space and get the empowerment center going. I think it could be something great for the community, and that’s what I call legacy—if we’re able to do something special there, that to me is a bigger legacy than what I can do in the game of basketball.
A lot of professional athletes right now, like Colin Kaepernick and the WNBA Indiana Fever players, are protesting racial inequality by taking a knee during the national anthem. What’s your perspective on that?
I love the fact that athletes are using their platform—they’re using their voice and getting behind the things that they believe in. We all have freedom of speech; we all have the right to say and do the things we want, and they’re doing it, so I applaud them for it. I’m one of the guys who got on stage [with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and LeBron James] at the ESPY awards [and gave] a call to action to athletes to stand up and use their voice, so it’s great to see athletes doing that.
As a father, how do you talk to your kids about what’s going on in Chicago and across the nation right now?
The one thing we try to do, me and my wife, is be honest and open with them as much as possible. We try to show them things that are going on; obviously, they’re older [so] they hear about things, and we sit down and talk about it. There’s no answer—I can’t say “Hey, if you do XYZ, it’s going to go XYZ”—but we try to prepare them for what the possibilities could be and show them what’s going on in the world today.
You’ve been outspoken about how important fatherhood is in your life; how has your appreciation for fatherhood changed as your kids have gotten older?
My appreciation’s always been there. I know how important my dad was in my life for sure, and I knew that I wanted to play a bigger role in my kids’ lives. I’ve always thought that’s one of the most important things I have to do in my life; when God allowed me to be a father of my boys, I knew that was my most important job—to help raise future leaders in this world, and hopefully we can succeed in our dream of doing that.