BY ELSA DE BERKER AUG 1, 2017
NBA basketball player, Dwyane Wade’s awe-inspiring brilliance on the court is well documented. The seasoned pro is a three-time NBA champion, winning playoffs in 2006 and back-to-back in 2012 and 2013. A few more impressive career statistics: He had the top-selling jersey in the league for nearly two years and helped the United States men’s basketball team take home gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. But Wade didn’t carve time out of his busy schedule to talk in-depth basketball to a fashion magazine. He wants to discuss his personal style evolution and how he, alongside friends and peers Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony, collectively spearheaded a period that we’re dubbing the golden age of off-court appearances. Thanks to Wade and co., in 2017, younger players like Russell Westbrook are free to explore high fashion in a way that wasn’t previously possible for an athlete.
When Wade was at college in the early 2000s, basketball style was still synonymous with ’90s hip hop artists like Tupac and Diddy. “The era I came up in was the big baggy clothes era,” Wade reflects via a long distance phone call from Paris where he’s celebrating his son’s 10th birthday and attending a number of fashion events with his wife, actress Gabrielle Union. “Allen Iverson was the idol of my generation and he looked like a rapper, so all of the young players came into the league trying to dress like him. When I first became a part of the NBA, (Wade was drafted fifth overall pick in 2003 by the Miami Heat) I didn’t believe in any of ‘that fashion bullshit’ either. I wore my pants low just like the rest of the players; all I wanted to do was fit in. It wasn’t until I matured that I realized that fashion is a means of self-expression. Dressing how I wanted allowed me to define who I was and who I wanted to be.”
Scoring access to clothing in general didn’t come easy to Wade as kid; He was born with the cards stacked against his favor in 1982. Growing up on Chicago’s notoriously dangerous South Side, he triumphed over adversities that no small child should ever have to face. His parents, JoLinda and Dwyane Wade Senior, conceived him as teenagers and separated when he was just four months old. His mother (now a reformed preacher), was in and out of prison throughout the duration of his childhood; she was charged with dealing drugs and struggled with addiction to several substances including heroin and crack cocaine. Police raided Wade’s house with guns looking for her when he was six, and he reportedly found several dead bodies in trash cans near his house at a similarly young age. With so much going on at home, most would assume that Wade didn’t pay attention to what people wore—but he did.
“I WASN’T FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO BE ABLE TO BUY MUCH, BUT I NOTICED LITTLE THINGS.”
“I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to buy much, but I noticed the little things. I used to put items of clothing in my memory bank for if I ever came into money, like ‘I’ll save that right here just in case some cash comes to me.’” Back then, his most-wished-for items included a sharp suit like his Dad, and sneakers—most likely Air Jordan’s, named after his favorite player in the league.
With the ascension of Wade’s professional career at Miami Heat came great fame, and a great fortune too. Forbes quotes Wade’s current net worth at a whopping $36.2 million and ranks him the 19th highest-paid athlete in the world. Last year marked a homecoming for the 35-year old player; He signed a two-year deal with the Chicago Bulls, worth upwards of $40 million. Yet it was the initial rocket-jump in funds from his first contract over a decade ago that granted Wade the means to start experimenting with his look. After taking care of his family financially, the first big-money purchase he remembers signing off on was a suit. Soon after that, the endorsement deals started rolling in. He had his next suit custom-made. Today, Wade endorses 15 brands, the most prolific being an on-going contract with Chinese shoe company, Li-Ning.
Around 2006, Wade decided to take fashion more seriously and tapped the services of stylist Calyann Barnett, who remains by his side to this day. Together they worked on broadening Wade’s wardrobe to include some more conceptual, boundary-pushing outfits from luxury houses like Balmain, Burberry, Tom Ford, Valentino, and DSquared, who he collaborated with on a range of ties earlier this year. With Barnett on his team, Wade began to top best-dressed lists and appear on the cover of men’s style magazines like Esquire and GQ. The lists in particular appealed to his competitive nature. “I am an athlete and I love to win,” he laughs, before adding that the sartorial accolades mean less to him now than they did way back when. “Like anything in life, it’s great to be honored for what you do, but now I’d rather spark a conversation about fashion than top a list.”
Some of Wade’s more recent, hotly-discussed outfits include a controversial capri-length tux and an all-green velour tracksuit he wore to watch the NBA Finals in June. A quick scroll through his Instagram account (@dwyanewade), and it’s clear that his 9.5 million followers had plenty to say about both. “People gave me so much flack about those looks,” he admits with a chuckle, “but I’m a risk taker and I love to make a statement. I don’t mind if people don’t always have positive things to say. A year later, and everyone’s wearing the same thing anyway. High fashion can be a little foreign to a lot of my followers; they’ve never seen anything like it before, so they don’t understand what the hell I’m doing right away.”
Wade’s most vocal critics include his wife and his three sons who are all under the age of 15. The children in particular are never afraid to dole out unsolicited fashion feedback to their uber famous dad. “I get mixed reviews, but they like some of my looks. It’s a good life lesson for my kids either way; I’m trying to be a role model to them in everything I do. I want them to know that as long as you’re comfortable and confident in who you are, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.” Right now, Wade is testing out a new, off-duty look. “I’m an athlete and I love to be comfy. I don’t want to be neat at the moment, so it’s all about pairing a tighter V-neck with an oversize piece.”
With close to two decades of professional basketball under his belt, rumors about when Wade will retire are inevitable, yet fans will be pleased to hear that the star isn’t ready to trade in his court sneakers for a pair of loafers any time soon. He also hasn’t ruled out the idea of moving to America’s fashion epicenter, aka New York City, should the right deal come along in due course. “New York wouldn’t be my first choice, but I never say ‘never’ to anything,” he teases. “A job or life might lead you somewhere unexpected at anytime, so I keep my mind open to everything.”
“LIFE IS SLOW IN PARIS AND THE PACE SUITS ME.”
Wade also admits that the fashion capital of Europe, the City of Lights, has his heart. “There is so much incredible design talent in Paris. I also like that it’s calmer and that people in France don’t care the same way about things like people in America do. New York is fast-paced and loud—it never sleeps. Life is slow in Paris and the pace suits me.”
Paris is also a convenient location to realize Wade’s long-term dream of growing his name into an all-inclusive lifestyle brand. “I don’t like to think about my life post-basketball yet,” he says to end the call, “but I’d definitely like to build some kind of lasting empire for my kids to hold on to.” He doesn’t come right out and say it, but I couldn’t help but get the feeling that he might already have a plan up his sleeve.