How Dwyane Wade Has Impacted Miami Heat Players and Coaches Beyond the Game
This is Part 1 of our series on Dwyane Wade, to celebrate his career during his final NBA season.
MIAMI -- The Miami Heat are known for their dedication to maintaining a strong organizational culture, due in large part to Dwyane Wade. Despite a temporary breakup that saw the three-time champion in unfamiliar garb for 106 games with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, he’s remained a loyal staple of everything Heat.
Dwyane’s place in the Miami community is matched by his place in the locker room, where he has influenced scores of teammates with the lore of Heat culture and his own hard-earned good will from 15-plus seasons. Over the course of his career, Dwyane has strived to be a team-first beacon who embodies the aspirations of the organization.
Dwyane solidified his place in South Florida sports history in 2006, when he almost single-handedly brought the Heat back from an 0-2 series hole against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals to capture the team’s first championship. Dwyane went on to earn the moniker “Wade County” as much for his success on the court—which includes 12 All-Star selections, eight All-NBA nods and two more titles alongside LeBron James and Chris Bosh—as for his endeavors in the local community.
“He's been a part of every Heat championship,” Hassan Whiteside says. “I think people really look up to him and all the things he's done for the organization.”
Miami Heat stars Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside celebrate at the Miami Pro League this past summer. (Robson Lopes)
Hassan’s faith in Dwyane isn’t unfounded. Over the summer, Dwyane was one of two teammates to partake in a beach workout that Hassan organized—even though Dwyane hadn’t yet re-signed in Miami at that point.
“I said, ‘We are going to be on the beach at 7:40 in the morning.’ He was there at 7:30, first one there,” Hassan recalls. “Just things like that. He and Rodney [McGruder] are the only ones that came—the only Heat players that joined me on the beach workouts. Just things like that, man. It's just big.”
Dwyane has seen his role oscillate both on and off the court, but he’s never waned from the path of responsibility. From bright-eyed surprise franchise player to established All-Star and now grizzled veteran off the bench, his Hall-of-Fame-to-be career has aged gracefully.
Though Dwyane has assumed ownership of nicknames like "The Way of Wade" and "The Flash" over the years, those staples of his personal story were shaped by the veterans who guided him when he was younger. Players like Shaquille O'Neal, Eric Snow, Lamar Odom, Baron Davis, Eddie Jones and Jason Kidd told him to take the reigns as one of the league’s ambassadors to help move the game forward.
“When I came in, I had guys on other teams and guys on my team that helped me,” Dwyane says. “That gave me some nuggets that I may not have used in that moment, but eventually I went back to it.”
Now in his 16th season, he’s the one sharing his wisdom with the next generation.
“A lot of guys in this league, the younger guys, the new wave that's coming in now… they reach out, they ask questions,” Dwyane says.
Second-year player Bam Adebayo hasn’t had the opportunity to be around Dwyane for a full season yet, but has already found himself drawn to the elder statesman.
“Just the 16 years of him being himself and also helping others, it shows because when you talk to him as a person, you can tell right away that he's a great guy,” Bam says. “He loves to help people, he loves to help the community.”
For Goran Dragic, Dwyane’s efforts to reach out to teammates and the community take on new meaning. He credits the former Marquette standout for inspiring his continued involvement back home in Slovenia based on what he’s seen during his time with the Heat.
During each of the last five summers, Goran has hosted a basketball camp that focuses on youth in the municipality of Rogla in Slovenia. The camp aims to enhance basketball development while providing educational workshops, which mirrors principles Dwyane exhibits in his community work.
“He's always doing great things for this organization and the community,” Goran says. “Personally, I always want to help to give something back. That's the most important thing. We're not always going to play basketball, so you want to do something impactful for the community. D-Wade is a big part of that and this organization.”
As the Heat’s de facto ambassador, Dwyane has done his part to welcome new teammates into the fold. So, too, has Gabrielle Union, an esteemed film actress and Dwyane’s wife of four years. The power couple doubled up when Miami drafted Justise Winslow with the 10th pick in 2015. Gabrielle playfully tweeted at Justise to let the rookie know that he would have to get used to people misspelling his unique first name—not unlike a certain Heat star she knew well.
Justise and Dwyane formed a bond shortly thereafter, which the former admits made it hard for him when the latter decided to leave the Heat for brief stints with the Bulls and Cavaliers. Though that split initially sparked some animosity between the two, Justise says he has resumed his place as Dwyane's "little brother,” now that South Beach's prodigal adopted son has returned.
“Everything he's been able to do for the community are things that I am trying to do or that I will do. He has the blueprint for it all and I'm just kind of following it,” Justise explains. “All the little things. I pick up how he greets people, how he can hold a conversation, how he gets his point across. The way he says his words.”
Big brother Dwyane welcomes the idea of being a tutor to Justise and others around the NBA.
“I'm an open book for any player in the league that wants to know anything about how I did it or why I did it—good or bad,” Dwyane explained. “Definitely for my teammates—100 percent. I'm all about the next generation and I've been about it for a while.”
That support has long permeated Miami’s locker room, catching the attention of staff throughout the organization. Head coach Erik Spoelstra, for one, has seen multiple iterations of the team’s culture dating back to 1995, when he was the team’s video coordinator.
In 2003, Spo was serving as an assistant coach and director of scouting for the Heat, when the team took Dwyane with the No. 5 pick in the draft and signed Udonis Haslem as an undrafted free agent. He built five years of equity and trust with Dwyane and Udonis before assuming the mantle of head coach in 2008.
To Spo, Dwyane and Udonis are equally synonymous with the Heat’s brand locally.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra speaks at Heat media day this season. (Dale Brown)
“The new players, I love seeing them get introduced to Dwyane and UD into their life, after about a month. You'll have a very different impression, particularly after all the years and perspective,” Spo says. “They're as giving as any two players I've ever been around. They want, first of all, to make sure that guys in the locker room feel comfortable—they're not just thinking about themselves.”
That giving spirit stems from all that Dwyane and Udonis have shared with each other. When they first arrived in South Florida as rookies, they connected on the similarities in their personal narratives—from growing up in rough neighborhoods to fathering children at a young age.
“We just realized we had a lot in common,” Udonis says.
Since then, they’ve won three championships together, celebrated at each other’s weddings and supported one another’s foundations. They also signed with the same agent, the late Henry Thomas, at CAA Sports. Dwyane was instrumental in bringing Udonis aboard with Li-Ning, the Chinese shoe brand with which the former signed a lifetime deal in July. This past summer, they traveled to China together.
The duo has also sought counsel from some of the same off-the-court mentors, including Heat legend Alonzo Mourning. Zo’s Mourning Family Foundation helped build the Overtown Youth Center in 2003—the same year Dwyane and Udonis joined the team—in one of the city’s most at-risk areas. Since inception, the facility has graduated 100 percent of its high school seniors.
Taking a cue from Alonzo on opening doors, Dwyane and Udonis have established opportunities for employment. Before the season started, they became business partners as co-franchisees of 800 Degrees Woodfired Kitchen in Miami and New York City.
Dwyane and Udonis Haslem at the grand opening of 800 Degrees Woodfired Kitchen in New York City this past summer. (Jennifer Graylock)
“We talked about always being able to do something together,” Udonis says. “It has to be the right time, it has to be the right opportunity for us both. It finally presented itself.”
While they are both focused on basketball for now, they have other ventures in the works—though Udonis shied away from specifics. Whatever those two do together from here on out, they have already set a standard for the Heat’s other players to follow as the franchise prepares for a future without “Father Prime.”
“We’re beyond teammates,” Udonis says. “We’re brothers now. We look to uplift each other on every level of life.”
So far, Dwyane’s younger mentees in Miami seem keen to keep his example alive, long after he hangs up his sneakers for good in 2019.
Says Justise, “He's a Hall of Famer on and off the court.”
Warren Shaw is a veteran NBA writer based in Miami. Follow him on Twitter.