Dwyane Wade’s Tragic Childhood Prepared Him for NBA Success

Dwyane Wade is known as a basketball superstar, philanthropist, and husband of the actress Gabrielle Union. His life didn’t start out in stellar circumstances though. His tragic childhood shaped his character and helped to make him into an NBA success story.

Dwyane Wade’s childhood

Wade was born in Chicago on January 17, 1982. His parents, Dwyane Wade Sr. and Jolinda Wade, separated when Wade was four months old and later divorced. Wade lived on the South Side of Chicago with his mother and two sisters until he was eight. At that point, he moved to live with his father, and a year later they moved to the suburban town of Robbins.

In interviews, Wade has talked about the difficulties of his early childhood. His mother was on drugs and he was surrounded by gang influences. He saw his mother use heroin, and the police raided their home when he was six. His mother ended up in and out of prison until 2003 but today is the pastor of a church in Chicago.

The move to live with his father changed Wade’s life. In his book, A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball, Wade credited his father, saying, “My father stepped up. I’m successful today because my father stepped up.”

His father coached the son’s summer league games and came to practices at Richards High School. Wade Sr. married Bessie McDaniel, and three new stepbrothers, who were also interested in sports, joined Dwyane’s life.

Journey to the NBA

Dwyane Wade’s life with his father let him focus on athletics. In Robbins, Wade played basketball at the community center with older men. By the time he was 13, people in Robbins recall him running around town to train.

Playing with his older stepbrothers helped to get Wade noticed. John Chappetto, one of the school’s basketball coaches, told the Chicago Tribune:

“He and his two brothers really used to go at each other. The first time I saw him play, I thought, ‘Wow, he’s pretty good for a little guy.’ Then he grew and grew and kept getting bigger and stronger.”

After growing three inches in the summer before his junior year, the 6-foot 3-inch Wade joined the varsity lineup. He averaged 20.7 points and 7.6 rebounds that year and 27 points and 11 rebounds in his senior year.

Wade was not a strong academic student though, so he wasn’t recruited by many colleges. He went to Marquette but didn’t play his freshman year since he didn’t meet the minimum academic requirements set by the NCAA’s Proposition 48. After that, he did play for two seasons at Marquette. In that time, he averaged 19.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists.

Dwyane Wade’s NBA successes

The Miami Heat chose Wade fifth overall in the 2003 NBA Draft. He played with the Heat from 2003 through 2016, winning three championships. He then played one season for the Chicago Bulls and one for the Cleveland Cavaliers before returning to the Heat for one final season.

Wade retired at the end of the 2018-19 season. He’s one of the NBA’s leading scorers of all time. In his career, he averaged 22.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. Among his accolades are being named the Finals MVP in 2006 and the All-Star MVP in 2010 plus winning an Olympic gold medal.

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Life develops character

Wade’s tough early childhood set the stage for his work ethic and dedication to staying on top. He told CNBC several years ago,

“For me, not growing up with money, my family not growing up with money, not knowing where your next meal will come from, those are things that drove me. Those [are the] things that continue to live deep inside of me, that I just can’t get rid of, right? It’s the thing that makes me work at everything the way that I do.”

He also shared that “It still makes me wake up out of my sleep some nights in a sweat, cold sweat, thinking I lost everything.” While he didn’t save his money when he first started playing in the NBA, he now makes sure his kids are educated about the importance of saving their money.

Wade’s life story is an example to others of how hard work and dedication along with the support of family can overcome life’s obstacles.