Dwyane Wade rich beyond his wildest imagination, half of a glamorous, world renowned couple, internationally celebrated for his brilliance and benevolence once wouldn't dare dream of such a life. On Chicago's South Side and then in Robbins, he was split between parents and relatives, saw police raids on his house, his mother in prison, a lack of food. So he was the recipient, grateful for the church, the neighbors who helped him survive.
"You don't forget where you come from; you don't forget how hard it was, but you also don't just focus on that," Wade was saying late Thursday night at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame after receiving the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award. "My whole focus in life was I wanted to be better. When I was a kid I didn't accept people telling me no. I always felt there was something bigger for me."
We all know the answer, but it was the unlikely road that Wade traveled, one driven with inspiration and benevolence that led to the Hall of Fame honor.
One day Wade, one of the best players in NBA history, will be honored for his basketball brilliance by the Hall of Fame. In some respects, Wade is as proud or more so of this kind of award because it recognizes people who in their lives with basketball have become role models and leaders and then return those gifts to the community.
Wade along with Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman and high school coach Bob Hurley were honored on the eve of the Class of 2017 enshrinement that will include former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause.
"Obviously, when you get an award like this you sit back and reflect on your childhood and where you were," said Wade. "To be sitting in the position today and what happened to you and what happened to others (through your efforts) is a great feeling. When I came back to Chicago, my whole goal and focus was what I could do to help make things better in the community, especially considering where I came from and hopefully we were able to do that. It obviously feels great to be here at the Hall of Fame and accept the award. I was surprised when they called me, but very thankful and blessed to be here.
"It seems surreal, so it feels good to know you put the work in to be in the position you are in and from the community standpoint this is an award that has my name on it, but it's my mother, my father, my sister, those are the ones who have done amazing things in our community to make sure we gave back and make things better and better other people's lives. Because we remember people giving back to us," said Wade. "I remember going to church and getting food to eat and we try to do the same things for others and hope that kind of effort can also be a model."
Wade and his family began the Wade's World Foundation when he was drafted into the NBA in 2003. It was to help in "at-risk" areas in Chicago, Milwaukee (where Wade attended college) and South Florida, where he was drafted by the Miami Heat.
Wade signed with the Bulls as a free agent in the summer of 2016 and began the Spotlight On program to enable and empower youth in the Chicago area. The Bulls have partnered with announcements at home games.
"As a kid when I was able to start putting things together and realize what people were doing for us, I always said if God blessed me and my family to be in a different situation I would make sure that I would be one to come back and try to make a difference," said Wade. "That's why as soon as I was able to make it in the NBA, I set up a foundation. I've always given back because I know others don't have as much as me and for a recognition of others who came before me."
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg flew to Springfield Thursday to be with Wade and his family and friends.
"It's a great honor for Dwyane," Hoiberg said. "Anytime you are recognized in the community for all you do to help it's special. I was excited to come out and spend time with Dwyane and support him. Dwyane has made a huge impact in a city where he grew up. When you are helping people like he does in his community, it says all you need to know about Dwyane Wade the person, how charitable and giving he is and trying to have a positive impact on the lives of so many. It's a well deserved award."
As for Wade the player, entering his second season on his two-year Bulls contract, Hoiberg said he's looking forward to working with Wade. There has been speculation and guessing about Wade's future with the Bulls in rebuilding mode. Wade has been coy, but Hoiberg said the two had an excellent meeting last month.
"We talked a lot about his situation, of being on a young team like this," said Hoiberg. "It was like after they (Heat) won the championship (in 2006). They won 15 games (in 2007-08). He's been a part of a lot of situations as long as he's been around the league. He's a first ballot Hall of Fame player, and he's been through a season with a rebuilding situation going on. So he's talking enthusiastically about helping lead our young group of players and helping them get off on the right foot. With (Lauri) Markkanen, a rookie, (Zach) LaVine, having averaged 20 points and helping him along in his progression to where he can be a leader and a go to guy at some point in his career. To be around some of the guys he was with last year and with the new crop coming in, I think he will be excited to lead them in the right way. He's still in shape, still a guy who can go out and give you good minutes and we're excited about having him."
Wade after a summer of travels was considerably hirsute, a new, fuller beard crawling up his cheeks, his head a long way from being styled with a towel. But his commitment is strong and clear.
"Sports is a short period of my life," said Wade, 35, entering his 15th NBA season. "Hopefully I live a long life. I remember my mom always telling me my life is bigger than basketball. I didn't know what she meant at the time, but as you get older and walk through life I understood basketball has become that platform for me to do these things."