A brisk evening in early February called for celebration inside the Wade-family home in Hidden Hills, California. NBA legend Dwyane Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union hosted friends and family, including top collegiate prospect Bronny James, in a celebratory gathering. The occasion? Zaire Wade’s 21st birthday party.
Little did they know, another cause for celebration would soon come when Zaire received a phone call that would prompt his return to professional basketball and also require him to pack his bags and move to the other side of the world.
Cape Town Tigers head coach Rasheed Hazzard of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) called Wade to tell him that he was officially a member of the team after his impressive performance at the BAL showcase in January.
“It was my birthday weekend and we were all celebrating as a family,” Wade said. “A few other family members were there too celebrating the moment; then the announcement was made. So it was kind of a double-whammy.”
Prior to this point, Wade’s basketball career was an uphill journey. Attending three different high schools before turning pro, Wade transferred to heralded Sierra Canyon High School in Los Angeles for his senior season, teaming up with blue chippers including Brandon Boston, Ziare Williams, James, and Amari Bailey.
Wade struggled to find consistent playing time with a roster full of elite Division I prospects, so Wade transferred to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire where he garnered more attention from D-I coaches and received scholarship offers from DePaul, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Toledo. However, Wade decided to test the waters of pro basketball.
He declared for the G League Draft and was selected by the Salt Lake City Stars as the No. 10 pick in 2021. Zaire played in 12 games averaging 18 minutes per contest before suffering a season-ending knee injury last March.
“I just remembered taking the wrong step and my knee buckled,” Wade said. “I was in a dark place I would say, because it was trying to figure out what was next. It was the G League then…how are people going to look at me…a bunch of thoughts going through my head. For like nine months straight, I was with my uncle and pops everyday and we put a plan together to just stay down and grind until the opportunity comes, and that’s what we did.”
That plan was made up of early morning shooting sessions at local L.A. gyms, followed by weights and afternoon physical therapy that allowed Wade to get fully healthy. The young hooper hopes to lead an experienced Cape Town Tiger team to their first ever BAL title ever after losing to eventual champion US Monastir in the first round of the playoffs last year.
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) January 15, 2023
Though Zaire is privy to the comments about nepotism that the basketball world makes about his career, he’s not letting those remarks phase him. Yes, Zaire is the firstborn son of the legendary Miami Heat guard. He’s well aware that his father is arguably one of the greatest guards to grace NBA hardwood and possesses a tremendous amount of authority off the court.
But Zaire is focused on forging his own path.
“I mean, I don’t know – I’ve just been Zaire my whole life,” Wade said with a smirk.
“I know what my dad has done and definitely get a lot of attention, whether it’s good or bad. He always tells me not to get too high or too low, which keeps me focused on what I need to be focused on.”
With Nile Conference play slated to get underway April 26, Wade is already setting himself apart as a leader on a team full of veterans. The Tigers are growing in “chemistry and camaraderie,” two essential factors for championship basketball, according to coach Hazzard. The longtime NBA assistant coach says Zaire has helped immensely with getting the guys to gel and is flourishing being the primary ball handler for the Tigers.
“He has a high basketball IQ and will be our backup point guard when we get to Cairo,” Hazzard said. “His growth in the last six weeks has been incredible, especially since playing point guard is somewhat new to him. Z brings quickness, athleticism, and great court vision to our team and his youthful exuberance is contagious, making him a favorite among his teammates.”
Needless to say, the differences between the NBA game and overseas pro basketball are evident. Talent, pace of play, and athleticism all favor the league heavily. Many players that have played overseas and in the NBA speak about the international game being just as, if not more, physical than the NBA.
Wade believes the BAL is an opportunity for him to develop his skillset. That development was on full display last week when he posted 20 points, 7 rebounds and 12 assists in a South African League scrimmage while continuing to earn the respect of his teammates.
“It’s fun to play with Zaire,” said former Oklahoma City Thunder two-way player Josh Hall. “He’s so unselfish and so fast…I’m just excited for everyone to see what qualities he brings to the team because I see it every day in practice.”
The BAL season ends May 27, and Wade hopes he and the Cape Town Tigers will be playing in the Championship game in Rwanda. While he admits to still having NBA aspirations, Wade remains focused on being the best point guard in the BAL and improving daily. And hopes that later this summer he will be celebrating with teammates and family as he did on his 21st birthday, only this would be for a different reason.
“There’s only one goal. If you’re not going out there to be a champion, your mindset ain’t right from the jump,” Wade said. “That’s definitely our goal.”