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Sportsman of the Year: DWYANE WADE
December 11, 2006
Is there an athlete with more positive energy than the 24-year-old guard? He pulled the Heat out of a deep playoff hole, helped put the shine back on a tarnished league and lifted his mom out of her own personal hell
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December 11, 2006

Sportsman Of The Year: Dwyane Wade

Is there an athlete with more positive energy than the 24-year-old guard? He pulled the Heat out of a deep playoff hole, helped put the shine back on a tarnished league and lifted his mom out of her own personal hell

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The alternatives were going up to Granny's place on the third floor, his aunt's on the second or the apartment where Mom was sinking fast. Jolinda and Dwyane's father, Dwyane Sr., had split up soon after the boy was born, and though his dad would show on weekends and birthdays, Momma's new man was their fact of life. The man, Jolinda says, was "like from hell itself"; Dwyane saw her cowed and fearful and vowed to get him back someday. "I couldn't have him growing up around this, no," Jolinda says. "But I was caught. I was drowning."

In the years they had been together, Dwyane Sr. says, he and Jolinda "both had problems. Back in the '70s a lot of people were doing drugs, different kinds of drugs and smoking weed and stuff. We were too." But Jolinda spun out of control once she had Dwyane and left his dad; their two kids, Tragil and Dwyane Jr., knew enough to leave her alone when the bedroom door was closed and the music blared. When their mother wasn't out late drinking, the two kids would rustle up close to Jolinda to watch TV, Tragil staring at The Cosby Show and thinking, I want that. want to be in that life; Jolinda closing her eyes and hearing the voices of her children, sounding so far away. On other days Dwyane would have special events at school--Momma, I'm having my first school picture tomorrow!--but Jolinda was usually sleeping it off. Tragil got him dressed nice for that one.

"My addiction was heroin, cocaine, alcohol and cigarettes," Jolinda says. "Four of them beating down on me."

In Englewood, as in every mean pocket of urban America, this kind of story usually doesn't end well. Gangs and drug dealers roamed the blocks; gunshots popped day and night; Tragil saw one of Dwyane's kindergarten classmates running bags of white powder. Dwyane Sr. had by then moved across town into an apartment with his fianc´┐Że, Bessie McDaniel, and her three boys. He offered to take Dwyane, so one Friday in 1988 Tragil packed a weekend's worth of clothes and escorted her brother on a 15-minute bus ride, dropped him off, told him to call if anyone mistreated him and promised to pick him up. But she didn't. Jolinda can't remember a thing about the day her only son left home forever. For Dwyane it now stands as the last in a line of noble acts his sister performed to save him, but as a boy he called Tragil to say, "You lied to me. You said you'd come back and you didn't."

"At the time you feel relief that he's going to be in good hands," Tragil says. "Protected with Daddy. Later on it hit me that's my best friend. I missed him."

The following year Dwyane Sr. moved his son and the McDaniel clan to the somewhat safer environs of Robbins, in Chicago's south suburbs. Soon Tragil left her mother, then another daughter, Keisha, bolted, leaving only the oldest, Deanna, behind. "When I lost my kids? It seemed I lost the willingness to live," Jolinda says. "I just started surviving because I didn't see a way of getting them back." Three years later, in September 1992, she was arrested for the first time and pleaded guilty to possession of crack cocaine with the intent to sell. Dwyane Sr. took his 10-year-old son to see Jolinda while she was incarcerated at the Cook County jail. "I never went back again," Wade says. "I didn't want to see my mother locked up. I just couldn't." The following February she was sentenced to 14 months' probation.

But one week after her sentencing, Jolinda was arrested again and later convicted for trying to sell crack to an undercover police officer. "I'm trying to sell drugs to make ends meet to get money to do this and that; then it just came to the point I just sold drugs so I could keep my sick off," she says.

Jolinda spent 16 months in prison, then, on Oct. 29, 1995, was arrested for selling crack. Sentenced to four years in a state penitentiary, she served seven months before failing to report for a work-release program. In March 1997 a warrant was issued. "They called it an escape," she says. "I didn't go back: My addiction called me; I answered the call ... and there you go."

One evening last month Wade was sitting in Miami's American Airlines Arena after wrapping a photo shoot: D-Wade, Superstar, doing layups in a fine gray suit. The place was all but empty, just a half-dozen people checking Blackberries. "Seeing it," he said. "Seeing my mother on drugs was the darkest for me. People on drugs don't have the same comprehension; you talk to them, and they fall asleep. That hurts. And you know it."

Wade started talking about his father, the discipline he instilled, when Tragil walked over. For a while Dwyane had sent her Mother's Day cards. Then last spring Tragil, 29, moved to the Miami area to help manage her brother's life; who better to do that? She bent down and kissed Dwyane four times on the cheek and neck. Dwyane Sr. was coming to town. "Call me about Daddy," she said, and walked off.

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