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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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"That's my girl," Dwyane murmured, watching her figure grow smaller. "Hey," he shouted. "Don't be kissing me like that in front of everybody!" And her laughter echoed back even after she was gone.

It's easy, when taking stock of Dwyane Wade, to take him at face value. He speaks softly, smiles sweetly (yes, Tragil taught him that too) and trails a litany of praise from teammates and opponents that usually includes words like humble, quiet and polite. Did you know he married his high school sweetheart? That he tithes to his church? It's easy to mistake him for some unflappable choirboy, untainted by the modern star's usual cocktail of ego and insecurity. But then most people don't know that Wade got his first technical foul in high school for giving the opposing crowd the finger as he ran upcourt after blocking a shot; don't know that he got so insulted by all the attention paid LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at the 2004 All-Star rookie game that he played "angry" the rest of that season ("I was like a third wheel," he says. "It was, like, Move out of the way, Dwyane, let Carmelo and LeBron take a picture. I felt slighted. I thought, I can be on these guys' level, so what am I going to do to get there?"); don't know that he wore his any more doubters? T-shirt so often after the Heat's championship run that his sister had to tell him to stop.

Indeed, for those who don't know Wade, the most remarkable highlight of the 2006 playoffs was not his circus shot, a twisting, back-to-the-basket layup while falling over the shoulder of Detroit's Antonio McDyess in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. It came in Game 4 of the first-round series against Chicago, when Wade, of all people, refused to make nice.

If anything had marked Wade's growth as a player during his three years in the league, it was his diplomacy. Though he quickly established himself as Miami's best player while a rookie, he made every accommodation for the aging Shaquille O'Neal that Bryant couldn't make in L.A. Wade had no hang-up about its being Shaq's ball, Shaq's team. "More than any young player I've been around, Dwyane has a very high level of maturity," says Van Gundy, who was coaching the Heat when O'Neal was traded to Miami, before the 2004--05 season. "As much acclaim as [Wade] gets, he will not let his voice rise above Shaq's and will let Shaq be the Man. That's essential for that team: A lot of them know, quite honestly, that Dwyane is the better player at this point. But they need Shaq, and to keep him feeling good you have to keep Shaq in that preeminent position. Dwyane's smart enough to understand that and mature enough to let it happen. He knows that he can get enough attention without getting into a battle with Shaq."

Yet, in that first-round game against Chicago, with the Heat playing miserably and the Bulls about to even the series, Wade wasn't about to defer. He called out Payton for blowing an assignment and turning over the ball, snapping at him repeatedly to "step up." Payton, a nine-time All-Star with an ego to match and one of the league's champion trash talkers, jabbered back, and the two of them kept going at it from the court to the huddle, the old junkyard dog backed up by the once cuddlesome pup, even as Riley stepped between them and commentators clucked.

"I liked that," Payton says now. "I liked the way he came at me." Not only did the incident remind Payton of himself, but it also gave him for the first time a glimpse into what Wade's college coach, Marquette's Tom Crean, calls "his controlled rage."

"He's not humble--by far," Payton says. "When Dwyane gets on the court I can see the hunger in his face. He wants to win. He doesn't take prisoners. He wants to kill you."

But Wade didn't have that instinct when he first moved in with his dad, and Bessie McDaniel and her three sons, Demetris, Darnell and Kodhmus. Until then Dwyane had been surrounded by females, doting on him when they could. He didn't like basketball; he wanted to jump rope. "He was soft, he was a baby," says Demetris, two years Dwyane's senior. "With me and my brothers, he was around men. Crying wasn't even in the ball game."

In the backyard at the house in Robbins, the court was cramped, the competition endless and fierce: games of 21 to start, then two-on-two with Dwyane Sr. until long after night fell. No one called fouls. Everyone hacked. Everyone learned to attack, attack, attack the basket; layups were gold and jump shots surrender. Dwyane Sr. was his son's first coach, shuttling him between AAU and rec leagues--Blue Island, Robbins, Midlothian, Chicago's Hayes Park. The father might have partied in the '70s, but a three-year stint in the U.S. Army late in that decade showed him the value of discipline. There were nights when former Sergeant Wade made the boy shoot only with his left hand, in tears and the clock going on midnight. Toughen up, his dad commanded. If you can shoot in the dark, you can shoot anywhere. "No mercy," says Dwyane's wife, Siohvaughn, who lived two blocks away. "I felt so sorry for him."

Dwyane loved going from park to park with his stepbrothers, taking on all comers and winning. But a part of him recoiled from the testosterone overload; he began dating Siohvaughn as a sophomore and spoke of wanting a family by the time he was 20. He had always had the survivor's knack for fitting in, and when his father and stepmother's arguing became too much Wade made another change in households. As a senior he scored 90 points in one day of a two-games-a-day Christmas tournament, and colleges took greater interest in him. But he couldn't work to raise his test scores with all the turmoil at home. So with Siohvaughn off to her freshman year at Eastern Illinois he found refuge around the corner, moving in with her mother, Darlene Funches, during his senior year. They helped one another: Dwyane became family to Darlene, whose daughter Erica had died in a car crash just before Dwyane and Siohvaughn started dating; Darlene made Dwyane study, helped pick Marquette, provided an outlet from the constant push to win.

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