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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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"One thing my dad will never do?" Wade says. "He will never tell me how good I am--still. I don't think the Heat is his favorite team, and he won't tell me even if it is. He always makes me mad. He's been doing that since I was a kid: I'd get a triple double in a game, and he would say, 'That's nothing.' I was, like, Why is he so hard on us? But I understand it now. That's his way of letting us know: We can always do better. He'll always do that."

A bit before noon on March 8, 2003, Wade walked onto the court at Milwaukee's Bradley Center for warmups, the din of a sellout crowd beginning to rise. He had never been more nervous. He had never felt such a need to play perfectly. This wasn't because Wade, a Marquette junior about to skip his senior year for the NBA draft, knew it would be his final collegiate home game. It wasn't because he had the chance to lead the school to its first Conference USA title with a victory over perennial champion Cincinnati. Just three days earlier Wade's mother had been released from a maximum-security prison in Dwight, Ill. Jolinda had attended only two of Dwyane's games, early in high school. This would be his first chance to show her what he had become.

Dwyane wasn't the only one with a stomach aflutter. Jolinda was flat-out scared. Do I look right? Is anybody going to say anything to me? Are newspeople going to come? Is anyone going to know that I'm his mom? She feared embarrassing him.

Dwyane, who hadn't seen his mom in nearly 16 months, kept stealing looks into the stands. Jolinda had come up with Tragil that morning from Chicago, after getting permission from her parole officer to leave the state, but Dwyane hadn't dared talk to her before the game, afraid an emotional overload would leave him sapped. Everything in his life had pointed to this moment; when Dwyane was born his mother had heard a word, blessing, in her head, and she had wanted that to be his name: Blessing Wade. He was glad it wasn't, but tried to live up to it. Throughout high school, during three years at Marquette, Wade drove himself to exhaustion because he believed he was her only hope. If he could only break out big, be that kid who rose from welfare--if only she could see him do something special--he could save her. Almost daily, over the last year, they had written to each other. "If anybody's going to give you inspiration," Dwyane wrote, "it's going to be me. I'm going to show you that you can overcome too."

It had taken a while. During Dwyane's freshman year, in 2000--01, their lives had diverged even further. Forced to sit out the season because he had fallen a point short on his ACT exam, Dwyane beefed up his skinny frame in the weight room and played point guard against the Marquette first team in practice, critiqued his teammates for the coaching staff, and learned how to better see and work the floor. During the Christmas break he proposed to Siohvaughn, and by the following spring they were married and she was pregnant. Wade was 20, and determined not to give his child the life that he'd had.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Jolinda was still using and drinking. It had been nearly four years since that warrant for her escape had been issued. Tragil once talked her into going for a ride and, weeping, begged her mother to come to church with her. "God loves you," Tragil said. "Please." Dwyane would call his mother to say that he loved her too, and Jolinda cried because she knew she wasn't worthy. He never once turned his back on her.

Finally, on Oct. 14, 2001, during Dwyane's sophomore year, Jolinda sat in church and heard a passage from the Book of Timothy about "having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" and felt the hypocrite's shame. She called a friend and declared that the old Jolinda Wade had to die. The friend drove her to a house in South Bend, Ind., where, without methadone, with nothing but prayer and isolation, Jolinda sweated and got sick, and eventually, clean. She kicked alcohol and drugs that month. She kicked cigarettes the next. Then, in December that year, she met with Dwyane at a church kitchen and told him the good news--and the bad. She was sober, but if she wanted to be a true mother to him and a grandmother to the baby to come, Jolinda said, she had to turn herself in.

On New Year's Eve, 2001, Jolinda presented herself to the Chicago police and returned to prison to serve out her sentence. For the next year and two months, while Dwyane was becoming a father to a son, Zaire, and getting married and becoming a basketball revelation, while he was leading Marquette through a 2002--03 season that would result in a 23--4 record and the school's first Final Four appearance in 26 years, the star's mother counted her days in prison. Jolinda read Dwyane's letters, felt stronger, but being locked up had left her rehabilitation unfinished. Once freed, she would have every opportunity to use again.

But there was something powerful about that Cincinnati game. For Dwyane, to have his mother, his sister, his wife and his son--the people he loved most, his past and present and future--together for the first time, watching him win his first championship, filled him with a sensation he'd never known. To see Jolinda, to see them all, cheering him? "It's what life is about," Wade says. For Jolinda, seeing Dwyane play the hero--26 points, 10 rebounds, making big plays, holding up his No. 1 finger at the end--felt like a dream. After having read about it so many times, she was feeling it now: the Milwaukee crowd chanting "Wade! Wade!"--still her name too--and lifting him off the court when the game was over. Mother and son locked eyes, and she heard a voice in her head: Here comes another chance now, Jolinda. A chance to be a mother to your son.

"My God, another chance? Do you know how many years of his I missed?" Jolinda says. "Fifteen of him growing up, becoming. I had another chance at life."

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