"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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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