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
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
December 11, 2006

He hurled the ball high into the air, and it spun up and away and forgotten, the object that just moments before had been the most important thing in the building. Dwyane Wade began screaming. The clock ticked to zero, the horn sounded: But he knew already. He had known before anyone else in the arena that it was over, that his Miami Heat had come back yet again and won the 2006 NBA championship, that on this June night in Dallas he had, at 24, risen above his preordained peers to clutch the only prize that matters. The rest, though? He knew almost none of that.

Above Wade, above the American Airlines Center floor where the Mavericks and their shocked fans were edging toward the doors, the ball reached its peak, hovered an instant, started its fall. Already, the hierarchy of the basketball universe had been reshuffled, Wade's place in the game elevated and informed by long ago names and games. Time and again during these playoffs he pulled off heroics that echoed one basketball legend after another. Make room at the table, John Havlicek and Larry Bird: Wade stole New Jersey's final inbounds pass with nine tenths of a second left in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to send the Nets packing. Move over, Willis Reed: Wade did you one better, marching dramatically onto the court in the second half of a vital opening-round Game 5 against Chicago after suffering a hip contusion, then, four weeks later, checking out of a hospital after a night of vomiting caused by a sinus infection to carry the Heat in the series-sealing Game 6 of the conference finals against Detroit.

Yet, the most resounding echo of all, naturally, came at the end. It was Wade who led Miami, down 0--2 in the Finals and about to be buried, out of a 13-point hole with 6:15 to play in Game 3. It was Wade who wound up with 15 points in the fourth quarter, 42 overall, Wade who stole Dirk Nowitzki's inbounds pass with three tenths of a second left to put a boot to the Mavericks' throat. In the Heat sweep to follow, the Chicago-born, Jordan-worshipping Wade made it safe, for perhaps the first time since number 23 retired, to compare a guard with Michael and not risk embarrassment. At every pivotal point in Miami's oddly flawed playoff run, Wade had lifted his play to a personal high. But in those final four games--with every Dallas player, coach and fan keying on him--he punctuated a rise unlike any the league has seen, averaging 39.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals. No other player, in his first three NBA seasons, has scored more postseason points. No other player has come close.

"He just went off the charts," says former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, now a consultant with the team. "Dwyane literally for six weeks played the game at a level that almost no one's ever played at. I don't know that Jordan ever played a better Finals. He's the best in the league right now, and the winning is what sets him apart from the other perimeter guys. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony are great and may eventually lead teams to championships. But the difference between Dwyane and Kobe is that when the Lakers won [three championships], Kobe had a huge part of it--but Shaq was the lead guy. Last season Dwyane was the lead guy. He led them to a championship."

But it's not Wade's way to admit such a thing or concern himself--even as he and his teammates hugged and danced after the Game 6 clincher--with what any of it meant. For so long basketball had been his way to escape a legacy, not build one. "Thirteen points down with six minutes to go? That's not life or death," Wade says. "I've been through more than anybody knows. To me this is joy. This is when I can let it all out. This is my time."

So, yes, even as the ball plunged to the arena floor, sportswriters hit the keyboards, message boards hummed, talking heads babbled: The atmosphere of Sportsland was suddenly charged with a sense of revival. Wade had done it all again on this night--36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals--and would be named Finals MVP, but he'd also made winning a title as much about a franchise, a city, as himself. Who does that anymore? "I have my favorite players," says Denver Nuggets coach George Karl. "For a long time they were John Stockton, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan. Now my favorite player to watch on film is Dwyane Wade. He plays the game the right way.... His spirit, his presence is fun to watch. He doesn't cheat the game with emotion or negative energy. He's always visibly focused, disciplined and team."

Wade had spoken all season about winning a title for old-timers Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton, and now they had their rings. Coach Pat Riley, a onetime burnout case who hadn't won a championship in 18 years and had been vilified for replacing Van Gundy six weeks into the season, now stood vindicated. And a league that, in comparison with its glorious past, had been found wanting at last had the real deal: a throwback star with crossover cachet and 21st-century moves. For all that, not to mention the emotional vein tapped in South Florida's notoriously fractured populace, some 250,000 of whom would gather three days later for the team's victory rally in a resurging downtown Miami, Wade has been named SI's 2006 Sportsman of the Year.

Such praise is pleasant, of course. Wade likes it. If a coach, a league, even a city, can feel renewed through his actions, wonderful. But on that night in Dallas a woman stood wide-eyed as her son became a champion, and hers was the rebirth that mattered most. Jolinda Wade, recovering drug addict and onetime fugitive from the law, saw Wade scream and the ball come down and felt it very hard to breathe. How did I get here? she thought. How in God's name did we get here?

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No, you can't come with me, his older sister would say. This was 1988, on Chicago's South Side, and six-year-old Dwyane kept begging to come along."Don't follow me, now," Tragil would say. "Stay home!" Then she would bang out the door of their first-floor apartment into the Englewood neighborhood's rough vibe, an 11-year-old girl wanting a little time on her own. Off she'd walk, sometimes down 59th, sometimes down Prairie, one block,two blocks....

"Hey, someone's following you," people would shout, smirking, and she'd whirl around and look: nothing. But she knew Dwyane was there. He was always there.Tragil had no say in that, not for a while; it was she who taught Dwyane to read and fight, she who wiped snot from his nose, she who often as not mixed the pork and beans with whatever was handy to make dinner--if there were any pork or beans to be had. A welfare life they lived, surviving on food stamps and government-issued cheese. Every so often she'd try to leave him with their barely awake mother or the two older sisters who came and went, but little Dwyane would have none of that. He had to be with her. He had to be just like her. Soon after Tragil went out the door, he'd race outside, zip across the street, hide behind trash cans or parked cars whenever she checked over her shoulder--until, too far from home to be sent back, he'd finally pop out behind her, all cocky. She had to take him with her.

"It became a joke; every time she'd leave she'd think I was following her--even when I wasn't," Dwyane says. "That was my favorite: just the whole chasin', knowing that she loved me and knowing she was willing to have me around. She wanted to have fun with her friends, but I didn't have friends. I wanted to run with her."

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 fiancée, 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."

"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."
Dwyane Wade

 

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.

"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.

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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.

"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 news people 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 awhile. 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.

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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."

That day, Dwyane says, changed everything. In late 2003 Jolinda began studying to become a Baptist pastor and in June '05 qualified for her license to preach (she will be officially ordained next month). Dwyane, by then completing his second NBA season, had bought her a house near his outside Chicago, talked to her daily, became stronger spiritually under her guidance. "Once the breakthrough came, so many positive changes happened in him," Siohvaughn says. "It really was like a domino effect. His reverence for God, for family; his priorities kind of shifted. It's not that he wasn't still driven, but his foundation was built all over again."

Jolinda says she has been clean for five years now and counting. "It wouldn't be fair to say 'That Thing' don't come back and talk to you," she says. "Alcohol comes back, heroin's voice comes back, and they all run together. But it's what you do with the voice when it comes. I don't listen to it today." And when Wade sees his mother preaching, when he sees what she has become after years of wandering lost? More than the NBA title, the individual awards, the fame and the money, that sight means the most to him. She is his hero.

That's why, for Dwyane and all the Wades, a miracle isn't some tale of the supernatural. It's real. It has a face. Even Crean, the Marquette coach, realized that when he saw mother and son hugging and crying in the empty locker room at Bradley Center after the big win over Cincinnati. Crean went off to address the media, and as he was finishing Wade appeared. No one else there knew Jolinda's story, but Dwyane hadn't hustled her out a backdoor. No, head high, Dwyane had his right arm around his mother's shoulders and held her hand with his left. Everyone turned to look. "He wanted to show his mother off," Crean says now. The coach felt his eyes filling. He rushed out, hoping no one would see.

On a cool Thursday afternoon in November, Dwyane and Tragil and Siohvaughn are sitting at a long table inside a gymnasium at the Miami Rescue Mission, flanked by Heat teammates and their spouses. Overtown now has some of the marks of Englewood then: Bleary-eyed men walking zigzag, sad-looking buildings, an emptiness that feels like a threat. But on this day the crowd is moving in orderly lines,women mostly, some weary, some defiant and proud, as the world champions handout Thanksgiving turkeys. At one point Dwyane rises from his seat and wades into a pack of screaming children. He picks up one girl, her hair in white-beaded braids, and squeezes her close as she tucks her face into his shoulder.

When he comes back Dwyane exchanges stories with Tragil about their own days like this,lining up with their grandmother in church or at a grocery store, so excited to be getting something, anything, they didn't have at home. "It takes me back," he says. "It always does."

The day after Miami had drafted her brother with the No. 5 pick in June 2003 and Dwyane had taken his first trip on a private jet, Tragil was in his suite at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Biscayne Bay taking pictures, staring at little islands in the turquoise water far below. There had been a whirl of meetings and handshakes and a flood of information about his new team and town, but finally they were alone. "Dude," Tragil said slowly, as if trying out the words, "you're going to be a millionaire."

Dwyane blinked. "Say that again."

"You're going to be ... a millionaire."

"Oh, my God."

Before the Heat,Wade's only other employer had been a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Robbins. His first check was for $120. His first NBA check? "50-something thousand dollars," he says. "You know how you go home and lie down on the couch and watch TV all day? I was looking at my check all day, just sitting and looking at it. A lot of thoughts were going through my head, like, Man, my father didn't make this in a year, maybe even two. I'm making this in just a two-week span?"

But, when you have it, money carries nowhere near the psychic weight that it does when you don't. Sooner than he could imagine, Wade's amazement faded; in fact, in July he signed a three-year contract extension that, including an option for a fourth year, could pay him up to $62 million. (This season he's making $3.84 million with a pretax 10%, $384,000 going to his church in Chicago.) "God has blessed me with so many great earthly things," Wade says. "It seemed so dark for 21 years, and then I've come into this newfound money and life and excitement. It's scary because once you get to the point where you're so high? There's nowhere else for you to go but down. Will I fall? How hard is that fall going to be? What is going to come with that fall?"

No one close to Wade is nearly that worried about his future. For the last decade he has lived by a strict code: His mother did drugs, drank and smoked; Dwyane doesn't do any of that. His parents split up when he was a baby, leaving him without a father during his formative years; Dwyane married Siohvaughn after she became pregnant and spent part of his time in college raising a son. "A lot of times I'll look at that and say, 'Was that a good idea though?'" Tragil says of starting a family so young. "I tell him to think about it: You can't fix what happened to us with your own life."

But damned if Wade isn't going to try. He gave Zaire the middle name of Blessing, and Siohvaughn is expecting their second child. Just as he believes in the salvation of family, Wade is clear-sighted about the work it takes to keep the family whole. For high school sweethearts, sharing a lifetime together is hard enough without adding the explosive properties of fame, big money and a parade of groupies. "I pray," Siohvaughn says. "I do a lot of praying."

"If she wasn't scared she wouldn't have feelings," Wade says. "If it was the other way around, and she blew up famous? I'd be nervous. It's my job to keep her not scared; I've got to let her know that I'm here for her just like she's always been there for me. Hopefully it's forever. You take those vows, you say forever, you want it to be forever. I know things happen. A lot of people say, 'Don't you wish, when you came in the league, that you were single in Miami?' You know what? There's times in a young man's life when you want freedom, when you want to be by yourself, but I also understand when times get hard--because they do get hard--she's always there to back me up. She's always there to hug me and say, 'It's going to be O.K.' Those are the moments I look at her and know: It's all worth it."

But here's the factor, more than any other, that may decide if Dwyane Wade can survive even success: he likes difficulty. Ease makes him anxious. Perfect makes him squirm.But set him up with an early childhood from hell? Put him in a two-game hole in the Finals? He dares you to doubt him. Last month injuries to Shaq and Jason Williams sent Miami into free fall. With Wade carrying the load alone, the Heat went 7-9, lost to the lowly New York Knicks by 24 at home, gave no hint of a champion's edge. Publicly, Wade pronounced himself frustrated. But he was far from unhappy.

"To me, it's the bad moments that make a person," he says. "You're going to fall.It's how you get up that defines you as a man. Anybody can be great in life when things are going good. What about when things are going bad? This is what I like because this is how I'll know what kind of team I have. This is how I know what kind of player I am. How are we going to find a way to overcome this?That's going to decide whether we're a championship team and whether I'm a good player or great. I love it. It's my life."

MY SPORTSMAN

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How the Sportsman covers break down by sport

12
Baseball
The Yanks have won 10 World Series since 1954, but a bomber has yet to be aSportsman

Johnny Podres, 1955
Stan Musial, 1957
Sandy Koufax, 1965
Carl Yastrzemski, 1967
Tom Seaver, 1969
Pete Rose, 1975
Willie Stargell, 1979
Orel Hershiser, 1988
Carl Ripken Jr., 1995
Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, 1998
Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, 2001

6
Track And Field
Champions include the first four-minute miler and a future Congressman.

Roger Bannister, 1954
Bobby Morrow, 1956
Rafer Johnson, 1958
Jim Ryun, 1966
Mary Decker, 1983
Edwin Moses, 1984

6
Golf
The Golden Bear has the most majors, but Tiger is the only two-timeSportsman.

Arnold Palmer, 1960
Ken Venturi, 1964
Lee Trevino, 1971
Jack Nicklaus, 1978
Tiger Woods, 1996
Tiger Woods, 2000

5
Pro Basketball
A pair of guards has risen above the dominance of the game's big men

Bill Russell, 1968
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1985
Michael Jordan, 1991
Tim Duncan, David Robinson, 2003
Dwyane Wade, 2006

5
Pro Football
Only quarterbacks (three) have been recognized for on-field performance

Pete Rozelle, 1963
Terry Bradshaw, 1979
Joe Montana, 1990
Don Shula, 1993
Tom Brady, 2005

3
Hockey
Two of Canada's alltime greats were joined by the first team to be selected

Bobby Orr, 1970
U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, 1980
Wayne Gretzky, 1982

3
Boxing
A Swede and a sweet-swinging champ in five weight classes bookend theGreatest

Ingemar Johansson, 1959
Muhammad Ali, 1974
Sugar Ray Leonard, 1981

3
College Basketball
Two coaching legends were honored for their career excellence

Jerry Lucas, 1961
John Wooden, 1972
Dean Smith, 1997

3
Tennis
Hats off to the first two Sportswomen and an eloquent spokesman about AIDS

Billie Jean King, 1972
Chris Evert, 1976
Arthur Ashe, 1992

2
College Football
The last Sportsman to go to a college athlete? It happened four decadesago.

Terry Baker, 1962
Joe Paterno, 1986

2
Cycling
The only Americans to win the Tour de France rode away with the amphora aswell

Greg LeMond, 1989
Lance Armstrong, 2002

6
Other Sports
Winners ranged from a 17-year-old jockey to a group honored for good deeds

Jackie Stewart, 1973
Steve Cauthen, 1977
Mary Lou Retton, 1984
Athletes Who Care, 1987
Bonnie Blair, Johann Olav Koss, 1994
U.S. Women's Soccer Team, 1999

PHOTOS

A photo gallery of Dwyane Wade and all 53 Sportsmancovers at SI.com/sportsm

 

"WHEN DWYANE GETS ON THE COURT, I CAN SEE THE HUNGER IN HIS FACE,"SAYS PAYTON. "HE WANTS TO WIN. HE WANTS TO KILL YOU."

THE TWO KIDS WOULD RUSTLE UP TO JOLINDA TO WATCH TV, TRAGIL STARING AT THECOSBY SHOW AND THINKING, I WANT THAT.

IF DWYANE COULD ONLY BREAK OUT BIG--IF HIS MOTHER COULD ONLY SEE HIM DOSOMETHING SPECIAL--MAYBE HE COULD SAVE HER.

"TOUGHEN UP," DWYANE'S DAD, A FORMER U.S. ARMY SERGEANT, COMMANDED."NO MERCY," SAYS SIOHVAUGHN. "I FELT SORRY FOR HIM."

"AS MUCH ACCLAIM AS [WADE] GETS," SAYS VAN GUNDY, "HE WILL NOT LETHIS VOICE RISE ABOVE SHAQ'S AND WILL LET SHAQ BE THE MAN."

"IT'S THE BAD MOMENTS THAT MAKE A PERSON," SAYS WADE. "YOU'RE GOINGTO FALL. IT'S HOW YOU GET UP THAT DEFINES YOU."

 

PHOTOPhotograph by WALTER IOOSS JR. PHOTOCOURTESY OF TRAGIL WADELONGSHOT
Before moving in with his dad, Wade (below, at 9) had always been around womenand preferred jump rope to jumpers.
PHOTOBOB ROSATOWHITEHOT
Even Jordan didn't have a four-game Finals' drive like that of Wade, whoaveraged a shade under 40 points in Games 3 through 6.
PHOTOWALTER IOOSS JR.HOMEAND AWAY
Tragil and Dwyane Sr. have moved to Miami while Jolinda (inset) has remained inChicago with her church.
PHOTOMICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/ 1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY [See Caption Above.] FIFTY-SIX PHOTOSBRIAN LANKER (GRETZKY, DECKER, LEMOND, SMITH, SCHILLING/JOHNSON); WALTER IOOSS JR. (TREVINO, BRADSHAW/STARGELL, MOSES/RETTON, MCGWIRE/SOSA); MICHAEL MARK ABRAHAMS/PMI NY (U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM); THOMAS B. ALLEN (PALMER); NEAL BARR (BAKER); PHIL BATH (MORROW); RICH CLARKSON (RYUN); PIER CONSAGRA (HERSHISER); S. MCCORMACK/HOLOGRAPHIC PHOTO (JORDAN); MANNY MILLAN (LEONARD); PETER READ MILLER (MONTANA); RONALD C. MODRA (PATERNO); MARVIN E. NEWMAN (OKLAHOMA FROM 1957 COVER); O'NEILL (ASHE, BLAIR/KOSS, RIPKEN, DUNCAN/ROBINSON); LANE STEWART (ROSE, NICKLAUS, 1980 OLYMPIC MEDALS); JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN (MUSIAL, RAFER JOHNSON, JOHANNSSON); JAMES DRAKE (RUSSELL, SEAVER); STEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGE (WOODEN, KING); RICHARD MEEK (PODRES AND VASE FROM 1957 COVER); TONY TRIOLO (ORR, STEWART) ANTHONY EDGEWORTH (CAUTHEN); GRAHAM FINLAYSON (EVERT); RICHARD HESS (ATHLETES WHO CARE); ROBERT HUNTZINGER (KOUFAX); LYNN JOHNSON (BRADY); FRED KAPLAN (YASTRZEMSKI); JONAS KARLSSON (ARMSTRONG); MARK KAUFFMAN (BANNISTER); HEINZ KLUETMEIER (U.S. OLYMPIC HOCKEY TEAM); NEIL LEIFER (ALI); JAY MAISEL (VENTURI); GERARD RANCINAN (WOODS 2000); ROBERT RIGER (SCHAEFFLER FROM 1957 COVER); LARRY RIVERS (ABDUL-JABBAR); BEN ROSE (ROZELLE); RED SOX PHOTOMOSAIC BY ROBERT SILVERS/WWW.PHOTOMOSAIC.COM (PHOTOS BY SPORTS ILLUSTRATED/AP/GETTY IMAGES); MARK SUMMERS (SHULA); LAUREN URAM (WOODS 1996); ROBERT WEAVER (LUCAS)
PHOTODARREN HAUCK/APCOMING-OUT PARTY
Three days after she was released from prison, Wade's mom saw her son leadMarquette to an epic victory.
PHOTOSTEVE GRANITZ/WIREIMAGE.COMGOINGHOLLYWOOD
Wade married his high school sweetheart, Siohvaughn, with whom he enjoyed thepost-title, red-carpet treatment.
PHOTOERIC GAY/APRINGINGENDORSEMENT
Shaq backed Wade as Finals MVP; in October (inset), Riley presented champions'jewelry to his star.
PHOTOCARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS[See Caption Above.] PHOTOWILFREDO LEE/APTHAT'SMY BOY
Among his many blessings, Dwyane counts Zaire Blessing Dwayne Wade, 3, as oneof his biggest.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)