Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade

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as creative consultant for special projects and assigning him to design two off-court fashions sneakers to be launched this spring.

“I write my own ticket,” Wade says. “I sign athletes, look around the league and see whose contract is coming up. I talk to our designers, owners — not just about my brand but about how the overall business of Li-Ning is doing.”

Wade’s journey to this point has been anything but smooth, and its bumps are well chronicled. There was his mother’s drug addiction that landed her in prison; a high divorce profile; and a bitter custody battle for his two young sons Zaire, 11, and Zion, 5. And, of course, there’s that tidal wave of tabloid fodder about his romance with actress Gabrielle Union.

For his part, Wade chalks it all up to the steepest of learning curves: the evolution of a well-intentioned-if-not-naive NBA upstart into worldly business man. To dramatize just how far has traveled, Wade hops up, grabs his iPhone and starts scrolling through pictures. He finds the shot, circa 2003, snapped shortly after he decided to leave Marquette after his junior year to enter the NBA draft. It was around that time that he took a $300,000 advance from his agent and bought, among other things, a pimped-out Cadillac Escalade.

He peers at the photo while laughing: “It was so ghetto-looking: a blue Escalade with the blue 26-inch rims,” he says. “But that’s how I started my [professional] life. As soon as I got my money, I was like, ‘I’m doing what I want.’ I also wanted to fix my credit and make sure my mom had a place to live because she was just out of jail. So that’s what I did.”

He shrugs and adds, deadpan: “Being first-generation rich is tough.”

Wade also wanted to open a Miami sports bar and partnered with a group of local business people to pull it off. The honeymoon into entrepreneurship was short-lived. Before D.Wade’s place served up a single burger, his partners were suing him, demanding more cash, and then he had to walk away from the venture.

In 2010, Wade settled the dispute for an undisclosed amount. Lesson learned: When you’re negotiating a business deal, bring along more than your crew of inexperienced homies. “I didn’t put the right legal team behind me,” he says. “We didn’t do our due diligence.”

He reflects further on this lapses. “When you first come into the league, all you want to do is play basketball, and you don’t think about how important your name is,” Wade says. “You’re on top of your finances and you don’t ask questions because you don’t want to look dumb. But now, I’m asking questions. [Or I say] ‘I don’t understand what this means.’ I mean, it’s my money — I better ask.”

These days, when Wade steps into meetings, he’s fully prepared and engaged whether it’s with sponsors such as beverage giant Gatorade, watchmakers Hublot, snack company Pepperidge Farms or his team at the Dwayne Wade Fantasy Basketball Camp. “Dwayne is a consummate athlete partner,” says Josh Shaw, founder and president of Mission Athletecare, a maker of personal-care products designed by athletes including Wade, who owns shares in the company. “He has great maturity, thoughtfulness and intellect, and he’s always checking in with questions and ideas for improvement.”

D.Wade’s latest Mission innovation: Court Grip, a traction enhancer applied to the bottom of sneakers for indoor athletes, sold in 20,000 U.S. stores. “A lot of courts I go on are slippery, and so I wanted to develop something food for gripping,” Wade says. “The deal with Mission is good because not only am I an equity partner, but I’m also helping build the company.”

In the end, that’s the new philosophy at the center of Wade’s world. “I want more for my line of the Wades coming up: to build a legacy away from basketball,” he says. “And I want to get my passions out. So that’s what I’m doing — more than anyone ever probably thought I would.”