It would be easy to forget about Dwyane Wade’s Chicago roots. Not only does he play for the Miami Heat, arguably one of the Chicago Bulls’ biggest rivals, but as a nine-time NBA All-Star, scoring champion and defensive force, he has helped the team win three NBA championships — including the 2013 trophy, taking down a tough-as-nails Bulls team along the way.
But the Chicago native hasn’t forgotten where he came from — and neither should we.
Though he lives in Miami, he still has one foot firmly planted in his hometown, and he remains committed to making it a better place with his Wade’s World Foundation, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
“I started it as a way to give back to the community, to be the example I always wanted to see and have as a young boy growing up in Chicago,” says Wade, who spent his formative years on the South Side before moving to Robbins and attending Richards High School in Oak Lawn. “Philanthropy is important to me. Without it, there wouldn’t be much progress in this world.”
The Wade’s World Foundation started in 2003 in Chicago, and has since expanded to Milwaukee (where Wade attended Marquette University) and South Florida. It aims to assist at-risk communities and kids via three key initiatives: literacy, health and fatherhood. The organization runs year-round programs, such as basketball camps, partnerships with after-school programs and a holiday event for fathers and sons — and throws a star-studded bash during the NBA All-Star weekend — but its centerpiece is the Wade’s World Weekend. Held here in Chicago Sept. 6-7, the event sees Wade return home to inspire kids and raise funds for the organization. “I love the community-based events,” says Wade. “In the past, we’ve done a talent showcase, a literary contest — these are what I look forward to the most.”
This year, expect plenty of 10th-anniversary enthusiasm. “We’re bringing something new with a community festival,” says Wade of an outdoor Douglas Park event, which follows a festive gala (see below). “It will give everyone a chance to come out and celebrate with us.”
While it’s easy for some celebrities to simply slap their name on an event, that’s not Wade’s style. He’s a constant presence during the weekend, whether he’s presenting awards to local philanthropic leaders or doling out hoops advice to young fans — and he enjoys every minute of it. “I love seeing the looks on kids’ faces at surprise school visits or audience members when they see a great performance from local acts,” he says.
Chicago is a frequent stop for Wade, who is currently spending his off-season months training and traveling. Most of his family, including his mom, lives here. “It’s such an awesome city,” says Wade, adding that he loves to check out new restaurants and hit the stores on Michigan Avenue with his sons, Zaire, 9, and Zion, 4. When it comes to shopping, his sons are in good hands: Wade has become a style icon, having landed on best-dressed lists in both GQ and Esquire and named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People. His free time also allows for extra time with his girlfriend, Gabrielle Union, whom he has been dating since 2007.
While Wade is enjoying the off-season, he’s eager to get back on the court — though he’s aware of the pressures that await. “Coming back as returning champions with most of our guys, we know we have to work much harder,” says Wade. “The pressure will be on for a three-peat, but we have to focus and take it one game at a time.”
Playing in the NBA is a dream come true for Wade, who began shooting hoops as a kid in Chicago. “The courts have always been a sanctuary for me,” he says. “It’s my safe haven for all that’s going on in my world.” But having his fantasy come true involves more than just layups and jump shots. “Having a charity or a foundation was also dream of mine as a young man,” Wade says. “I’m able to live it out, and I’m grateful for that.”
Here’s what you can expect at the upcoming Wade’s World Weekend:
10th anniversary celebration gala: Along with dinner, live entertainment and an auction, Wade will unveil the organization’s “Choose to Live, Live to Dream” initiative and present the 2013 Excellence in Philanthropy award to charitable Chicagoans, including Steve Harvey and his wife, Marjorie. $350-$5,000, Sept. 6, 6:30 p.m. cocktail reception, 8 p.m. dinner. Peninsula Hotel, 108 E. Superior
Live to Dream festival: Wade hosts a free afternoon of events, including entertainment, plus free dental and health screenings and employment opportunities for young adults. Sept. 7, 1-6 p.m., Douglas Park, 1401 S. Sacramento
For more information, visit Wadesworldfoundation.org.
Photos by Dania Graibe