From Robbins to the NBA, Dwyane Wade got to Hall of Fame doing it his way

Wade was confident and ambitious going all the way back to when he played at Richards High School, but he never imagined this.

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Dwyane Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union sitting courtside at the recent WNBA All-Star Game.

Dwyane Wade, from Robbins, will go into the Hall of Fame on Saturday as a 13-time all-star, three-time champion and Olympic gold medalist.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The extraordinary career that took Dwyane Wade to three NBA championships, an Olympic gold medal and now basketball’s highest honor never seemed normal to him. It still doesn’t.

As Lisa Salters introduced him at an event for incoming Hall of Famers, the ever-cool Wade looked almost jittery. She hailed him as a kid from Chicago’s South Side, and he interjected an emphatic, elongated “Yeahhh.” When she asked if he could describe his journey from Robbins to Marquette to the Heat, he responded simply, “No.”

He’ll be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Saturday in a class that includes Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich, and he kept calling it “surreal.” He was confident and ambitious going all the way back to when he played at Richards High School, but he never imagined this.

“I’ll have to take a little time away once I leave this weekend and really sit out on the beach somewhere and just look around and be like, ‘What? Me? Huh?’ ” Wade said Friday at the Mohegan Sun casino. “I’m still that kid that don’t even understand why I’m here.”

To everyone else, it’s obvious.

Wade left no doubt about his stature and retired in 2019 as the third-greatest shooting guard of all time behind Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. He was a 13-time All-Star, won a championship with the Heat in his third season and orchestrated what he called “the biggest team in the world” with LeBron James and Chris Bosh to capture two more.

He used that platform to launch himself, along with his wife, Gabrielle Union, into activism, fashion and ownership stakes in the Sky and Jazz. At 41, there’s no telling what his post-basketball life will encompass.

But this weekend is about how he got here, not what he’ll do next, and he has labored over a speech that encapsulates his climb from a challenging childhood to global fame.

“This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do when it comes to writing,” said Wade, who will be introduced by Allen Iverson. “I actually just changed some stuff right before I came here. I hope I didn’t mess it up.”

Richards would be a good place to start, and his arrival there was as unlikely as him making it to Marquette or getting drafted fifth overall by the Heat. Wade’s dad wanted him at basketball powerhouse Young, but he insisted on following his brother Demetris McDaniel to Richards.

Even there, he wasn’t an immediate star. Coach Jack Fitzgerald kept him on the freshman-sophomore team at first, so he could be a ball-dominant scorer, which helped him develop the template for how he’d shine on the varsity.

“My friends still give me a hard time: ‘How the hell did you keep him down there?’ ” Fitzgerald said. “He grew down there. He became a scorer. He grew up with kids his age, and then he was ready to go.”

Fitzgerald, who will attend the enshrinement, described Wade as a lovable kid — “Not a high-maintenance player or person,” he said — and Wade credited him for teaching a work ethic that maximized his talent.

“To have my jersey retired at Richards — amazing, because it wasn’t a basketball school, but we made it a basketball school,” Wade said. “A lot of who I am and how I approach things is how I was raised and what I’ve seen. Chicago has a big part of that, and Richards High is a big part of that.

“They gave me the jersey; they gave me the opportunity. The coach coached me; he didn’t just let me show up. He stayed on me because he saw a side of me that I didn’t even know I had.”

He still went relatively under the radar as a college prospect and was hampered by failing to get a qualifying score on the ACT. Nonetheless, Tom Crean was determined to recruit him.

Crean brought Wade in as an NCAA Proposition 48 athlete, meaning he was academically ineligible his first year with an opportunity to qualify while on scholarship. He was believed to be Marquette’s first Prop 48 recruit. Now he’s the program’s first player to go to the Hall of Fame.

“When [coaches] heard I was struggling with my ACT, that phone stopped ringing and those letters stopped coming,” said Wade, who also was interested in DePaul and Illinois. “Marquette stayed through it all.”

He added that he got a lot of strange looks when he told friends he was going there.

“I’m very thankful to represent this university that a lot of people in my hometown didn’t even know existed,” Wade said. “When I said I was committing to Marquette, they said, ‘Where is that?’ I’m like, ‘It’s right up the street.’ ”

After leading Marquette to the Final Four, Wade went fifth in the epic 2003 draft that included James at No. 1 and Carmelo Anthony at No. 3. After Bosh went fourth, the Heat landed a player who redefined their franchise.

Wade announced himself by pushing the Heat to the second round of the playoffs and was voted unanimously to the All-Rookie team. He became an elite scorer and paired with Shaquille O’Neal to take down Nowitzki’s Mavericks in six games after falling behind 0-2.

Nowitzki got his revenge by thwarting Wade’s super team in the 2011 Finals, and the fractious rivalry could’ve made things awkward this weekend.

“We’ve actually bonded over the last few weeks and months,” Nowitzki said. “There were pretty frosty times between us, but now that the competition is over, there’s an appreciation between us and a respect for each other’s career.”

Wade also battled Popovich, upending the Spurs in 2013, then losing to them in ’14.

“I knew he’d do whatever he needed to do to win,” Popovich said of his respect for Wade as an adversary. “He’s just such a complete player. He’s not a shooter, he’s not a rebounder, he’s not just a passer, he’s not a defender — he’s all those things. You knew that would come back to bite you because he would always do the right thing.”

That ferocity and versatility landed Wade on the 2008 Olympic squad, known as the Redeem Team, and he led it in scoring on the way to gold.

But he was nearly left out. USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo, a fellow Chicagoan, wanted him but was concerned about his recovery from knee and shoulder surgeries. After watching him work out in Chicago, he was unconvinced, but it was worth the risk.

“He may have been our very best player,” Colangelo said. “Without him, we would not have won.”

Wade hopped to the Bulls for one exasperating season and the Cavaliers late in his career before returning to Miami, where he holds virtually every franchise record.

He’s 32nd on the NBA’s all-time scoring list at 23,165 points, but, as Popovich noted, he was far more than a scorer. At 5.4 assists per game, he’s nearly even with Parker, a lifelong point guard.

And he got there uniquely, especially in the second half of his career, by going against the trend of the three-point-driven game. That simply wasn’t his strength. Wade found his niche as a midrange player at a time when the rest of the league was moving away from that.

“Something I love about my career is that I did it in so many different ways,” he said. “I may not be the greatest at any one of them, but . . . I did it all.”

It’s rare, and that’s fitting. Wade’s story has been uncommon going all the way back to Robbins, and Saturday will be the celebration of a truly exceptional career.

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