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Dwyane Wade, active and comfortable in retirement, talks Jordan, Kobe and LeBron

Three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade is living a full life in retirement, holding an ownership stake in the Utah Jazz and publishing a new memoir. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
12 min

Nearly three years into retirement, Dwyane Wade seems fully at peace with his place in the NBA’s pantheon.

In contrast to Scottie Pippen, who spent a recent book tour rehashing old grudges with Michael Jordan, the Miami Heat legend and three-time champion sounds fulfilled and future-focused, with a clear-eyed self-perception.

“Michael Jordan separated himself,” Wade said by telephone last week. “LeBron James separated himself. I’m not in the [greatest of all time] conversation with those guys. I grew up in Chicago. Michael Jordan was the lifeline for me and my brothers when we didn’t even have food to eat. Michael Jordan is the first iconic figure in this game, the one who took this game to heights it had never been to.

“I feel like we all have generational GOATs. In my generation, that is my GOAT. It’s going to be Kobe [Bryant] and LeBron as the new generation’s GOATs, and that’s okay. It’s okay not to have one GOAT. Everyone doesn’t have to be on the same page.”

Although Wade, who was recently named to the NBA’s 75th anniversary team, is willing to opt out of the endless legacy debates, he has taken an ambitious — and Jordanesque — approach to retirement. Calling ownership the “pinnacle of pro sports,” the 39-year-old business mogul added to his wide-ranging portfolio by purchasing a stake in the Utah Jazz in April. Meanwhile, he has made a smooth transition to life as a commentator for TNT and maintains an entertaining social media presence with his wife, actress Gabrielle Union, and children.

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In “Dwyane,” his new photographic memoir, Wade narrates a behind-the-scenes look at his career and flashes the charisma that has served him well in his life after basketball. After contemplating retirement in 2015 because injuries made “every move hurt,” Wade rejiggered his training routines and held on until 2019, when the future first-ballot Hall of Famer left on his own terms.

“The only thing that’s holding you back from doing more [off the court] is being here,” he said, recalling his thought process as his 16-year career wound down. “The only reason you’re here is because this is your comfort zone. I was ready.”

Wade spoke to The Washington Post about the adjustments of aging, the highs and lows of the “Heatles” era with James, the time he broke Bryant’s nose and more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You write in the book, “I earned every single last one of those free throws in that 2006 Finals.” Does the perception of the officiating in that series — which capped your first title run — bother you?

A: It bothered me when I was young. It doesn’t bother me today. When you talk about the 2006 Finals, it’s obviously a part of the conversation.

Earning free throws is not always about the actual defender fouling while you’ve got the ball. Sometimes it’s a mind game. As a young player, I earned every free throw because I was playing mind games. Once I start getting those calls that no one thought I deserved, I knew how to attack it to where they would get angry and foul me more.

Q: This season the NBA has instructed referees to stop calling fouls on “non-basketball moves” such as arm hooking and pump-faking and jumping into a defender. A couple of stars have complained. Do you like the game better with these rule changes?

A: I’m not playing anymore, so it’s easy for me to like it. The game has got to keep going and evolving. It’s on the league to do it, and rules are a big part of that. Guys are going to complain about it, and it ain’t going to change.

When I became an older player, the things that I counted on — when I’m driving and you’ve got your hand on my hip and I go up for my shot and I make it look like more than what it is — they stopped calling that. The hits on my elbow that I used to get, they stopped calling that. The rules started to change, and it frustrated me. My average went from like 24 points to 19 because I was missing out on those free throws. It’s frustrating, but ultimately you understand the game keeps evolving and it keeps changing.

Q: Maybe the most famous foul of your career came when you broke Kobe Bryant’s nose during the 2012 All-Star Game. What do you remember about that play and your conversation with him afterward?

A: When I play basketball, I’m a different person on the floor — just like most of the guys who play, especially the ones who are great. They tap into something else. Off the court, I think I’m a very nice man, a nice person. On the court, I have a mean streak.

Kobe and I were having a little All-Star Game battle. I was in the post and he was hitting me a little way, grabbing me and fouling me. I didn’t think that was necessary. When we got on the other end, I was trying to foul him hard just like I felt he was doing to me. The refs weren’t calling it. I wanted the refs to see it.

Of course you don’t go out there to break someone’s nose. I ended up hitting him in the wrong spot and broke his nose. I felt so bad. We were going to L.A. a couple days after that. I called him and was like: “I’m a competitor and I don’t back down from no one, but I didn’t mean to break your nose. I apologize.”

As Kobe Bryant would do, he was like: “I love it. Don’t worry about it. I’ll see you in a couple days.” The conversation was very short. [laughs]

Q: The book devotes a lot of time to your health and treatment routines and how you managed injuries, played through pain and adjusted your game. You were still averaging 15 points per game when you retired at 37 and could have played another season. Was there an “I just can’t do this anymore” moment that led you to step away in 2019?

A: It’s funny how things work. I went through a point in my career, after going to the Finals every year, where my body started breaking down. After LeBron left [the Heat] in 2014, I decided to give it one more go. I felt so bad that year. I had a solid year, but everything hurt. Every move hurt. My knees were in trouble. I didn’t like it. I remember talking to my business manager and saying: “I don’t know if I’m going to keep going. I think I might retire. I think I may be done.”

Long story short, I wind up getting with another trainer, changing the way I did things, adding all these people to my team, doing yoga and everything. I end up feeling better and better. Once I got to my last year, I actually didn’t feel bad; I just didn’t have the explosiveness or quickness because I was older. You start questioning yourself a little bit" “Hmm, should I [keep playing]?” But it was time for me to move out of the way.

Q: You played with LeBron James during his athletic prime. He’s 36 now and has dealt with a few minor injuries to start this season. Are you sensing that he has reached the point where he has to adjust his game like you did as you got older?

A: Well, yeah, he’s definitely going to have to. He’s reached that point of adjustments to his game. He will continue to have explosive moments. He does things in Year 19 that some guys don’t do in Year 1. It’s amazing. But in the midst of all that — and God has blessed him so much, and he’s done an amazing job of keeping himself super, super healthy — there’s certain things you can’t control. As you get older, there’s certain things your body doesn’t want to do.

These little knickknack injuries, that’s how it started with me. Then it turns into bigger injuries. Eventually it gets on your nerves. It’s not from a lack of being able to play basketball. I didn’t lose my talent. I just lost other things that helped my talents become great, and I didn’t want to do it anymore.

If anybody is going to figure out how to stop these knickknack injuries from becoming something bigger, it’s LeBron James. But also, it’s going to come to a point in time when LeBron decides for himself that, not because of talent, he doesn’t want to go through everything it takes to prepare for that night.

Q: You and LeBron James teamed up as 2010 free agents, and you famously told him in 2011 that he needed to be the leader of the Miami Heat and then you won two titles together. What advice would you give to Russell Westbrook in his first year with the Lakers? What’s the secret to playing with LeBron James?

A: The secret? I don’t know if I have a secret. It was a different time. For me, it was about championships at that point of my career. I didn’t care about individual stats. I just came off a year in 2008-09 where I thought I should have been MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, and I didn’t get either one of them. I stopped caring about individual stats because I realized that didn’t mean anything.

What I did love and enjoy the most was winning. If winning means that I had to get talked about on TV because I didn’t average 27 points anymore because I was down to 22, then so be it. It was just about finding my role and how I could best help this team and keeping my confidence and my swagger where it needed to be. Everyone has a role to play, and you’ve got to master your role.

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Q: How long did it take you to get over the 2011 Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks? And, because so many people were upset by it, what’s your version of events when you and LeBron James coughed in the hallway because Dirk Nowitzki was sick during that series?

A: That process took until we got back to the Finals again. It was that long. You carry that thing. You don’t let it go. Do you get into the season and try to put it behind you? Yeah, but it burns inside you 1,000 percent.

The coughing incident was just being young. Taking something that you didn’t think was as serious — and it was serious from the standpoint of sickness and health — and just being a young kid and making fun of something. Trying to get a laugh or do something to the camera.

I don’t even like looking at the clip. I would tell my son not to do something like that. It wasn’t anything personal [toward Nowitzki]; it was just in the moment of the media trying to come up with stories. Kind of making fun of it, “Okay, he’s sick, all right; what other excuse are you going to give him?” It became a big thing. Do you mean to do something like that in the moment? Probably not, but you did it. You take it on the chin and move on.

Q: You clearly relished matchups with stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. But who did you hate playing against?

A: I would give that to Lance Stephenson. Old “blow in your ear” Lance Stephenson. He was just a headache. He just did little things that pissed you off, and it had nothing to do with basketball. Once you realized what he was doing, you were able to adjust, but there were moments when he would get under your skin. I’d give that title to “Make ’em dance Lance.”

Q: You purchased an ownership stake in the Jazz, and your family went viral recently for celebrating when your son, Zaire, was drafted by Utah’s G League affiliate. What was it like to share that experience with him?

A: It was a big moment for our family. My son will tell his own story one day, but it’s been a journey. It hasn’t been as easy as people want to make it seem for a kid who has a father that plays basketball. At the end of the day, I couldn’t draft him. I could only put him in a position to be drafted. He had to go out and work and get drafted himself.

I’m thankful that the Salt Lake City Stars wanted to see this young player who they felt had an opportunity to grow and develop in our system. He’s my son. There’s a little DNA in there. Maybe something comes out of it, right?

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