Miami Heat point guard Dwyane Wade was never concerned that he and NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal wouldn't get along as teammates. Growing up on the tough side of Chicago where drug dealers and gang members commanded every corner, Wade developed the street smarts of going along to get along as soon as he learned to walk. "I just wanted Shaq to come so I could learn and get better as a player," Wade said recently over iced tea at a downtown Miami restaurant. "Nothing else mattered to me. Just getting better and winning."
Wade, 23, has achieved both those goals at warp speed. During the past two weeks, the Marquette alum has been one of the standout stars of the NBA playoffs: in the team's first-round sweep of the New Jersey Nets, Wade averaged 26.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists. Those numbers only got better in the second-round series against the Washington Wizards, where he's averaging 30 points and 13 assists. And all this with little help from O'Neal, who's been hobbled by a deep thigh bruise since the playoffs began and sat out the entire third game of the Washington series. "It's funny, all the talk about me overshadowing Shaq," says Wade. "I'm just playing the game and doing what I have do like everyone else on this team. We have an objective, and it's to win."
Wade's talent and attitude were exactly what appealed to O'Neal in South Beach last summer after he got traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to Miami. Hoping to find another young player with the talent and skill of his former teammate Kobe Bryant--minus the cocky disposition and self-absorption--O'Neal thought Wade could be the perfect fit. "I knew they were going to trade me so I had time to think about it," says O'Neal. "There were only two places I wanted to go. To Dallas because I like the owner, Mark Cuban, and to Miami--because of DWade."
Wade was picked fifth overall by Miami in the 2003 draft, after the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Darko Milicic. Away from the glare of the spotlight, Wade more than thrived his rookie year--taking his Miami Heat team from 25-57 the year before to 42-40 and deep into the second round of the playoffs. Nicknamed "Flash" for his explosive moves to the basket, Wade hardly conforms to the flashy, over-the-top partying image of many NBA stars. He married Siohvaughn, his high-school sweetheart, in 2002 and is the father of a 2-year-old son, Zaire. Wade modestly claims his early and frequent exposure on ESPN's nightly highlight reel was due in great part to O'Neal's formidable presence on and off the court.
For his part, O'Neal claims not to be bothered by having to once again share the spotlight with a younger player, this one attractive enough to be named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People." "Hey, I know I'm getting older and winding down," says Shaq. "But I feel good because this kid did it the right way; he went to college, he's humble and it's not all show for him." "This kid gets it," he adds, in a thinly disguised shot at Bryant.
Wade's parents divorced when he was 8. Without a father figure, the harsh streets of his neighborhood held a strong allure. "Many in my family were gang members," remembers Wade. "I grew up around that, but my older sister, Tragil, made sure I didn't get involved. She was always around, leading me out of the way of trouble and making sure I did what I was supposed to." To play basketball as a youngster, Wade and a cousin would wait until after midnight to avoid running into dope dealers on the corners and on the courts.
Low SAT scores limited Wade's college options and he entered Marquette as a partial qualifier in 2000, forcing him to sit out his freshman year on the squad. But by his sophomore year, Wade was posting a 3.0 grade-point average and leading the basketball team in scoring and assists. He left for the NBA in his junior year and now, in his second season, is looking to add some champion-ship bling to his expanding jewelry collection.
"Dwyane is Michael Corleone," says O'Neal, a fan of "The Godfather" films. "He's the real deal so he can handle his business by himself. I don't have to worry."
So would that make Kobe Fredo, or Sonny?