(The Root) — On a recent humid Wednesday evening, 2011 NBA champion Dwyane Wade stepped out of a black Escalade onto Harlem's 116th Street. The Miami Heat baller — dressed in blue denim jeans, sneakers and a snug color-block, long-sleeved shirt — waved to fans who had lined the block to get a glimpse of their athletic hero and later hear him speak inside MIST Harlem, a new event space that hosted a pop-up format of the recently closed neighborhood mainstay, Hue-Man bookstore.
But his words weren't about his knack for converting nearly impossible lay-ups, his actress girlfriend Gabrielle Union or his teammates LeBron James or Chris Bosh. Wade was introducing his heartfelt memoir A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball, in which he chronicles his rise from Chicago's South Side to his current role as a single parent and role model. The hoops star-philanthropist, who also works with President Obama's Fatherhood Initiative campaign, said the project is his way of sharing that "if you're a father, be proud and understand that it's the greatest gift."
Wade had to fight earnestly for the opportunity to be with his two sons, Zaire and Zion. After divorcing Siohvaughn Funches-Wade, his high-school sweetheart and the children's mother, in 2010, he endured a bitter custody battle before gaining full custody the next year. At one point, Funches-Wade filed a $50,000 lawsuit against Union, claiming the actress had caused the children emotional distress. And in June, Wade's ex-wife's visitation rights were suspended when she was arrested for attempted child abduction. He sat down with The Root to talk about his writing process and how "there's never enough you can do" when it comes to encouraging others to reach their potential.
The Root: What was the most personal portion of writing this book?
Dwyane Wade: Sharing and reliving all of your personal stuff. In a sense, it was a little therapeutic because I haven't thought about so much of this for so long. I shed a couple of tears.
TR: Tell me about the writing process with co-author Mim Eichler Rivas.
DW: I liked how she captivated the audience with her earlier novels. She also co-wrote Antwone Fisher's Finding Fish: A Memoir and Chris Gardner's The Pursuit of Happyness. I read those books and liked her writing. It wasn't a series of [tear-jerking interviews] but there were a few [times when I cried], reliving so many moments. But I knew it was all for a good cause. I dealt with so much as a kid and as an adult, people still deal with those things. I wanted to use my experience to shed some light on those situations.
TR: Your mother, Jolinda Wade, struggled with substance abuse and is now clean and a pastor. Looking back, were her struggles a catalyst for your extraordinary achievements?
DW: Yes, I think a lot of us young African-American men who grow up without fathers in the household want to be better. There aren't a lot of successful people in your family so you want to be the first to do something amazing. It's awesome to have that vision. I tell kids, "You can be the first successful one even if no one else in your family is."
TR: What do you hope young African-American men embroiled in the violence in your Chicago hometown take away from this book?
DW: I just hope they understand that I was them. I don't want them to look at the finished product and say, "Aw man, you don't know." I was there, I've walked in those same shoes and it's not an excuse. Everything I've been through had to be for a reason. I know there are men out there now, fighting to be a family or be in their kids' lives. For me [this book is a] platform to share all these different things, and hopefully someone who reads my story of successes and downfalls can try to better themselves. I also wrote this book for my boys. They're young now but when they get older they can understand what happened between their mom and I and what made me who I am.
Hillary Crosley is the New York bureau chief of The Root.