Dwyane Wade: Family matters

After last night’s rout of the vaunted San Antonio Spurs in which Dwyane Wade totaled 29 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two assists, the Sun Sentinal’s Ira Winderman asked the explosive guard what had gotten into him. “Why the pep in the step right now?” inquired Winderman, “is it spring’s arrival?”

There was a pause as Wade calculated his response, but the answer, for LeBron James, was simple: “He’s got his kids, man.”

Dwyane Wade in court, where he fought for three years with his ex-wife Siohvaughn

Wade may not have appreciated James being so forthcoming, and he redirected the conversation to a “re-commitment to the defensive end” and “not laying off the ball too much.” But he also acknowledged the lift that winning custody of his two boys has given him, “having a three year custody battle go away will help that cause as well. I got my boys at home so a lot of good things happened.”

Who knows which side is more important, the more secure connection to his family off the court, or technical on-court adjustments. The fact is that we don’t know, though it seems logical that the conclusion of off court tribulations and stressors might manifest positively on the hardwood.

After the Chicago/Cook County Court’s ruling on Sunday, which will give Wade sole custody of his children (though he still hopes to “foster a healthy relationship” between the boys and his ex wife) Wade remarked “a huge weight is off my back.” Wade has turned in two scintillating performances since his home life has become, at least momentarily, less stressful.

It’s not just the numbers (two 29 point games, loaded stat sheets) that speak to Wade’s improved performance. The exuberance and fearlessness that seemed dormant for stretches this season has resurfaced, and Wade’s all court game has smoldered, materializing in wild blocks from the weakside, daring explosions to the rim and an irrepressible joy in his game.

It’s hard to know precisely how much Wade and the Heat have benefited, if at all, from his reported happiness at home. I’m not a father, and not all NBA parents are so engaged and wrapped up in their kids’ lives as to declare, as Wade did, “you need to fight to be in your kids’ lives sometimes. You fight until you can’t fight any more. That’s all I was trying to be, a father in his kids’ lives.” But I can imagine, through my relationship with my own single father, how deeply Wade’s prolonged separation from his children and all the nasty intrigue that the custody case involved, could impact all aspects of his life.

I was exceptionally fortunate to grow up in two loving homes, with divorced parents that amicably arranged equal custody. Because my parents were only able to see me half of the month, that time was special, sacred even. To this day, I feel guilty if I’m home and not spending every moment possible with one of them, because it was always so important to make the most of the time we had together. I imagine many parents who are constantly on the road might feel an inexpressible sense of relief and security knowing that when he comes home, his kids and his life, will be there.
We rarely acknowledge the strain that NBA life places on players’ families. But it seems logical that the distance and isolation that constant travel and strange hours imposes between players and their loved ones can have at least some effect on any player’s psyche and emotional state.

It is, sadly, naïve to even suggest that all pro ballers value relationships with their children the way Wade appears to, but in judging performance, we too often ignore what we can’t see. That makes sense, it’s not responsible to speculate about a person’s private life. But we know from our own experiences that issues outside of work can gnaw at one’s mind, dulling the psychological and emotional connection to the action in the workplace. If you get in a fight with a loved one, or aren’t able to see the people you love most often enough, would it be surprising if those issues crept into work life?

Of course, there are counterexamples, like when Kobe Bryant played his butt off while commuting between Los Angeles and Colorado to appear in court. Despite quotations that suggest a causal relationship between Wade winning custody and his sparkling play, if he goes 3-14 tomorrow, it would be silly to assert that’s because his kid wouldn’t eat his vegetables. The subjectivity of Wade’s mind and body remains impenetrable to outsiders like me.

Ultimately, from my removed perspective, it’s all too easy, the evidence too circumstantial, to draw a direct connection between a win in the court room, and wins on the basketball court. But if that was the case, it would certainly make sense to me.

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