Dwyane Wade and the Culture of Miami Basketball
I was taught to kick a soccer ball before I could even walk. It’s the way my dad was. He came to America from Cartagena, Colombia as a young man, and the way he made friends was playing soccer. The immigrant story all so common in Miami is about that, bringing with you a part of home as you transplant yourself for a better life. You are alone in a new world, not knowing the language, and in my dad’s case, the only thing he had was sports. So as a baby, and into being an adult, he raised me with that love and culture for fútbol. My mother born in Venezuela but of Italian descent also shared this love for il bel gioco (the beautiful game).
His story is like so many in Miami, where people bring anything that they can to this new place, food, tradition, and yes, sports. So when you have children and build a family, you want to instill these things that helped make up your identity, so that beyond your genetics, the things you loved can live on.
Basketball wasn’t one of those things, and for so many Latinx millennials in Miami, basketball was a found love not an adopted one.
The Miami Heat weren’t something that most Hispanic dads were keeping up with, El Mundial y El Classico was appointment watching in so many Dade-county households. For other families, la pelota (baseball) reigned king, and for the rest, the Dolphins and Hurricanes had built a massive fan base over decades of dominance, parades and undefeated seasons. Basketball wasn’t what it is now back then. The Heat were good, sure. Pat Riley, Timmy Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning had made strides in the city at the old-raggedy Miami Arena, but it wasn’t the event. It wasn’t flying death machine, 27-game win streak or “This is my house.” That was Dwyane, all Dwyane.
As a young Hispanic millennial, I, and so many like me found the game of basketball because of him. His electricity, elasticity and excellence was blinding. I had never seen someone move with that much force and authority while also displaying the patience and playmaking that I had only seen from El Pibe. This guy was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and I was forever entranced with his greatness.
In 2006, I had somehow convinced my family to watch the Finals, to share with me this cool new sport. My parents thought his name was Dwyane Wayne and didn’t know the rules. Suddenly I am passing something onto them, building a culture my own. How could you not fall in love after that run?
“My belief is stronger than your doubt.”
157 points total in Games 3-6 and Wade being showered in champagne, camera flashes and greatness was yelling at the championship trophy, “YOU BELONG TO ME!” The first ballot Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal was a distant afterthought. Wade had grabbed the sport by the jugular and would never let go.
El Pibe never did anything like that. Miami, a city not impressed by anything, was enraptured. Built atop of cocaine, medical fraud and fakes, a 26-year old, the same age I am now, was the most genuine thing about this city. He was ours. He was Miami’s.
What followed has been over a decade of shared love for a sport and specially a man. There is no basketball in so many Hispanic homes without Dwyane Wade. Our families are scattered across the world and very rarely do people come to this city from outside with a basketball culture embedded within them. We had to learn to love it, and Wade made it impossible not to.
The Heat, and Wade, talk a lot about culture building. Building a #HeatCulture of the hardest-working-best-conditioned-team-in-the-NBA, nurturing a #HeatLifer campaign that highlights the “forever men,” as Riley calls them. It’s about building something lasting that helps ground identity, and this is a culture and identity that Wade has built with young Hispanics in Miami since 2003. It’s exactly that: A culture, not unlike my dad holding me up from my armpits so I can stand to kick a miniature soccer ball. It’s something that is meant to be passed down. An entire generation of us, born in the wake of the confetti and good deeds Wade has done.
We have gotten to watch one of the 20 greatest basketball players who ever lived play night in and night out. Even now, in his age 37 season, he is still providing “moments,” as he’s dubbed them. A chest-thumping game winner against the greatest basketball team ever, complete with a literal victory lap, one last lob to his brother in his final All-Star game, and so many go-ahead scores and defensive plays just to keep Miami afloat this playoff hunt.
To call him the most important figure in Miami sports is not hyperbole. It’s probably actually underselling his impact on this city. He made basketball matter here to a group of people who didn’t have it growing up.
In 2006, so many of us Latinx millennials were starved for sports excellence. During his entire tenure with the Heat, the Dolphins have failed to win a single playoff game, the Marlins have made the postseason once and the Panthers have as many playoff wins as Wade has conference titles.
There won’t be a banner this season, there won’t be confetti, champagne showers and the gold plating of a trophy. Wade leaves us at 37, and as millennials, we have seen him grow alongside us. We have taken these steps with him, we have grown out of middle school and into our companies, day jobs and marriages. Wade has been there almost the entirety of our sports consciousness, and he is leaving as we enter the final frontier of adulthood. We have seen his all too public life play out parallel to ours. He came into the league a young man and leaves it a role model, community figure and an incredible father. As we grew, we had Dwyane Wade there, and that comes to an end Wednesday.
It’s been a journey so uniquely Miami: Someone not from here coming and building a culture that is lasting. That in a transient city that adopts so many immigrants, it adopted a sport and a son. This is a basketball town now. We have a culture and it’s thanks to him. I look forward to the day where I can take my first born to a Heat game and point into the rafters at a number 3 jersey and tell them all about him. How he built love for a sport in the city I adore so much. El Pibe was my dad’s hero, but Dwyane Wade is mine.