yane Wade strolled through a sea of admirers and photographers, a Bulls guard looking more like a movie star.
He wore shades indoors and a cream-colored outfit so his black Wade 5 “All-Star” shoes — publicly unveiled this weekend — would pop, as they say.
Those were the obvious contrasts, but not the only ones. Wade came to New Orleans despite not being an All-Star for the first time since 2004, his rookie season.
The Chicago-area native who grew up around gangs and drugs now designs fancy jackets and drinks a Cabernet from his own label.
His fashion sense, he said, “depends on the city I’m in, my mindset. Sometimes I’m in a less-is-more mentality and sometimes I’m in: Let’s go big, let’s go wild.”
During an interview with the Tribune, he spoke of long-term plans (Ciao, Italy), short-terms goals with the Bulls (“the sky’s the limit”) and hope for the ending of Chicago’s horrifying surge in shootings.
“I wish we all had the answer and could hit that button,” he said. “I always start with the youth. You have to catch them at a certain age.”
His Wade’s World Foundation supports at-risk children, and his #SpotlightOn initiative highlights high-achieving students, such as Ian Andersen of Urban Prep Academies, who carries a 3.8 GPA and commits more than 120 hours annually to volunteer work.
“This focuses on the positive side of Chicago, giving each kid a vision,” he said. “They can have certain things they don’t see out of their front window.”
Wife Gabrielle Union joined Wade at a pop-up shop Saturday in New Orleans’ French Quarter, a stunning actress/model with a strong voice and massive following. Together she and Wade have more than 16 million followers on Instagram.
She spoke to the Tribune about living in the Gold Coast, “walking the streets without a care in the world, walking the streets and not seeing another brown face. It says a lot about how segregated the city is and how segregated crime is in the city. We care more about property crimes in the Gold Coast than lives taken on the South and West sides. That is a problem.
“I can’t give you a Band-Aid because we have to go back generations and generations and really address the segregation, the racism, the red-lining, the isolation of the South and West sides and why that happened. We keep repeating the sins and mistakes and the travesty of the past. There are not easy solutions, but the solutions do start with actually acknowledging how we got here.”
Union also hailed the work of NBA players Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, Jahlil Okafor and Rajon Rondo: “Say whatever you will about Rondo; he has boots on the ground. He actually cares. He is in the community.”
Wade shared the ESPYs stage in July with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and LeBron James, saying: “The racial profiling has to stop. The shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop. Not seeing the value of black and brown bodies has to stop. But also the retaliation has to stop. The endless gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallas, not to mention Orlando, it has to stop. Enough. Enough is enough.”
The “stick to sports” crowd has heard enough, but the forces for positive change cannot be muzzled. Nor should they be.
“Right now the platform for an NBA player is at an all-time high,” Draymond Green said Friday. “I think guys have found their voices and are willing to speak out.”
In 10 to 20 years, Wade, said, he envisions living in Italy, where “they all walk with confidence. They’re comfortable with who they are. They enjoy life. It’s not about social media and who’s saying what about ’em.”
But first comes more work in the community and a day job to get back on the floor for a Bulls team that is 28-29 — seventh in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re not Cleveland. We’re not Golden State,” Wade said after explaining how the Kinesio Tape on his right wrist alleviates discomfort. “But we have proven that we can beat the better teams. We’ve also lost to the not-so-best. With 25 games left, we have to get more consistent. If we do that, we’ll have more swagger going into, hopefully, the playoffs.
“The sky’s the limit from there. You never know what will happen. I didn’t know I’d become a champion either time until I became a champion.”