Dwyane Wade’s extended paternity leave away from the Miami Heat is not damaging his legacy. It is doing the opposite. It is giving us one more reason to admire Wade and to embrace his “Last Dance” season as special.
This is refreshingly progressive to see in the caveman sports world. All of it.
To see a professional athlete not merely speak of the importance of family but to show it with his actions. To see the man, the father, step up to his half of parenting and not see it as “women’s work” as if this were the 1940s. To see a franchise that wraps itself in “culture” and “family” rise to those aims as coach Erik Spoelstra says Wade can take “as much time as he needs” and that, “We’re totally fine with it.”
There could have been a backlash. I think we all expected it. Sports stars so rarely do what Wade is doing. And when they do even a smidgen of it, they get lambasted. Famously, the Mets’ Daniel Murphy missed two games in 2014 because of the birth of his child and was pilloried on New York sports-talk radio.
In Miami there has been some questioning of the length of Wade’s absence — Wednesday night was his fifth game away and there will be at least two or three more — but mostly understanding and support.
I would like to think it signals a societal shift toward men’s rights in terms of paternity leave. I also would like to credit an understanding that, with male absenteeism such a plague in many African-American families, the Wade example of embracing fatherhood such as Wade’s should be applauded.
It is more likely we’re just making an exception for Wade because he is so beloved.
If Hassan Whiteside were doing the same thing we’d probably be questioning his commitment to the Heat.
Maybe part of it, too, is that Wade will be 37 in January and we sort of understood that his “Last Dance” season would be somewhat ceremonial, a long farewell. Yes, Miami was 1-3 in his absence entering Wednesday’s game. But if a role player his age coming off the bench is that indispensable to this team, that’s an indictment of this roster and the surrounding talent or lack thereof.
Wade has done his heavy lifting down here. He can take a week off for a good cause.
(Dion Waiters has now missed 101 of 177 Heat games in his Miami career with the slowest-healing ankle injury in the history of human anatomy. And we should knock Wade for missing seven or eight games to be a father?)
Support for Wade also shows an acknowledgment of the circumstances here.
Wade has three sons from a first marriage. He and second wife Gabrielle Union, 46, the actress, had been trying for awhile to have a child together but there had been issues. She wrote in a memoir that she has had eight or nine miscarriages. Finally they went through a surrogate, and became parents to a baby girl last week.
All of that personal stuff was a major reason why Wade came very close to retiring this summer before ultimately deciding on one more NBA season.
“We had to go through a lot to get here,” Wade told the Associated Press. “Everyone knows that little girl steals your heart.”
The baby arrived a little prematurely and is small, “So we’re making sure health-wise she’s OK. The time right now, this bonding moment with my daughter is the most important thing in my life at this time.”
Dwyane Wade has been the most important player in this franchise’s history and the most cherished by Heat fans.
But his life is bigger than a rectangular court and there are more important things in it than basketball.
That’s more than OK. That’s good for him.
Wade wrote this on Instagram last week, from the hospital, his baby hours old, and (slightly condensed) it gets the last word here, because it is poetry:
“When I wake up in the morning love and the sunlight hurts my eyes. Then I look at you and the worlds alright with me. Just one one look at you and and I know it’s gonna be a lovely day! Our miracle baby arrived last night and 11/7 will forever be etched in our hearts as the most loveliest of all the lovely days!”