Wade helping out at Christmas

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 26, 2006

By Tim Reynolds

Associated Press

MIAMI — A kid jumped atop a picnic table, threw his tiny arms in the air and let out a loud, delightful shriek.

“Here he comes!” yelled the boy, who couldn’t have been older than 8 or 9.

With that, the 250 or so underprivileged kids crammed in the back of a South Florida arcade began stampeding toward the guest of honor. Their tiny hands smudged the windows he walked by on his way to greet them, and they all began screaming indistinguishably as he neared the entrance.

Later, when asked what he thought of the tiny mob, Dwyane Wade shook his head and laughed.

“That was cool,” Wade said. “Crazy. It’s something that’s very special to me.”

The Miami Heat guard is an NBA champion, a finals MVP for his work against the Dallas Mavericks last June, a multimillionaire and one of sport’s most recognizable faces.

Yet he still marvels about making kids yell when he shows up to throw a Christmas party.

“See, to us, this is what the holidays are about now,” says Siohvaughn Wade, Dwyane’s wife.

It used to be different.

The Wades would do what just about everyone else does Christmas morning: Wake up early, rush to the tree and start ripping into the pile of wrapped boxes.

That was before they could afford to give themselves whatever they wanted.

These days, with Wade in the final year of his first NBA contract — one paying him $3.84 million this season — and less than a year away from entering a new deal that should pay him somewhere in the range of $63 million over the next four seasons, money is no longer a concern.

So how many elaborate gifts are awaiting Wade on this Christmas, when he’ll lead his Miami Heat in a nationally televised afternoon game against fellow superstar guard Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers?

Apparently, none.

“People like us ‘get’ all the time,” Siohvaughn Wade says. “Constantly getting, constantly buying stuff, always getting something for free. So for the last three or four years, we haven’t done the thing where we set a bunch of presents under a tree. We don’t feel like there’s a need anymore. Now, to be honest, we just give.”

Wade arranged for his Converse shoes and brand of clothing to be distributed Saturday at his mother’s place of worship, the New Mount Nebo Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Chicago, and soon will be sending another 100 pairs of kids’ sneakers to the same church for another giveaway.

He’s sent shoes to soldiers in Iraq, and to people struggling after Hurricane Katrina.

He’s helped others privately, and, truthfully, he’d rather do it all without fanfare.

“It’s about giving. That’s what Christmas means to me more so than anything,” Wade says. “It’s not just giving presents, giving certain gifts. It’s about giving what you can. For me and my family, it’s about giving love, about giving cheers, about giving joy, putting smiles on kids’ faces because they’re the future. Hopefully, when they get older, they’ll pass it on and it’ll keep going down the line.”

This holiday is a pretty important work day for Wade, too.

His Heat — still without Shaquille O’Neal, who’s recovering from knee surgery — are floundering under .500, yet are only 31/2 games out of first in the Southeast Division with a 12-14 record.

Defending the title has not been easy for Miami, which has not had its projected starting five of Wade, Udonis Haslem, Jason Williams, O’Neal and Antoine Walker together on the floor yet this season.

“I’ve got to try to get away from trying to put it all on my shoulders and say ‘OK, Dwyane, you’ve got to go make every play,”‘ Wade says. “I’ve got to continue to trust my teammates, continue to trust that we will turn it around — because we will turn it around. Trying times will judge a team. Trying times will judge a man.”

Just as the last two Heat-Lakers Christmas games were billed as “Kobe vs. Shaq” extravaganzas fueled by rivalry between the former Tinseltown teammates, this one comes with a tangible sense of “Kobe vs. Dwyane.”

Bryant is averaging 33.8 points to Wade’s 23.6 in five head-to-head meetings. But Wade has come away with the win in three of those.

“Two great players,” says Heat forward Dorell Wright, one of Wade’s closest friends. “Kobe and D-Wade are two of the three best players in the NBA, along with Shaq. It’s going to be fun.”

Wade cringes at any notion of a Dwyane-versus-Kobe sort of buildup.

“Kobe makes you step your game up, step your leadership up,” Wade says, “because you know he’s going to do the same. But it’s not a 1-on-1 matchup. It’s not about that, at the end of the day.”

In an 11-minute conversation this past week with The Associated Press, Wade used the word “blessing” four times.

It applies to his newfound fame and fortune. It applies to becoming an NBA champion at 24.

It applies to his son, Zaire, now 4, and the new baby Dwyane and Siohvaughn are poised to welcome in about five months.

And he used the word when talking about spending a few hours three days before Christmas with those 250 kids who ate, drank, ran with him through the laser tag room and had a free throw contest — in which, by the way, one kid outscored both Wade and Wright, who came along for the party.

“When he does things like this, often he’ll say that if someone did something like it or came where he lived and did something like this for children when he was a kid, that’d have made a difference in his life,” Siohvaughn Wade says. “He says that often. So he’s out to tell these kids something they need to know — that there’s something more out there for them. That’s what Christmas means to us now.”