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Zaire Wade, son of Dwyane Wade, is trying to make his own path to the NBA

The teen prospect brings fame, a double-edged sword in his life, to the SLC Stars

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Zaire Wade, son of Dwyane Wade, practices with the Salt Lake City Stars, at Lifetime Activities Center-Bruin Arena, at Salt Lake Community College, on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021.

There’s a very well-known interviewing trick called The Last Question. If, at any point in your life, you’re interviewed by a journalist, you’ll probably get asked it at the end of your chat. The Last Question does a lot of work: it covers for oversights on the part of the question-asker, it leaves the interviewee feeling that their voice was heard during the interview, and it gets straight to the heart of the subject’s priorities.

The Last Question is this: “Is there anything else that you want to make sure people know?”

Zaire Wade, the 19-year-old son of NBA all-timer Dwyane Wade, was just drafted with the G-League’s No. 10 pick by the Salt Lake City Stars — the minor-league team of the sports franchise his dad partially owns. This brought on a whole avalanche of criticism that Wade-the-younger’s spot was a classic case of nepotism, and yes, it obviously was. But the furor from some corners that Zaire was selected over, say, former BYU star TJ Haws or an over-30 version of Lance Stephenson reached such a level that even LeBron James sought to end it. “Proud of you nephew. Keep going and F the haters. They ain’t [poop emoji] anyway,” he said.

This has all clearly been on Zaire’s mind.

So his answer to The Last Question was this:

“I think I just want people to know — first of all, I’m extremely blessed to have this opportunity from the Stars to even want to take interest in me. I know I’m a young guy to develop.

“But I think a lot of people think that I’m not a hard-working kid and things get handed to me. If you don’t know me, you can’t say that. Nothing’s handed to me. Coach said he noticed after the first day I stepped here, I’m just working hard trying to earn everything myself. I’m trying to make a name for myself.

“So I think that’s what people should know.”

Zaire’s path

There’s no doubt, though, that Wade’s path has been untraditional. Always with at least one eye of the basketball world on him thanks to his famous dad, his path has involved four different stops in the last four years.

First, he played out his junior season at American Heritage, a private school just north of Miami — the city where his dad played out the majority of his Hall-of-Fame caliber career. But after starring there, the Wades felt that the best move for him was to play a higher level of competition, so they moved Zaire to Sierra Canyon High School, one of the highest-profile schools in the nation.

Sierra Canyon's Zaire Wade #2 in action against Dominican during a high school basketball game at the Hoophall Classic, Saturday, January 18, 2020, in Springfield, MA. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

But on a team with relative stars like LeBron James’ son Bronny, talented prospect B.J. Boston, and the rest of Sierra Canyon’s prospects, Wade didn’t get much playing time, coming off the bench for the squad. Wade got college offers, but not from elite programs. Nor was he good enough to turn pro.

So he went to Brewster Academy for the last year, a prep school that excels at turning out NBA talents. If you’ve heard of it, it’s likely because Jazz star guard Donovan Mitchell attended the school, as did the Nuggets’ Will Barton, the Pelicans’ Devonte Graham, the Pacers’ T.J. Warren, alongside other lesser-known players.

Before attending Brewster, Wade contacted Mitchell to hear his take on his former school. “He had nothing but great things to say about the coaching staff, the town, everything,” Wade said. “So from a guy like him, I’m just taking his advice.”

But you can’t stay in prep school forever, and Wade was looking for his next step. He tried out for Australian teams, trying to follow in the footsteps of players like LaMelo Ball and Terrance Ferguson, but offers weren’t forthcoming. That’s when Wade decided to go the G-League route.

“I told my dad that whatever I want to do next in life, I want to go forward. You know, I don’t want to feel like I’m going backward,” Wade said. “If I fail, I’m going to fail forward in life, and if I succeed, I’m going to succeed forward.”

That’s when The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Wade had signed a contract with the Salt Lake City Stars — but the G-League doesn’t work that way. Without pre-existing experience in the league or a spot on the NBA roster, every player has to sign the G-League’s standard contract. From there, they have to go through the league’s draft. Any team could have selected Wade, and potentially tried to extract value from the Stars in order for them to get their man, but Wade did get to No. 10, where the Stars drafted their man.

Zaire’s fame

Despite the team’s name, those on the Salt Lake City Stars are not, typically, stars. The team flies commercial, then rides buses, to minor markets like Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Edinburg, Texas; and Birmingham, Alabama. The G-League’s standard contract offers $37,000 per season.

Wade is, by at least one measure, the most famous player to ever be on the SLC Stars. He has 2 million Instagram followers, which means he falls squarely into the youth-influencer category. Yes, NBA players like Grayson Allen (384K followers), Tony Bradley (93K followers), Georges Niang (76K followers), and so on have gone on that path, and even Alec Burks (no instagram), Royce O’Neale (124K followers), and Raul Neto (127K followers) played a game with the minor leaguers on rehab assignments, but no one has the push and pull that Zaire does.

And of course, most of his current teammates are significantly less famous than that. The G-League has a significant number of players who made their team’s roster through local tryouts, including two on the Stars. Small-college scorers and big-college role players all come together at the G-League, but it’s not glamorous.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Zaire Wade, son of Dwyane Wade, practices with the Salt Lake City Stars, at Lifetime Activities Center-Bruin Arena, at Salt Lake Community College, on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021.

“To be honest, I wish there was no social media sometimes,” Wade said. “I’m so appreciative of the 2 million, I don’t want to say I don’t want it. But I just — man, it comes with a lot and there’s a lot I have to deal with behind closed doors because of the two million followers and things like that. So it’s a blessing, but it’s tough.”

In the blessing category: Wade started a clothing brand, YNG DNA, with a friend, way back when he was 16. He has a YNG DNA tattoo with a double helix on his left arm, and is clearly proud of what he’s done with the nascent startup. Most kids don’t get the chance to be creative with such a large canvas, and Wade is thankful for it.

In the tough category: the fact that celebrity gossip sites report on his high school relationships, the focus on his family, and the constant messages from those who believe he is, in fact, a fraud of a basketball player. And then, yeah, LeBron James puts in his two cents, and while Wade appreciates his support, it all spirals a bit.

Mostly, Wade wants to focus on the situation in front of him. Right now, he’s a kid trying to fit in among a new city that even his dad only knows a little bit about.

“I’ve never been, so I asked my dad,” Wade said. “He had nothing but great things about the city, the beautiful mountains and especially all the restaurants that I’ve heard about. And even the people in town are super nice, like he said.”

Stars coach Nathan Peavy has been taking Wade around, getting things he needs to fill out his new apartment. From their point of view, the Stars know that helping Zaire presents a unique opportunity for their club.

“Certainly our focus is on the basketball development side and and helping players get to the next level,” Stars president Jonathan Rinehart said. “But it obviously doesn’t hurt him having a large following and name recognition, right? We’ll see what sort of impact, if any, it has on the business side. But hopefully it’s something that fans can get excited about and drive some interest.”

Stars general manager Bart Taylor agrees.

“To have that many eyes on our organization will be new for us, I think. We’re very comfortable with our development program, what we can do and the product we can put on the court,” Taylor said. “And I think to have that many people now being able to witness it is great.”

Zaire’s game

So what, exactly, are the Stars working with here? You know, from an on-court perspective?

Right now, Wade is an extremely skinny point guard: at 6-3 and 170 pounds, he’d be the lightest Jazz player since another son of a star: David Stockton, who stood at 5-11 and 165 pounds. First and foremost, Wade needs to hit the weight room for years to come. The interview for this story, actually, came just after one such session on the Stars’ long-term plan for him.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Zaire Wade, son of Dwyane Wade, practices with the Salt Lake City Stars, at Lifetime Activities Center-Bruin Arena, at Salt Lake Community College, on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021.

But those who have watched Wade are impressed with his vision at the point guard position — in other words, he can find the open man on passes in ways that not many can. On the other hand, his handle probably isn’t where it needs to be to get to spaces where he can exploit that skill: you’ve got to get into the paint and cause problems before the defense bends. His shooting, once a weakness, has improved. And while he’s skinny, he does have the size and length to one day be interesting on the defensive end.

Working out against adult professionals — Wade is the youngest player on the Stars’ roster by four years — could push him forward in that regard. Those players are bigger, stronger, and more experienced than he is, but he’s proud of his ability to fit in at the moment.

“I’ve actually surprised myself a few times with how I can handle the physicality and hold my own, especially on the defensive end,” Wade said.

And over the summer, he got an even bigger test. Wade had the chance to work out against NBA players like Ben Simmons, John Wall, Rajon Rondo, and Jordan Clarkson. They presented him with promising feedback:

“They all say that I got ‘it’,” Wade said. “And when they say ‘it’, it’s not like, ‘Oh, I think I should be in NBA today.’ Like, I’m a kid. I’m growing, I’m learning,” Wade said. “So when they say I got it, they mean, I got the potential needed to be successful one day in the NBA.”

By G-League rules, Wade can’t be called up to the NBA this season anyway, because he didn’t go through the big league’s draft process. (For NBA nerds, it’s a situation similar to Golden State’s Alen Smailagic, who also went to the G-League before being draft-eligible.) The Stars are taking him on in hopes of getting an early look at a future NBA player, though Wade has miles to go before making it.

But Wade knows that. Despite the unusual path — the superstar dad, the attention that comes with it, and being famous before he could walk — Wade has a remarkable trait: he has self-awareness. He knows what he’s been given, he knows how his situation looks ... and he knows that his success isn’t a certainty.

Zaire Wade knows the questions that are being asked of him.

He just wants an opportunity to answer.

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