For three decades we’ve covered many amazing basketball characters, but some stand above the rest—not only because of their on-court skills (though those are always relevant), but because of how they influenced and continue to influence basketball culture, and thus influenced SLAM. Meanwhile, SLAM has also changed those players’ lives in various ways, as we’ve documented their careers with classic covers, legendary photos, amazing stories, compelling videos and more. 

We compiled a group of individuals (programming note: 30 entries, not 30 people total) who mean something special to SLAM and to our audience. Read the full list here and order your copy of SLAM 248, where this list was originally published, here.

Where does he fit on your list? Top 50 ever? Top-five shooting guard? Shoot, a lot of people have him third after the anointed two of MJ and Kobe. Dwyane Wade’s exact placement in the pantheon doesn’t even matter. He’s an all-timer, and no one will ever argue that.

And this same dude, a little more than two decades ago, had to call a press conference to announce if he was turning pro or returning to college. For his senior season. In an era when high schoolers were going in the lottery regularly. And the press conference’s outcome was hardly a given. Media in attendance, to say nothing of Marquette University’s fan base, really didn’t know what Wade was going to announce about his plans. Why do I have such vivid memories of a relatively small moment in a Wade career that was filled with much bigger ones? I was there. I pretty much shadowed Dwyane that whole day, much of it with our man Atiba Jefferson by my side taking photos.

How was this future legend not already in the League like many of his peers? He was the type of late bloomer the game rarely creates these days. Wade was lightly recruited out of Richards High School in Illinois, a suburban school just southwest of Chicago, in part because he was trending toward being academically ineligible as a freshman. He chose Marquette because then-MU coach Tom Crean made Wade his number-one target and promised him he’d take Wade even if he had to sit out a season—which he did. 

As such, Wade did not really become a “national” name at all until he was a sophomore in college. That’s also the year he made his very first appearance in SLAM, a slim “In Your Face” in Issue 62 in which we spelled his first name “Dwayne” [absolutely pathetic, if not as bad as the biter hoops magazine making that mistake on its cover years later.—(Previous) Ed.]. That issue featured high schoolers LeBron James (a recurring theme) and Sebastian Telfair on the cover. Unless this is the first time you’ve read SLAM, you know that the GOATs rarely make it past 16 or at least high school before gracing our pages.

The feature I wrote off the day I spent with Dwyane in Milwaukee (he did indeed declare for the ’03 Draft) ran in SLAM 71. The story—graced with beautiful black and white photographs by Atiba—began immediately after Ryan’s classic story on LeBron, who was making his first solo appearance on our cover. A bit of foreshadowing, all this. LeBron did and has outshined Dwyane, sure. But the closeness of the pages is also analogous to how much closer their careers would prove to be than anyone imagined. Bron was The Chosen One. Dwyane was the unknown. But from that day and story onward, the floodgates were open. 

On the court, Wade was a success from the jump, finishing third in the ’04 ROY voting after averaging 16.2 ppg (Bron won, naturally). By year three, dude was averaging 27.2 per and was an NBA champion—and runaway Finals MVP at that. By 2010, a ring-less LeBron felt compelled to leave Cleveland for South Beach to team up with Wade and their ’03 Draft classmate, Chris Bosh, to chase titles. And it worked. LeBron got his first two. Dwyane ended the partnership with three to his name.

That’s how many rings Wade would end up with, but the accomplishments and accolades flowed well through the 2010s. The 6-4 2-guard ended his 16-year NBA career with per-game averages of 22 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists, with 13 All-Star appearances and 12 All-League honors to his name. Save for brief stretches in Chicago and Cleveland, the uber-tough Wade spent his career in Miami, embodying #HeatCulture and cementing himself as the greatest player in that franchise’s short but storied history.

Off the court, Wade followed a groundbreaking footwear path that started with Converse, detoured as he became the face of Jordan Brand and ended with a literally game-changing deal with Li-Ning. He married Hollywood superstar Gabrielle Union. He’s become a vocal champion of trans rights in the wake of his daughter’s gender transition. And he made up for his late start with SLAM, appearing countless times in our pages, from McDavid ads (!) to champs issues to a handful of classic solo covers—SLAM 127, “Tropic Thunder” being my personal favorite.

In ’22, Wade received an honorary degree from Marquette and gave the commencement address to that year’s graduating class. Last August, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. 

But in so many ways, the journey from little-known amateur to globally renowned professional began on that April day in 2003 when he announced he was leaving Marquette. 

And Teebz and I were there. 

Portrait by Atiba Jefferson. Photo via Getty Images.

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