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Ball Don't Lie

Back home in Chicago, Dwyane Wade talks up the ‘knock on guys who played in the suburbs’

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Dwyane Wade can't believe he lost his Pace card, again (Getty Images)

Though I’m from Chicago and spent part of Dwyane Wade’s college career living in the city, I was unaware of the current Miami Heat All-Star until his breakout run during the 2003 NCAA Tournament. Wade, then working for Marquette, came out of nowhere to lead an unheralded team to the Final Four. Wade was then drafted into the Miami Heat, he became our modern-day Jerry West, and won two NBA championship rings along the way. All while working as a Chicago native.

Or, as his Twitter bio reads, a Robbins, IL.-native. Dwyane identifies more as a product of the city’s suburbs than its interior. On the eve of taking on his hometown team, a club once run by a player in Derrick Rose that grew up in the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood (far from the safest place to grow a family), Wade drew a distinction between his technically “suburban” upbringing, and the status afforded to those that grew up within the Chicago city limits to the Sun-Sentinel’s Shandel Richardson:

"It's always been a knock on guys who played in the suburbs," said Wade, who played at Richards High in Oak Lawn, Ill., about 25 minutes outside the city. "You didn't get as much attention because they think it's not as tough or whatever the case may be. I think I represent the city. Guys are proud of that, but it's something different between guys that go to school in the city and the suburbs."

Chicago has a long history of brilliant basketball players coming from the city limits. Isiah Thomas stands out, Mark Aguirre sticks his significant tail out, and Derrick Rose still has quite a bit left to write when he returns from his ACL tear. For years I wore the number 34 when I played not because of Walter Payton, but because of Chicago-native Terry Cummings. And Tim Hardaway’s knuckleball jumper was a direct result of having to deal with winds from Lake Michigan and unforgiving outdoor rims.

This is the point where we try to explain the difference between the “suburbs” that Dwyane Wade grew up in, and the “suburbs” that feature various types of chicken finger options for every quarter mile you drive.

There are Chicago suburbs, and there are suburbs surrounding the city of Chicago. The latter can be identified because you’ve seen them in every state in America, all full of chain restaurants and the usual logos on the cities commerce strip. The former can be characterized by its uniqueness, and not its ubiquity. There are houses and actual front and back lawns, to be sure, but these towns all reside in Cook County and don’t remind you of something you’ve seen before. There are golden arches, there’s no getting away from those things, but none of the puerile trappings that dot what a drive 20 minutes west will afford you.

For Wade to be upset by the “knock” on those that seem to be treated as softies because they come from the near-suburbs of Chicago? Well over a decade later, it’s understandable. Wade’s academic issues in high school were a large part of why he was passed over by more prominent NCAA programs in 2000, but the suburban cliché may have hurt Wade in a way that didn’t harm Chicago prep stars like Ronnie Fields, Kevin Garnett (not a Chicago native, but one who finished his high school career in the area), and Quentin Richardson.

Here’s a highlight mix of some of Dwyane’s better moments at Richards:

Though I blathered on about the difference between near-Chicago suburbs and suburb-suburbs … I get it.

As someone who spent time in the city, I understand the weirdness that came from moving out too far west from Chicago. I still clearly recall, as a kid, how quickly the local Bolingbrook, IL. police came out to tame an opened fire hydrant that we were playing in, something that was de rigueur in the city and often ignored for a better part of a steaming afternoon.

To our credit, this is something unique to Chicago.

In Los Angeles, and I’m aware that this quote was originally penned in description of Oakland, there’s no there there. No downtown to center around. In New York, you need a trip across the river, or into Queens or Long Island to take in the sort of suburbs that Chicago has just minutes outside the city’s core. The weird influx of post-World War II Levittown housing and old world structure makes Chicago unique. The block that Jay Williams had his motorcycle accident on would not look out of place in any tiny suburb in whatever rural state you want to choose, and yet it’s a short bus trip away from Wrigley Field. That isn’t to say these are houses for the well-heeled – my basement apartment was a few blocks away from his crash, and my at-the-time girlfriend’s tiny apartment was a three minute walk away from his accident.

This is the accident that pushed Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson, in third month on the job, to attempt to trade up in the 2003 draft to select Dwyane Wade. Former Bulls GM Jerry Krause had for years made a point to pass on drafting Chicago-area players under the fear that the pressures of playing for the local team would distract potential Chicago Bulls, a reasonable fear to be considered until you realize that Krause broke his unwritten pact by selecting Chicago-area product Eddy Curry fourth overall in the 2001 NBA draft. Curry grew up in Harvey and went to high school in South Holland, two suburbs not unlike the ones Wade grew up in. He, um, didn’t work out. In the clichéd sense, and the literal sense.

Wade has. Because of his association with Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James, Wade will be given the short shrift; but in terms of pure production no Chicago-area player has had a better NBA career than Dwyane Wade. He will play on Wednesday against the Bulls, after sitting out a pair of games with knee soreness. He’ll probably play quite well in spite of the presence of Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, who (don’t laugh) has had success in defending Wade in Chicago in the past.

Years after leaving the suburbs for Marquette, it’s clear that Dwyane Wade still has a chip on his shoulder. That’s something even the most hardened of Chicago urbanites can relate to.

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