In retirement, Dwyane Wade leaves legacy 'bigger than basketball' – Chicago Tribune

It’s been nearly two decades since Dwyane Wade walked the halls of Richards High School in Oak Lawn, but the team’s current basketball players said they still look up to the NBA legend whose name graces their school’s court.

“We can’t go out there and play bad,” said junior point guard Kajuan Wines, who recalls wearing his D. Wade jersey “every day” as a child, even after he outgrew it.

“We gotta play good for him, keep his legacy going.”

The Robbins native, who capped off his Hall of Fame-worthy career by dropping 30 points in his last home game Tuesday with the Miami Heat and then notching his fifth career triple-double in the season finale Wednesday, leaves the NBA scene not just as one of the league’s all-time great players, but also as one of its genuine good guys.

“That’s the thing that sets him apart,” former Richards boys basketball coach John Chappetto said outside his classroom Thursday. “He is bigger than basketball for us. He’s a source of pride.”

Wade’s ability to overcome personal obstacles through hard work and perseverance while giving back to his community and maintaining a sense of humility has endeared the three-time NBA champion to a younger generation of student-athletes from the Southland.

“Seeing that he made it out,” said Trevon Jones, a senior center at Richards, “it pushed me to work harder and just do the best that I can every time I’m on the court.”

Chappetto, who has known Wade since the NBA star was in seventh grade and serves as the head coach at his youth camps, remembers that, even from a young age, Wade had “an extremely powerful will to win.”

“He wanted to be in the gym,” said Chappetto, a Richards social studies teacher who recently accepted the head men’s basketball coaching job at Moraine Valley Community College. “You could really tell, he wanted to be a part of it.”

Chappetto hasn’t seen Wade since last summer, but sent him a note before his final game Wednesday after being inspired by a tear-jerking ad recently released in which five people whose lives Wade has touched — including his mother Jolinda — surprised him at mid-court to express their gratitude.

“I told him I grew up watching Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas, that’s how I fell in love with the game,” Chappetto said. “And now he’s replaced them. To me, I could care less about Michael Jordan anymore.”

Chappetto, whose classroom wall is adorned with a photo of he and Wade embracing on the court after Richards won the Class 4A state title in 2008 — a game Wade flew in from Miami to attend — is just one of many former coaches and teachers who speak highly of the Heat legend.

Alysia Porrello became a mentor to Wade after she had him in her math class at Richards and has stayed in touch with him over the years.

“I adored him,” said Porrello, now a teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Park Ridge. “Not because of basketball, but because of who he was.”

She said Wade was a kind, soft-spoken kid who gave her his “complete respect,” always calling her “ma’am” even though she was only a few years his senior.

Porrello knew Wade played basketball, but said she was more focused on his grades and making sure he went to college than on any on-court accomplishments.

“He always earned what he had with me,” she said. “He always worked hard, he always had his homework, he always was present.”

In addition to having Wade for class during his sophomore and senior years, Porrello also spent lunch periods helping the budding basketball star study for the ACT during his junior year and got to know him on a more personal level.

“We would just talk about life,” said Porrello, who said Wade sometimes confided in her about his challenging home life and his mother’s struggle with addiction. “I could see what a good person he was and I wanted to make sure that he got out of the situation he was in.”

She said she was touched when Wade wrote her a letter a couple years after graduating, while he was playing at Marquette, expressing his appreciation for everything she’d done for him at Richards.

“You made me want to learn and I’d never had another teacher who made me want to learn,” he wrote, calling Porrello his “favorite teacher,” and thanking her for showing him she truly cared about him as a person.

“That’s the kind of relationship we had,” she said.

Porrello has rarely seen Wade play over the years — she’s not much of a sports fan — but she caught a game in Miami two weeks ago while there on spring break and spoke to her former student after the game.

She said he told her he was ready to call it a career and spend more time supporting his wife, the actress Gabrielle Union, and their family.

“I’m just so proud of everything he’s done,” Porrello said. “He’s just such a good person, and always was.”

Faculty members at Richards still recall the generosity Wade showed his alma mater early in his career, partnering with T-Mobile in 2007 to provide the Oak Lawn high school’s gymnasium a $150,000 remodel that included a new scoreboard, projection screen, sound system, renovated bleachers and refinished hardwood floor.

Wade was unable to attend the school pep rally where the gym upgrades were announced, Richards teacher and coach James Bolhuis said, so he had a couple friends come in his stead.

“He was rehabbing a shoulder injury, so he had Jennifer Hudson come and introduce a guest performer. And it was Kanye West,” said Bolhuis, who taught Wade as a freshman and coached him on the track team. “The place was rocking.”

A couple years later, Wade donated $25,000 to buoy the Robbins library, which was struggling financially and needed an infusion of cash to help keep the doors open.

Robbins Park District Commissioner Maurice Nesbit said there was even talk years ago of Wade building a sports complex for the village, but that the plan fell through for political reasons.

Nesbit, who coached Wade as a fifth through eighth grader at the Blue Island Recreation Center, remembered the 13-time NBA all-star, whose career also included stops in Chicago and Cleveland, as a very coachable kid with a burning desire to win.

“He had that winning attitude,” Nesbit said. “I’m not going to lose. That was his mentality. He didn’t never did think he could lose, which I loved that.”

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