As a redshirt college freshman, Dwyane Wade had to take the role of somewhat of an assistant coach. During halftime of a home game, Marquette coach Tom Crean turned to Wade and asked him to speak to the players, many of whom were older and more accomplished.
"Well, you guys are playing soft," Wade began.
The two-time NBA champion uses A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball to speak about the influences his parents and father figures had on him -- Dwyane Wade Sr., Crean, his agent Hank Thomas -- and his tumultuous road to attain full custody of his two sons, Zaire and Zion. But it's important to note that the title of the book is something of a misnomer. A good deal of the memoir talks not about his life as a son or a father, but about his role as a basketball player. That doesn't make the book bad; in fact, it is quite good. The parts about basketball make the book relatable to not just fathers, but also 19-year-olds like myself. Wade - who raises his two sons and a nephew, Dahveon - explicitly give fathers advice in the book occasionally.
A Father First, which Wade co-wrote with Mim Eichler Rivas, is strongest when talking about specific, pivotal moments in the Miami Heat guard's life. He offers a harrowing portrait of his life growing up on the South Side of Chicago. In one scene, a young Wade sees new shoes hanging out of a garbage can. Once Wade excitedly approaches the can, he notices a dead boy only a few years older than him. Another time, after breaking into his house, police officers hold up guns to Wade as a child and demand that he take them to his mother.
Other sections of the book - like when Wade recounts his team's playoff runs in 2005 and '06 - represent the book at its weakest. The final chapter delves into the team's 2012 championship run, though, and Wade fully addresses his spat with Erik Spoelstra during the Indiana Pacers series in an enlightening moment.
Despite certain revelations, the book is far from a tell-all. Wade barely mentions the departure of Stan Van Gundy, although he says, "[a]lways on edge, he coached from a state of high alert." Wade also skirts past Shaq's unceremonious exit from Miami. But surprisingly, Wade delves into detail about his failed marriage with Siohvaughn, the mother of his two sons. He says that their relationship wasn't built on solid ground. Having a mother who succumbed to drugs and a father whose drinking could turn him into "Denzel Washington from Training Day," Wade found Siohvaughn's home a sanctuary of sorts. He also had doubts about marrying Siohvaughn in college.
Their marriage only weakened once Wade entered the NBA with a "my wife handles the money, I shoot baskets," policy. Wade sits down with Thomas, his business manager Lisa Joseph and a financial adviser to discuss a large sum of money that was moved out of Wade's accounts. A young fan asks Wade for his autograph, and in a moment of candor Wade says the fan didn't realize that he was having a rough day. "A lot of folks think that every day must be an amazing one if you've reached a certain level of success -- as if you're not even human." Wade also gets vague in spots, though. He refers to "an incident" that led Siohvaugn to slash his tires.
Some stale clichés show up every now and then - "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink" - and Wade's voice doesn't fully come across. Wade and Rivas make an effort to do that -- "nothing" is spelled like "nuthin' " --but parts of the book seem more like a biography than a memoir. The book even quotes something Spoelstra said in the press conference after Wade's 41-point game to close out to Pacers in the 2012 playoffs.
Whether talking about basketball or life, Wade's book is strongest when talking about specific, focal moments in his life. He talks about a heartfelt talk with Crean at the end of his junior season and a sit-down with Joseph and Thomas in 2008 when Wade is told that making the Beijing Olympic team "didn't look good." With many strong points, this book is a fun read for Wade's dedicated fans despite its faults.