MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Throughout his Hall of Fame NBA career, there has always been one constant in Dwyane Wade’s life.
In his 2003 introductory press conference, a baby-faced D-Wade knew that family would be the most important part of his NBA journey.
“Family will be something down the line when I don’t have basketball that I’ll have to lean on,” he said before ever playing an NBA game.
It’s that mentality that made the loss of his long time agent, friend, and father figure Henry Thomas so difficult.
“I’ve never lost anyone in my family that’s been close to me,” said Wade after Thomas’ death. “This is the first person that I’ve lost so just dealing with that. Obviously, I understand that for the last year he’s been getting sicker and sicker.”
Henry, or Hank as he was called, passed away of a neuromuscular disease in 2018.
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Over the previous 15 years, Hank had been guiding Wade through the NBA world.
He was actually a fixture around the Heat organization over the years, representing Tim Hardaway, Chris Bosh, and Udonis Haslem.
But his relationship with Wade was more father-son than agent-client.
“I do have a younger brother but I think that at that time it was just the age difference and ability to relate to each other,” Hillary said.
Hillary got to see their bond first hand and recalled some of their more cherished memories, like when Miami won its first NBA title in 2006, you could see Hank’s reflection in both Wade’s MVP trophy and in his smile.
“The photos from him and just the footage I saw from him and Dwyane, my father could not have been happier and more proud to have that experience with Dwyane and just really celebrate,” Hillary said. “Dwyane winning a championship was almost like my father winning a championship.”
Wade credits Hank for molding him into a man when he left college, and in the process was becoming one of the family.
“Udonis is the exact same way,” Hillary said. “When UD and Dwyane get together and see me in an outing or at a bar, whatever the case is, it’s always like ‘what are you doing, why are you here, you need to go home.’ That type of thing. It’s funny. I take it with a grain of salt because I know they really care.”
“Just to be a sounding board, to be someone to check up on them and let them know I’m thinking of them and anything they need I’m there for them, so I’m definitely going to be that annoying nagging bigger brother,” Wade said.
Hillary told CBS4 how Wade was there for her family through thick and thin, largely because of the effect her father had on her older brother.
“When everything was happening with my father, Dwyane and I were constantly on text, really just kind of talking about things,” she said. “We had a conversation about really just being able to lean on each other during the situation. I think that was the point I was like this is really my brother. Because he had the same emotions I had.”
At the time of Hank’s passing, Wade had already left Miami for Chicago and then Cleveland, but he had one more deal left in him.
At the funeral, Wade and Heat president Pat Riley would finally reunite, leading to a trade back to South Florida just days later.
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As his career winds down, the NBA is celebrating the man Wade has become, knowing Hank had a large part in this Hall of Fame career.
“He was always proud of me,” Wade said. “He was always the guy that pumped positive energy in me and helped me believe in myself. To have these moments to have the end of career, he probably would’ve told me you have another five years.”
Wade has given out a lot of jerseys in his One Last Dance tour, but maybe the most important one wasn’t televised.
On a November trip to Chicago, Wade had a jersey for the Thomas family with the note “Always in my heart.”
“He always had a smile on his face, he always gave to others that energy,” said Wade. “Sometimes when playing this game you get frustrated, you get lost in the sport. But always away from the game I try to give everybody that same energy, that same love, back.”