Zaire Wade’s African Hoops Journey


The video starts with a closeup of Kobe Bryant’s back as he walks toward center court, gesturing to someone who doesn’t yet appear on screen. It’s minutes before tip-off of his final NBA All-Star Game. In the background, Inside the NBA’s Shaq, Kenny, Charles, and Ernie sitting in front of bright lights, arms over backs of chairs, watching the action below. Mars-colored-blazer-wearing Craig Sager surveys the court for a pre-game interviewee, while Chris Bosh glides along the far baseline, and a towering Pau Gasol and tiny Isiah Thomas dribble beside him. It’s like a “Where’s Waldo” of the NBA universe, and all of its stars, of course, are out. 

Then, all of a sudden, from the right side of the screen, a kid—maybe 14 years old—enters Kobe’s orbit. There’s something familiar about his eyes. Kobe recognizes him immediately, and turns to post him up. The kid positions his lanky teenage frame in a defensive stance that proves he’s grown up around the game, but he doesn’t really have a chance. Kobe shimmies three times, then turns towards rim and shoots a fadeaway. Slowly, this seemingly-lucky ball-boy’s identity becomes clear. He’s the only guy wearing the blue of the East All-Stars on this red, West side of the court: three-time NBA Champion Dwyane Wade. The kid is Zaire, his oldest son. 

“I was always one of the ball boys for the East, and it was forbidden in our little circle to go to the West side,” the younger Wade told me recently. “But my pops told me, ‘You better go over there and get your Kobe moment.’ I’ll never forget it.” That moment is one among many in the deeply specific basketball life that comes with being the son of a soon-to-be Hall of Famer. But these days, Zaire Wade is far from the familiar faces, courts, and NBA royalty he grew up around. In fact, he plays for a team that didn’t exist five years ago on a continent that, until earlier this year, he’d never set foot on. 

In February 2023, the day before his 21st birthday, Wade signed with the Cape Town Tigers to compete in the pan-continental Basketball Africa League (BAL). Now in its third season, the start-up BAL, which the NBA runs in cooperation with FIBA, basketball’s global governing body, is the league’s first outside of North America. The league pits twelve top African teams—each representing a different country—in a competition that culminates in the finals later this month in Kigali, Rwanda. 

Wade’s bumpy journey—including stops at four high schools (one alongside Bronny James at the now-famed Sierra Canyon in Los Angeles) in four states, a controversial decision to forego D-1 offers from schools like DePaul and Nebraska, and a forgettable stint with the NBA G League’s Salt Lake City Stars that ended in injury—has brought him far from the comforts of home and family, to South Africa, with the opportunity for a fresh start. His arrival in the BAL feels representative of a few different things: basketball’s continued growth overseas, for starters. A reminder of the unique situation faced by talented high school athletes in the social media era—magnified when the athlete is the child of someone famous. And, just maybe, Wade’s time in Africa might be the beginning of his journey to playing professionally in the States. “It’s the NBA’s league and the best teams across Africa,” he says. “I’m 21, so I’m still in a place where I’m striving for my Day One dreams. There’s a growing path everywhere.” 

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