CHICAGO — Perhaps the most important thing Dwyane Wade has ever done is happening far from a basketball court. Far away from All-Star weekend and the NBA. It isn’t a game, or a single act, or spoken words. It’s the love Wade and his wife, Gabrielle Union, have privately and publicly shown for their 12-year-old transgender daughter, Zaya.
And it is, to the only openly gay player in NBA history, “Inspiring.”
That’s the first word former NBA center Jason Collins used in a conversation with Yahoo Sports on Thursday night. His face lit up when asked about Wade, Union and Zaya. “Just so proud of them,” he said multiple times.
Collins, who now works as an NBA Cares ambassador, understands the importance of the Wade family’s support more than most. Because he felt it from his own parents and brother, from his own aunt, and from so many others back in 2013. That’s when he told the world he was gay, something no active NBA player had ever done. The familial support, he wrote at the time, brought him “relief.”
And it isn’t just about parental support. Zaire Wade, Dwyane’s eldest son, posted a heartfelt message to Zaya on Instagram. “To not only feel love from your parents but then also from your sibling as well,” Collins said, is powerful. “That’s something that I benefited from, having my brother Jarron [have] my back. And to see Zaire have his sister’s back is incredible.”
Collins, who spoke with Yahoo Sports after the NBA Voices Youth Summit in downtown Chicago, has become something of a confidant and sounding board for sports-adjacent sectors of the LGBT+ community. He teaches incoming NBA rookies to “unlearn” homophobic language. He said he’s had “conversations with several closeted athletes.”
He’s also “been in contact with Gabby for a few months now,” he said, referring to Wade’s wife.
Union and Wade spent hours learning, gathering information, “to make sure we give our child the best opportunity to be her best self,” as Wade said Tuesday. Part of that process was “reach[ing] out to every relationship that we have.” One of their contacts was Collins, who said he’s communicated with Union “for months” about “tons of stuff.” Collins and the Wade family happened to be on separate vacations in Maui at the same time. He and Union would exchange texts.
But their communication isn’t the reason he’s “so proud of their family.” He’s proud because Wade and Union have been caring, unconditionally loving parents. And because Collins believes in the power of sport, and the voices it amplifies. Because he knows how influential Wade is. And because he knows that the Wade family’s decision to use their platform and take their love public will touch kids and households far beyond their own.
“I already told Gabby, they need to write a parenting book,” Collins said. “Because they will help so many families across the world.”
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