CHICAGO (AP) — Dwyane Wade sat in the first pew Sunday afternoon, looked at his mother, and simply couldn't hide his emotions.
She had made him cry often before. This time, it was different.
“This is tears of joy,” he said, beaming. “Tears of joy for my mother.”
Before she was known as the mother of the Marquette University star, Miami Heat superstar and 2006 NBA finals MVP, Jolinda Wade was known as an inmate, a fugitive, a drug user and drug seller. Her life turned around seven years ago when, after years of urging by her children, she got help and got clean. Along the way, she devoted her life to spreading the word of God, starting her first ministry while doing time in state prison.
Now, that ministry has a new home, called the Temple of Praise.
Jolinda Wade's very own church.
Her son bought it, and her children and her congregation gathered to dedicate it Sunday.
“I respect my mother so much, from the life that she used to live and to see her today in the life that she lives. I'm so proud of her,” Dwyane Wade told The Associated Press before the service. “Everybody thinks I'm the miraculous story in the family. I think she is. I think what I've done means I've been very blessed, but she's been more than blessed. She's been anointed.”
A few years ago, no one saw anything like this coming.
“Today is one of the highest of the highest moments in my life,” Jolinda Wade said.
For so long, Jolinda's life was a waste, marred by abuse of alcohol and drugs. Whenever Tragil Wade, one of Jolinda's three daughters and the person who essentially raised her brother, would get word that someone died in one of their Chicago-area neighborhood's many abandoned buildings, she feared it was her mother – and even thought about saving for what she assumed would be a fast-arriving funeral.
“I can't even tell you what it was like,” Tragil Wade said, choking up. “It's beyond words.”
One day, in a teary tirade, Tragil Wade talked her mother into accompanying her to church. That moment, they say, is the one that convinced Jolinda Wade to make some radical changes.
She got sober, turned herself into Illinois authorities to serve a prison term that she skipped out on under auspices of joining a work-release program, and repaid her debt to society.
“My mother is a miracle to me and to our family, to see from where she came to where she's at now,” said Tragil Wade, who at 30 is only four years older than the brother she has looked over for virtually his entire life. “I can't even describe it. It's like, if you didn't believe in God, this right here would make the belief strong.”
Today, Jolinda Wade turns those tragic times into a powerful message.
“I feel reborn,” said Jolinda Wade, who arrived for Sunday's service head-to-toe in purple, matching the newly redesigned decor of the sanctuary of the church that bears her name on the streetside sign. “Matter of fact, I feel reborn every day. There's always something new every day. I just thank God for the experience.”
'This is how she shows her thanks, preaching to people filling row after row of pews and hanging on her every word. They danced in the aisles and threw their hands in the air, shouting
“Amen!” over and over, so many people turning out that the parking lot was overflowing and some latecomers had to park up to three blocks away.
“It's a blessing,” Jolinda Wade said.
Her church, which was formed in October with just 47 original members, welcomed hundreds to Sunday's service, including the mothers of Shaquille O'Neal and Magic Johnson.
“All I can say: Hallelujah!” Tragil Wade said.
Since becoming a Baptist pastor, Jolinda Wade's following – she shares the title of pastor with LaDell Jones, whom she befriended when they began minister training together in 2004 – had to meet in a small rented room, one that didn't even give the NBA star's mother space to move around while delivering her testimony.
But the new facility has plenty of room for dance and rejoicing – a move from “a space to a place,” as Tragil Wade put it.
“Today is the crossover,'' Jolinda Wade said. “We're in here today because of God's goodness and God chose to use the heart of my son to do this for us … and he trusts the heart of his mama. Ain't that something?”
Somehow, he's always trusted that heart.
Wade never turned his back on his mother, not even when she was bouncing between jail and prison and she was at rock bottom.
Since joining the NBA and amassing a small fortune, he hasn't been shy about showering his mother in lavish gifts, including a car and a house. Of course, he never planned to give her a church.
Turns out, Jolinda Wade was trying to get loans for a church when she drove past the building that would eventually become her congregation's home. It was Jan. 21, when she noticed the run-down facility was for sale. Three months later, without ever asking her son for the money – he decided on his own to make the gift – they signed the ownership papers.
Another month filled with work and renovation later, they were giving praise.
“My mother is not the kind of person who will come to me and ask me for this kind of favor. She's so thankful for even the little things I've done for her,” Dwyane Wade said. “But it's the dream of every man, every boy, to be able to give their mother everything they want. So that was my dream and this is her dream. To me, that makes this perfect.”
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Dwyane Wade