Three-time NBA champion and 13-time All-Star Dwyane Wade is joining the WNBA's Chicago Sky ownership group, becoming the latest high-profile figure to invest in the league at a pivotal juncture in its 27-year history.
"We all talk about support, and support looks different for everyone," Wade, who will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame next month, told ESPN. "And so instead of tweeting out and saying 'go support the W,' instead of showing up at the game and supporting, I wanted to take it to that next level, and this was the next level for me.
"It's a great opportunity to be a part of the league in its very early stages. ... Growth is going to happen, and so I want to be a part of the growth of this league."
Wade's investment is subject to approval from the WNBA board of governors. His exact ownership percentage has not been disclosed.
"He has made an impact now in business and philanthropy in really significant ways that are abiding and authentic and true, and that is who we are at the Chicago Sky," Sky co-owner and operating chairman Nadia Rawlinson told ESPN. "And so the fact that now he can help us be part of his story with that is extraordinary."
Wade's interest in the WNBA made waves last month after he was seen visiting a Sky practice in Deerfield, Illinois. His interactions with the team earned rave reviews from players, Rawlinson said, before his official involvement was announced Friday.
The NBA legend is the newest investor in the franchise after the Sky sold an approximate 10% stake of the team (at an $85 million valuation) last month to a group including Chicago Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts.
Michael Alter, who first brought the team to Chicago ahead of the 2006 season, remains the team's principal owner.
This isn't the first pro sports ownership endeavor for Wade, who retired from the NBA in 2019 and has since joined the ownership groups for the NBA's Utah Jazz and MLS' Real Salt Lake. And when it comes to the Sky, Wade said, the partnership just "makes sense."
Wade, a Chicago native who went to high school in the suburb of Oak Lawn, credits his mother, JoLinda, for first introducing him to the team and taking him to a game. "[She] was a fan of the Chicago Sky before I became a fan of the Chicago Sky," Wade told ESPN.
Wade also had a preexisting friendship with former head coach/general manager James Wade, and said the team has frequently supported his camps in Chicago.
"This is meaningful for the players, and this is meaningful for the city as a whole," Rawlinson said. "Dwyane Wade is a son of Chicago. And the thing that differentiates us, I think, from other franchises is that we are Chicago. We are the future of Chicago. We are the culture of Chicago. We are in it and of it, and he is very much sort of a main character in that story. And we're just pleased and thrilled at what the future can bring with both of us working together."
Wade's commitment to the Sky comes at a key point in the organization's history. Not even two years after its first WNBA championship in 2021, the team is in the midst of transition after James Wade left for an NBA assistant coaching job earlier this month. This past offseason, Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot opted to play elsewhere in free agency, while Allie Quigley and Emma Meesseman also did not return.
Those departures didn't discourage Wade's involvement in the franchise; rather, now with his support, the team's previously determined priorities can be "accelerated and amplified," Rawlinson said.
Those priorities include keeping Chicago a destination for players and fans, investing in physical resources and bolstering marketing and storytelling. Most notably, the organization has begun scouting locations for a new team facility, which Rawlinson called a "tentpole priority."
Keeping the Sky in championship contention remains a focus to Wade. That could largely hinge on whether the team can re-sign 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper when she hits free agency this offseason. Wade also envisions the Sky establishing itself as a "big part of the of the city, just like the Cubs, just like the White Sox, just like the Bulls" by securing key sponsorships and partnerships with Chicago businesses.
"No pun intended, but the sky's the limit," Wade said.
Wade's investment makes him the latest high-profile athlete to become a WNBA owner, joining the likes of Tom Brady (Las Vegas Aces), Alex Rodriguez (Minnesota Lynx) and Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Sparks).
Rawlinson said that bringing in a figure of Wade's stature both on and off the court reflects a "continued validation of the WNBA as a premier professional league."
Wade said the high-profile ownership names help bring "some light," to the league, but the "players are the ones that are going to drive this league."
"No one is bigger than the players," Wade continued. "No one is bigger than A'ja Wilson right now. No one is bigger than Aliyah Boston. No one wants to be bigger than them as an owner. That's not what you want. And so we want to bring attention to the league that we can, but we also want to bring our resources to the league. We want to bring what we've learned by playing in these leagues for a long time to the front offices, to the management teams and to everyone."
Wade recognizes, too, that the trajectory of the Sky franchise could impact the league as a whole as it nears 30 years of existence -- which was a big draw.
"I'm going to enjoy this process, probably even more than the NBA process, because this one is not ready-made," Wade said. "This one, it has so much room for improvement and growth, and I just want to be additive to this entire league. Hopefully, we can do that. All of us."