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Changing lives for the better

It’s easy to assume professional athletes are exactly what they seem to be: people gifted with athletic ability who, physically, work hard to enhance their performance and win games. To many, an athlete’s worth is defined by the numbers of wins they have under their belt.

Behind the scenes, the real person emerges.

Take Dwyane Wade. In his 16-year career in the NBA, he racked up many accolades with the Miami Heat and the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team and was a 13-time NBA all-star. He officially retired this week. In his last year on the court, after each game, he swapped jerseys with opposing team members — some were friends, former teammates, rivals, legends; others he didn’t know at all. But in his final playing days, another type of swap was orchestrated.

In a touching video produced by Budweiser, the point is driven home that Wade effected change in lives that had nothing to do with his actions on the court. He has no idea why he’s standing center court at AmericanAirlines Arena, but one by one, five people come forward to do their own versions of a Wade jersey swap.

There’s the young man who gives Wade the blazer he wore to his first job interview, an interview that never would have taken place without Wade’s positive influence over more than a decade. There’s the young woman who hands Wade her college graduation cap and gown, a college education that her family could not afford, yet Wade chose to give her. There’s another young woman, the sister of Joaquin Oliver, a star high school basketball player who was one of the 17 killed during the Parkland shooting last year. Of his own volition, Wade wrote Joaquin’s name on his shoes before his games, in memory of that tragedy. She gave Wade Joaquin’s championship jersey. There’s another woman whose family’s home burned down 10 days before Christmas in 2008; Wade stepped in and purchased a home, furnishings, clothing and more for a family he did not know.

Finally, there’s Wade’s mother, a former drug addict who was in and out of jail during his childhood. Through his unwavering support, she’s now a minister with her own church.

“You became our hero.”

“You cared.”

“You don’t even understand the lives that you changed.”

“I am more proud of the man you have become than the basketball player. You are bigger than basketball.”

The lesson to be learned from Wade is not how to become a three-time NBA championship winner, but how acts of kindness — small or large — can have a lasting impact and change lives for the better. Wade is the type of role model all should aspire to be.