NBA Star Dwyane Wade Talks Fatherhood, the Big Three and How King James Compares with Air Jordan

A TIME conversation with Dwyane Wade.

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Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Time Magazine

NBA player Dwyane Wade (R) speaks at the TIME 10 Questions Live Event with TIME Magazine managing editor Rick Stengel on September 6, 2012.

By most measures, Dwyane Wade had a pretty good year. In his second season as a key cog in the Miami Heat’s Big Three (along with Chris Bosh and LeBron James), Wade won his second career NBA championship, as Miami downed Oklahoma City in five games.

But after winning the title, Wade had knee surgery, which forced him to miss playing in his third Olympics. He took the setback in stride, traveling to London to cheer on his friends and teammates and they brought home gold. Next up for Wade: the release of his new book, A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than BasketballWade dropped by TIME’s New York City headquarters on Thursday, and in a wide-ranging discussion with TIME managing editor Rick Stengel, he talked about his brutal divorce and custody battle, the process of assembling (and keeping together) the Big Three, what it’s like to play with LeBron James and shooting hoops with the President of the United States.

The heart of Wade’s new book is his relationship with his two sons Zaire and Zion. He was determined to be a good father, he explained, because of his experience growing up with divorced parents on Chicago‘s South Side. But his dreams of being a good father hit a major snag in 2010. “I went through a very ugly divorce, then I went through a very drawn out, ugly custody case,” Wade said. “For me, it’s about doing what I’ve always wanted to do–be a father. Whether because my father wasn’t in my life at certain times or because he was, I knew it was important to be a father since I was young.”

(MORE: NBA Playoffs–How Dwyane Wade Found Redemption)

During his custody battle, which ended in March 2011, Wade focused first and foremost on getting custody of his sons. “The fear of not knowing, the fear of not being there, not being able to sleep because I don’t know where my kids are, that hurt me,” he said. “I had to fight to be in their lives just for visitation rights. I took it to court to fight for the full custody.”

After winning custody of  Zaire and Zion, Wade had to ride out the rough wake of LeBron James’s “Decision,” where the Big Three met incredibly high expectations, only to fall short in the 2011 NBA Finals. After that loss, Wade took command of the team by taking a step back on the floor, pushing LeBron to become the lead player. “I’m man enough to understand you are the best player in the world,” Wade told LeBron. “I’m not far behind you. You’re at the point of your career where you’re very very good and we need you to assert yourself.” For most NBA superstars, stepping down from being the go-to guy would be a tough charge, but Wade knew it was the path to a championship. “I’ve been the best player, and my booty was nailed to the bench before,” Wade said. “I know how to play different positions. I said listen, we’re going to go as far as you lead us, but you’ve got some very good people right behind you ready to step in.”

(MORE: How LeBron and the Miami Heat Took the Title)

LeBron did just that, and with Wade as the floor general and Chris Bosh playing a crucial supporting role, the Heat brought the trophy back to South Beach. Few dispute that LeBron is the best player in the game right now, but how does he stack up against the all-time best–Michael Jordan? “Lebron James has a long way to go to reach Michael Jordan, and he knows that more than anybody,” Wade said. “Michael will be the greatest player I’ll see in my lifetime, but No. 6 isn’t bad at all.”

Look for a full “10 Questions” Q&A with Wade in an upcoming issue of TIME magazine.

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