The Game Beyond the Court

How a Tampa Bay area firm proved basketball star Dwyane Wade means business

A three-time NBA champion. A 12-time NBA All-Star. An NBA Finals most valuable player.

Dwyane Wade has put together a Hall of Fame-caliber career as a guard, mainly with the Miami Heat of the National Basketball Association. Now, just one month before the end of his final regular season, he has positioned himself to continue winning long after the final buzzer sounds.

After spending the 2016-17 season with the Chicago Bulls and the 2017-18 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wade returned to the Heat this season and announced it would be his final year in the NBA, via a viral video titled “One Last Dance,” posted to YouTube in September. It was a prelude of things to come, and an acknowledgement that his retirement would be an opportunity to brand yet another facet of his “game.”

While casual fans might recognize Wade from his televised highlights and skills on the court, business leaders have enjoyed front-row seats as this team captain-turned-CEO has engaged in multiple deals that added to his corporate playbook for more than 10 years.

As one of today’s biggest basketball stars readies himself for a life away from the court, his journey in business is moving to the forefront. That’s where a Tampa company comes into play.

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Paige Thomas, a self-described “brand architect” and managing principal of creative consulting firm Elevate Branding, remembers when she first encountered Wade’s business team three years ago. “It was kind of just one of those random relationships. My copywriter, at the time, happened to be dating a photographer who worked for a gentleman named Bob Metelus,” Thomas recalls. “He insisted I meet his boss but never disclosed who he was or who he worked with.” 

Turns out, Metelus was Wade’s personal photographer and production media director. He was in charge of all of Wade’s imagery, from lifestyle and editorial photography to video content, and everything between. 

“I will never forget our first conference call,” Thomas says. “While I was presenting one of my projects to him, the next thing I remember him saying was, ‘I’m going to change your life.’ ”

Metelus says of Thomas’ portfolio: “I was blown away by her work when I saw it. It was so clean and professional. I come from a corporate background and it felt corporate to me. It felt upscale. She has a way of making the complex look simple.”

At the start of their call, Thomas still had no idea about Metelus’ high-profile client. It wasn’t until toward the end that she learned who he worked with.

“I was pretty shocked,” Thomas says.

She wound up helping Metelus with a couple of promotional projects for NBA All-Stars, but it was months that the conversation turned to Wade and the project of a lifetime — a hardback book that would be used as a business portfolio for Wade.

“They were looking for a communication that captured all of Wade’s business investments, projects and accomplishments into one, something that hadn’t been done before,” says Thomas, whose firm specializes in brand strategy, identity and design. “Dwyane was one of those rare players that explored the world of business and branding during his career, versus after retirement. He was involved in many things that a lot of people weren’t aware of. In honor of their request, we suggested creating his first brand portfolio that would present his story and business partnerships in one publication.” 

The goal: Position Wade to appeal to investors and other potential partnerships as he gets ready to enter the next phase of his career.

“What do investors care about? Besides performance, they care about the person they’re investing in,” Thomas says. “That’s the question which began our process.”

Her goal was to illustrate Wade’s mindset toward success, both on and off the court. She wanted to draw a parallel between him as a person and his athletic accomplishments to convey his potential beyond basketball, she says.

“His humility, leadership and relentless drive to overcome adversity is what defines his legacy. Wade is ambitious, creative and unapologetic, and looks at things from a different perspective. One of the lines in our book reads, ‘He exists in a space created by his own willingness to challenge the norm,’” Thomas says

The result was The Portfolio—40 pages curated to share Wade’s story and his plans to succeed in his “next chapter” conversations. It visually depicts Wade’s professional journey—as a person, as a player and how both relate to the business—through his athletic career, partnerships and community involvement.

“It’s not the traditional-looking piece, because he’s not the traditional-minded businessperson. You have to understand that about him first, to understand why he is a great business partner,” Thomas says.

Adds Metelus: “He fully embraces who he is, what he’s a part of, and what he’s connected to. Dwyane develops everything he touches, and with this, his brand really stands on its own.”

Now, just past the NBA All-Star break—the halftime intermission, of sorts, for Wade’s “last dance”—the end of the regular season is quickly approaching. Thomas says, she is grateful to have had the opportunity to illustrate Wade’s story.

“I’m excited to see what the next chapter holds for him, post-retirement,” Thomas says. “This project serves as a shining example of what a little creativity mixed with fearless determination can do for a public figure like Wade. I hope that, in the future, more professional athletes will recognize the true power of their life’s work, both in and away from the game as they build their brand.”♦

View the full project and other works by Elevate Branding at elevatebranding.com

Marlin Media & Consulting is led by Dori Marlin, who has been making waves in media and marketing for nearly 20 years. Marlin built her career as an award-winning television news anchor and reporter at stations across the country, where she covered everything from breaking news and business stories, to consumer advocacy pieces and human interest profiles. consultmarlin.com

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