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The Equity Era: What Dwyane Wade’s Ownership Move Means for NBA Player Empowerment

Last Updated: July 21, 2021
D-Wade becoming co-owner of the Utah Jazz is extraordinary. In an ideal world, it’s the new normal.

For a select group of the NBA’s very best of all time, the desire to stay close to the game of basketball means more than taking up coaching or a career in media. Instead, it’s about finding a path that promises to shape the Association long after they’ve tallied their last minutes on the hardwood and achieved enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

Dwyane Wade joined a growing list of basketball superstars to purchase a stake in an NBA franchise, announcing last week that he’s now a co-owner of the Utah Jazz. He joins Grant Hill (Atlanta Hawks),  Shaquille O’Neal (Sacramento Kings), and Michael Jordan (Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets) in this elite club — one that promises to grow as player empowerment continues to take new forms.

Call it the Equity Era.

Wade is no passive partner. He envisions a hands-on role with the Jazz, and recognizes the significance of the move and the precedent it sets.

“Unfortunately, people in my community don’t get this opportunity, and I do not take it lightly to have this opportunity,” he told ESPN. “To make real change, this is where you have to be — at the top — and [Jazz majority owner Ryan Smith] knows that.”

The 13-time All-Star’s involvement with the Jazz signifies an upward trend of diversity breaking the glass ceiling of upper management across the league. Hall of Fame players certainly have the influence and resources to move the needle here, but there is massive room for growth. Even with the recent trend of NBA legends transitioning to the front office and beyond, Michael Jordan remains the league’s sole Black majority owner.

Fortunately, the players and NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts want to find ways to hasten the progress in this direction: They want to active NBA players to have access to equity stakes in either their individual teams or the league itself.

This equity evolution would enable more players to do what Wade, Shaq, Hill, and MJ did: begin charting a path to the owners’ suite long before their respective retirements. The key is that these four began building their portfolios off of the court while they played, learning business savvy and laying the foundation for their next chapters in their 20s and 30s rather than waiting for middle age.

Hill was — and still is — the lead spokesperson for FILA. The Jordan Brand has become a world-famous entity of its own under the Nike umbrella, and continues to attract next-generation stars like Zion Williamson. Looking for Shaq? Turn on a TV and it won’t be long before a commercial featuring the Diesel appears on your screen. Additionally, Wade, Hill, and O’Neal are also television analysts at Turner Sports, giving them far more sustained visibility than your typical NBA co-owner — and far more influence.

As players become more empowered and investment opportunities expand, these legends’ experiences will grow increasingly common.

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For Wade, it was his pursuit of business knowledge that first connected him with Jazz majority owner Ryan Smith. Through the years, Wade has built a diverse portfolio of endorsements and investments. He was the first major athlete to sign with shoe company Li Ning, he has his own wine label, Wade Cellars, and is also affiliated with a number of restaurants.

Wade credits Smith as the mentor who helped make this all possible. One day, relationships like these ought to be the norm rather than the exception.

In a perfect timeline, any and all NBA greats would seamlessly transition into a partial stake in the franchises whose legacies (and massive economic valuations) they helped to grow. In this ideal world, perhaps Wade would be co-owner of the Miami Heat, the place where “Wade County” was born. But our desire for storybook narratives does not diminish what this incredible move truly means within and without the culture of the game.