CHICAGO -- James Wade said he wasn't going to cry Sunday. But after winning a WNBA championship in his third year as coach and general manager of the Chicago Sky, the occasion called for a few tears of joy, pride and gratitude, as he delivered a message he hopes will inspire other Black coaches.
"It's big to do something in this space," he said after the Sky's 80-74 victory in Game 4 of the Finals brought the franchise its first WNBA title. "And I'm just going to keep it real: I've always had to prove my intelligence. Always. So how do you do that? You do that through hard work. And they say, 'OK, he's a hard worker' -- but the hard work gets your intelligence in the room. So once you work hard, people start to listen to you.
"I've understood that from an early age, that I have to ... just be visible and represent good visibility instead of ... routine. Or the visibility that they try to put on us. So it's important, and it's going to always be important."
Wade, who signed a four-year contract extension with Chicago in January that takes him though the 2025 season, felt the Sky's victory meant something to a lot of people.
"It's not just for my son," Wade said, referring to 5-year-old Jet, who flew in from France with his mother, former WNBA player Edwige Lawson-Wade, to attend the Finals games in Chicago. "It's for every young Black kid that comes up behind me that you pre-judge. But never judge a book by its cover. I'm not perfect by no means, but I'm always trying to do the right thing, and it has nothing to do with my color.
"I know the game of basketball, and I know what it takes to be a champion. And here we are."
Wade, 46, is a native of Memphis, Tennessee, who played point guard at Kennesaw State in the 1990s and then spent more than a decade competing overseas. His wife, Lawson-Wade, is a native of France who played five years in the WNBA.
Wade got involved in WNBA coaching in 2012 with the San Antonio Stars when Dan Hughes was their head coach. Lawson-Wade had played for Hughes in San Antonio.
Hughes, who retired earlier this year after finishing his career with the Seattle Storm, was at Wintrust Arena on Sunday to see Wade win the title.
"Dan was the first person who told me that I was going to be a great head coach, and I thought he was crazy. I didn't believe him," Wade said. "Me and my wife laughed at the idea, and then my wife said, 'Maybe he sees something in you that you don't see.'"
At that, Wade began to tear up.
"To have somebody, especially a middle-aged white man who doesn't look nothing like you, doesn't come from your experiences, to say, 'Hey, look, I believe in you,'" Wade said. "I thought I was going to be an intern for him for three years, and he hired me as an assistant after the first year, and I have no idea why he did that.
"He's an amazing man, and I don't think he'll get enough credit. He changed my life. He absolutely changed my life, and I'm forever indebted to him."
But Wade made the most of the opportunity. He then spent two seasons with Minnesota as an assistant, winning a title in 2017, before taking over in Chicago. Wade is the third Black head coach to win a WNBA title, following Michael Cooper with Los Angeles in 2001 and 2002, and Corey Gaines with Phoenix in 2009.
"So now I can talk about how I grew up. I had no choice. You've got to have faith or you die," Wade said of the vision he sold to the Sky players when he took the job. "You're born behind the 8-ball, so you put that into all your experiences, and you show them how it's going to be done.
"I still remember saying that we were going to win a championship. No idea how. We did it because we believed."