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Wade's free $100k Range Rover


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At age 23, Heat guard Dwyane Wade stands on the edge of marketing greatness, experts say.


His face has already been on a large banner on Times Square, part of an ad for Converse shoes, and his Heat jersey has become the No. 9 seller in the National Basketball Association in this, his second season.


On Monday, Wade stretched his endorsement reach a bit farther, announcing a local deal with Warren Henry Automobiles, in which he gets a customized, gas-guzzling $100,000 Range Rover in return for endorsing the dealer's cars.


''He is on the cusp of becoming a major personality in the NBA,'' said Marc Ganis, head of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago marketing firm. ``He's not there yet, at least not nationally but he is on the lip of the cup. And if the Heat has a great playoff run this year, the interest is going to increase exponentially.''


''Sounds good to me,'' smiled Wade Monday when a Herald reporter read him the quote at a Warren Henry showroom.


Does that mean he's going to feel extra pressure to do well? ''Oh no,'' the mild-mannered Wade said as if he had been coached by a media expert. ``I just go out and play my best and don't think about the rest.''


The stakes are huge for the athletes at the very top. Tiger Woods has by far the biggest draw, earning $70 million a year in endorsements, according to Sports Illustrated. Shaquille O'Neal is getting $14 million, considerably behind that young Cleveland Cavaliers upstart LeBron James, who is said to be at $35 million.


At present, Wade is still in the position of accepting Shaquille O'Neal hand-me-downs.


Henry had a deal with Mike Lowell, the Marlins third baseman, and Ricky Williams, the Dolphins running back who suddenly decided last year he was bored with football.


''He bailed out on me,'' sighed Floyd Raglin, an Aventura sports marketing specialist who arranged the Warren Henry deal. 'So I went to Shaq and asked him, and he said, `Hey, I have enough cars, so why don't you talk to Dwyane?' He was passing it along to his little brother, basically.' ''


Now, the rest is up to Wade -- and the Heat. ''To catapult him to being a real celebrity, the Heat have to make the finals,'' Raglin said. ``He won't be able to get over the hump, he will be just another basketball player with great skills, unless he gets to the finals. Basically that's your international stage.''


Without that kind of attention, few athletes in South Florida get lucrative deals. The two biggest names are ex-Dolphins, quarterback Dan Marino, who shills for AutoNation, mattresses and condominiums, and Don Shula, seen everywhere for Humana health plans.




Shaq brought with him a series of endorsements, including Starter shoes, Burger King and Radio Shack.


Alonzo Mourning remains a big name, at least in South Florida, but Scott Becher, president of the marketing firm Sports and Sponsorships in Hollywood, said he has yet to pick up any major endorsements since his return to the Heat in February.


But most other local athletes, including Marlins and Dolphins stars, have to settle for appearance fees. ''They're going to get appearance fees of $4,000 to $10,000,'' said Becher.


Wade was a virtual unknown when he was drafted out of Marquette, and though he had a fine rookie season, he didn't get a lot of national attention. ''Then he was in the Olympics,'' said Raglin, ``but the team did a terrible job, so that didn't help.''


Enter Shaq, and everything changed.


''Some were thinking that Dwyane was just emerging when Shaq arrived, and that was going to take away from Dwyane,'' said his Chicago-based agent, Henry Thomas. ``But I told him it was going to be the opposite. You're going to be on the big stage, night in and night out.''


Ganis, the sports economist, agreed. ''If they didn't have Shaq on the team, it wouldn't be the same. There they are in the highlights on ESPN. And he [Wade] is really a good team player. Especially the tried-and-true corporate sponsors don't want a lone star. They don't want an Allen Iverson,'' the star scorer of the Philadelphia Sixers. ``They want someone like Dwyane, who is very successful in the team system.''




Thomas, the agent, said Wade also benefits from the image of being the ''anti-Kobe,'' meaning Kobe Bryant, Shaq's Los Angeles Laker teammate who was accused of rape and frequently sparred with Shaq over control of the team. O'Neal and Wade, by contrast, get along famously.


Thomas said he has intentionally brought the 23-year-old Wade along slowly. He has a local deal with Levinson Jewelers in Plantation and national deals with Hollywood Collectibles and Sean John, a clothing line from Puff Daddy.


''We have gotten a lot of calls inquiring about endorsements,'' Thomas said. ``We're just trying to be very careful and protective. We don't want to saturate the market.''


Wade, who makes $2.8 million with the Heat, played the polite marketing man Monday when he appeared dressed in Converse shoes and sweat suit at Warren Henry to be photographed with an all-black Range Rover with dark tinted windows and black leather interior. ''Midnight Express'' was written in small letters on the side. The 22-inch wheels were a special chrome. His nickname Flash (given by Shaq) will be stenciled on the headrests, as will his number 3.


When a reporter asked Wade whether he planned getting a Flash 3 vanity plate, the Heat player said, ``Oh no. I don't want to take too much attention way from the Range Rover.''

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