As his young son grows up quickly, so does the Heat's Dorell Wright

Jan 11 2010 - 6:13pm

MIAMI -- Five years ago, Dorell Wright wasn't living like this.

Five years ago, when Wright was a 19-year-old still adjusting to the life of a young millionaire, he lived with a roommate in a condo so big and bare you could hear echoes. You could much easier find a spot to play video games on a huge TV screen than you could a place to sit and eat a meal.

Walking into Wright's current residence, a humble town house in Coconut Grove, Fla., that he bought from former teammate Malik Allen after he was traded to Charlotte in 2005, is like rediscovering the man.

It feels lived in. There's a family portrait visible upon entry. There's a worn Thriller album cover displayed on the living room's end table -- a living room that doesn't even feature a TV.

There's a kitchen and family room that aren't pristine by any means, but at least there's a good amount of furniture and food and further evidence that this is a home, not just a meeting place before a night on the town.

There are still elements of extravagance. Like the Bentley parked in the driveway with "DWright" designed into the center of the rims, and the 73-inch TV on the wall of the game room that's used almost strictly for X-Box related activities.

But there's one little ingredient that proves this isn't the same Dorell Wright from five years ago.

It's the one stuffing his mouth with Gerber Graduates cookies and unashamed when crumbs are sliding out of his mouth. The one who grabs a mini-basketball, shoots it, then falls to the floor because he's emulating his pal Dwyane Wade.

It's the 1-year-old in the tiny Tony Romo jersey who is making his dad crack up after an exhausting practice session.

He's Devin Quentin Dwyane Wright, and he's the principal reason Dorell Wright has changed so much since entering the NBA as a wide-eyed teenager.

"It was the greatest thing ever," Wright said of learning he would be a father at 22. "I wanted to be a young dad. My parents were 21 when they had me, so I wanted to be around that age. I want to be able to relate to my son once he gets older."

Wright is 24 now, already sharing his iPod with his son, X-Box controllers and a knowledge of basketball.

"He knows what's going on," said Wright, who lives with his girlfriend, Mia. "He'll say, 'Daddy dunk.' He'll say, 'Flash, Q, UD, Quinny.' He'll name everybody. He definitely knows what's going on."

His father does, too. At least he does now.

If it seems like Wright has been in Miami forever, it's because he has. His six years have had so many of the same elements, it's as if he was doomed to be a relative non-factor for as long as he stayed in Miami.

He was given chances, and usually had brief bursts of success that were followed by return trips to the bench and extended frustration.

If it wasn't a fed-up coach who took away his opportunities, it was a devastating knee injury that effectively ruined 1 1/2 years of his career.

All the while, Wright didn't exactly handle matters with much maturity. But how could you expect maturity from a teenager who had almost everything he wanted.

"He was every bit of 18," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "That's not unlike a lot of high school players that come in. They don't have any idea what they're getting into."

Dwyane Wade -- who is a godfather to Devin, along with teammate Quentin Richardson -- has no problem describing the teenage version of Wright.

"He was a whiner," Wade said. "Some young guys come in and you could tell everything's been given to them their whole lives, and when it's not, they don't know how to deal with it. He couldn't really take coaching. When someone would say something to him, he wasn't really open to it."

Wright hardly denies it. He admitted he felt a bit entitled, like most high school players who were good enough to jump into the NBA at the time.

He readily admits that he and assistant coach Keith Askins were at odds constantly, as Wright would regularly question all the work he was put through.

He figured he was talented enough to survive if given the chance. And he would try to prove that every chance he got -- even if it was just a pregame walkthrough.

"One time I busted Eddie Jones' lip -- in a walkthrough," Wright said. "He looked at me like, 'Yo, tone it down.'

"What do they call it, thirsty? That's what I was. I was thirsty."

He was unquenched. He was rebellious in his own way, but he always found a way to stay grounded. It usually involved listening to veteran teammates such as Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning or Steve Smith.

And, of course, it involved those young parents of his, Ray and Stacy, who knew exactly what to tell him.

"My parents, they're the reason I'm still in the NBA right now," Wright said. "I give them a lot of credit. When times were bad for me, they always kept my head straight and made me look at it another way.

"They kept me level-headed and stopped me from going crazy. Trust me, I wanted to go crazy a lot."

He might have gone crazy after his knee injury in early March 2008. In an awful year for the Heat, Wright was at least putting something together for the first time, registering career numbers.

Then the meniscus tear that sent him under the knife tore him up.

Fortunately, there was a little one providing him with some perspective.

Devin wasn't even 2 weeks old when his father underwent surgery. And much of Wright's extended time off the court was spent with his new little boy.

"It was hard, but the best thing was me and him got a chance to really vibe with each other and just be around," Wright said. "That's when he wasn't really moving around, so he was just laying there on my chest and stuff like that, just hanging with me.

"At that point, I was miserable. I was all the way down on myself, like, 'This had to happen now.' But he was there. He was right on time to cheer me up and keep my head over water."

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It's no coincidence, then, that Wright was able to persevere through the extended recovery from that injury. He was able to play in only six games last season because he initially returned too soon and had a setback.

A NEW ATTITUDE

This season, it appeared Wright's story would repeat again, with Richardson and James Jones presumably ahead of him in the rotation at small forward.

But with the help of a new attitude -- one that took him six years and a taste of fatherhood to assume -- Wright has worked his way back into the playing rotation.

"D-Wright is normally someone who has a short fuse," Wade said. "If someone says something to him, he can't take it. But he's starting to take coaching.

"He's starting to come in every day, no matter if he's playing or not, and not complain, just practice and play hard. Me and Quentin, we try to stay on him, but he started doing it on his own."

After this season, Wright will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. That could be part of the reason he decided to lose the poor body language and fully accept the idea of constructive criticism.

But much of that motivation comes via the little man with the red race-car bed.

"It affects you a lot," Udonis Haslem said of becoming a father. "All of a sudden it's not all about you. When you've got other people depending on you, you look at things in a whole other light, and all of a sudden you get out of yourself and you start looking at the big picture."

There are a couple of big pictures -- murals, actually -- in Devin's room. One portrays him as a baseball player and another is of him standing with his father on an outdoor basketball court.

It's almost hard to consider Wright is the father in that mural and not the child. It seems like just yesterday that Wright was wearing an ill-fitting suit at his introductory news conference with his parents by his side.

But it's six years later and he has a championship ring he keeps in his closet, a five-year career behind him, a longer career ahead of him and a child that has made it all the better.

As a teenager in the NBA, Wright wasn't living like this. It's still a bit surreal to him, but he prefers it this way.

"Yeah, it is surreal, but I enjoy it," Wright said. "It's nothing I would ever regret. It's the greatest thing ever."

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