Dwyane Wade is helping make the Utah Jazz one of the most tech-savvy teams in the NBA

December 3, 2021, 3:38 PM UTC

After a 16-year career in the NBA, Dwyane Wade is now a proud minority owner of the Utah Jazz after buying a stake in the team in April 2021. The position isn’t just a fun investment for the future Hall of Famer—he sees it as an opportunity to inspire more Black basketball players to join him in the ownership ranks. 

Speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif., this week, Wade was asked what it will take to increase Black representation among the league’s owners. “Visibility,” he said. “Most of us, we need to see a visual image of something, to know that we can accomplish it.” 

Wade then name-checked Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Grant Hill as three stars whose moves into executive roles inspired him to pursue this new role with the Jazz, and he hopes he can do the same for current players. 

“I feel it’s very important as a recent retired player to continue that for our players, young guys to see that the game is not just about basketball,” he said. “It’s not just about how many points you score throughout the week, and so I want to be a visual image for the next generation that’s coming up, is playing the game of basketball right now, and understands that this game ends at a very early age in your life, and there’s so much more to do.”

Since Wade joined in April, the Jazz have leaped to the forefront of tech-savvy teams, most notably with an NFT/metaverse experience that brings fans into the locker room. The concept came from NYU interns and was brought into reality by Jazz majority owner Ryan Smith, who also founded the experience management company Qualtrics. People who purchased the NFT were given an Oculus VR headset that enabled them to tour the facility and attend a virtual meet and greet with Smith. 

“We are trying to provide a different experience for our fan base, and this was an opportunity to have experiential reality where we designed an exact replica of the locker room,” Smith said. He noted that, after interacting with fans’ avatars, he immediately started thinking bigger, with more virtual access to press conferences, interviews, and other experiences that are usually off-limits to the public. Wade is all in, too, saying, “As a player, you want each fan, each supporter, each family member, each friend to have amazing experiences. This is nothing but an added bonus of an experience that we really haven’t seen.”

But more important than the metaverse fun for the two men is the social impact that being a sports owner allows. Smith pointed out that the Jazz give out four-year college scholarships to an underrepresented student every time the team wins—that’s 60 scholarships last year, and 16 and counting for the 2021–22 season. He and Wade are also actively involved with Encircle, a charity that provides housing and mental health resources to LGBTQ+ youth, with Apple’s Tim Cook also taking part. Wade spoke about how they raised $8 million to build eight Encircle homes in Utah and why it’s a charity that’s dear to his heart, in part because of his daughter Zaya coming out as transgender in 2020.

“It just fit with what I know my family and I are trying to do,” he said. “What Ryan and Tim and everyone’s a part of building in Utah, it was just chills in my body to know that these kids have someone to talk to, a therapist on site at all times to talk about the things that they’re dealing with and what they’re going through, to have people really care about them individually. Right now, there’s a lot of problems in the world and a lot of solutions for those problems, and Encircle has become a part of the solution in Utah. So I’m excited to have been been a part of this.”

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