Wade entrusted the business of profiting from his fame to a childhood friend, Marcus Andrews, who is president of Wade Global Enterprises LLC. In 2007, Wade earned an estimated $12 million in endorsements, putting him at number ten on Fortune magazine's list of most marketable athletes.
Which is to say that Wade's reputation was worth hundreds of millions of dollars when the baron met Andrews in late 2006 through a third party. (Andrews declined to be interviewed, but in response to von Houtman's myriad claims, he responded only: "Not true!") Von Houtman says he was initially offered the chance to buy the rights to Wade's likeness for T-shirt production. The cost: $1 million. "I had no idea who Dwyane Wade was at the time," the baron recalls. "I assumed he was a rapper. When I looked into him and realized he had the potential to be a megastar, I immediately wanted to get my hooks into him."
The T-shirt concept met an early demise. Wade had a clothing contract with Converse, says von Houtman. But the conversation evolved to include a chain of Hard Rock Café-like restaurants, complete with memorabilia and clothing stores. A group of restaurateurs joined the project, most prominently Mark Rodberg, co-owner in Bucky's Bar-B-Que in Boca Raton and Bucky's Grill in Fort Lauderdale.
On August 6, 2007, according to court documents, von Houtman, Rodberg, Wade, and Andrews signed their names to contracts sealing their partnership in an "upscale restaurant concept to be named D Wade's."
For his licensing rights, Wade would receive 10 percent ownership or a minimum compensation of $1 million. He would be required to make four appearances total at the restaurants per year, plus attend each grand opening. "Mr. Rodberg and Mr. von Houtman led [me] to believe that they had much experience and expertise in the restaurant business," Wade later claimed in court, "and that this deal could make everybody a lot of money."
Instead, the enterprise was reminiscent of one of the Baron's marriages: stunted, hostile, and a source of copious litigation.
The first, smaller location opened with little fanfare on North Dixie Highway in Boca Raton in February 2008. The Fort Lauderdale D Wade's, a massive 34,000-square-foot restaurant located at 1451 N. Federal Hwy., launched the next month. Wade showed up for the grand opening of the dark-wood-and-leather temple-to-the-flat-screen where waitresses wore skin-tight referee-striped outfits. He even brought along his mom.
Professional reviewers never made it to the restaurants, but many amateurs were unkind. "They basically turned the whole restaurant into a huge cheesy bar [with] display cases filled with D. Wade stuff," commented one Chowhound.com user. "Food is typical cheap bar food — fried this and that, potato skins, burgers, etc. ... What a disappointment."
Behind the scenes, according to claims Wade made in court, his partners were hatching schemes to cut him out of profits. Four months after the Fort Lauderdale location opened, von Houtman sold his stake in the restaurants. The new owners entered negotiations to expand the chain with former Kentucky governor and KFC founder John Y. Brown — "unbeknownst to Mr. Wade."
Soon after, Wade claims in court papers, he was asked to invest $1 million in an under-construction Aventura location. He declined.
The 4-month-old Boca Raton D Wade's aborted in May 2008. The Fort Lauderdale restaurant followed suit two months later — right around the time the basketball star helped Team USA win a gold medal. Wade then suspended the restaurants' use of his name, according to court documents, effectively terminating the chain roughly a week before the Aventura location was scheduled to open.
The controversy also spelled the end for a side venture in which the baron claims to still be involved. The partners had invested in a planned chain of five Fort Lauderdale-based charter high schools, to be called D. Wade's Schools; a nonprofit called Mavericks in Education founded them. Wade was given an undisclosed percentage of shares in the schools, which would specialize in reforming dropouts. The CEO of Mavericks, Mark Thimmig, claims that after the restaurant deal began to go sour, Wade "dropped off the face of the Earth."
"The contract called for him to take an active part in promoting the schools," Thimmig says. "I haven't been able to reach him. It's a tragedy of missed opportunity."