Palm Beach Post – Feb 17, 2006 – Carlos Frías – Dwyane Wade was cruising down Brickell Avenue one day during his rookie season when a beautiful sight made him hit the brakes.

A couple was strolling the sidewalk, each wearing Wade’s No. 3 Heat jersey, one in black, the other in white.

Jersey gallery

Wade pulled over his blue Escalade, rolled down the window and chatted with his new favorite fans. He thanked them for their support. He thanked them for wearing his jersey.

“It just made their day,” Wade said, “but they don’t know that they made my day.”

These days, Wade can barely turn a corner or drive a base line without seeing No. 3 hanging from the shoulders of men, women and children of all ages, races, nationalities, sizes and shapes.

Nearly as many fans are wearing Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32. The Big Merchandiser’s jersey is No. 6 among top-selling jerseys in the NBA, based on sales figures from the NBA Store on New York’s Fifth Avenue and

Wade’s No. 3 is No. 1.

The authentic jerseys, at $150 a pop, form a sea of 3s and 32s at every game at AmericanAirlines Arena. Never mind the bellies, sloped shoulders, pipe-cleaner arms and clashing jewelry � everyone wants to be a part of the team.

John Murray, a sports psychologist based in West Palm Beach, said the jersey phenomenon, “gives us more of a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Take the Mendizabal family of Miami Beach. Nick, the 39-year-old dad, showed up at a recent game in his black Shaq jersey. Nicole, 12, and Alec, 10, wore No. 3s. Alec also has a sweet LeBron James number, but “I’m not cheering for him today,” he said, before watching Shaq and Wade bully James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.

A few sections away, Mark Harmanoff, 30, of Fort Lauderdale, snapped the shoulders of his bright blue Wade All-Star jersey and proudly declared, “Special order.”

For him, wearing a jersey is all about style. He also owns an authentic white home Wade jersey, but likes standing apart at the trendy Triple-A.

“You become a part of the whole. You belong,” Harmanoff said. “Plus, you get one of the really rare ones that not everybody has.”

Harmanoff’s first jersey purchase was Lenny Dykstra’s eye-searing, orange-and-blue Mets jersey. Showing up at school in Queens, he was the coolest guy in the room.

“I was a superstar. It was official,” he said.

Sean Altshuler, 19, of Plantation, still wears the Glen Rice jersey his father bought him as a kid, having attended his first game at the Miami Arena in 1988.

Recently, though, his Rice and Wade home jerseys got some hanger time against Altshuler’s latest purchase: Wade’s authentic red-and-white Olympic jersey. It looks about a size too large on his lanky frame, but it’s perfect for hanging out.

“Sometimes I even wear it at home while I’m watching them play on the road,” Altshuler said.

Wade’s sales figures began to rise after his dazzling dunks and clutch shots were showcased for the first time nationwide during the playoffs of his rookie season.

It helps, too, that the Heat picked up major exposure with Shaq’s arrival last season, and that the team has an eye-catching black-and-red color scheme.

“This is all part of fashion,” said Neil Schwartz, director of marketing at SportScan Info., which tracks jersey sales at 13,000 retailers across the country. “You’ll see teams with cooler jerseys and more popular colors with higher sales.”

By Schwartz’s count, Wade’s jersey is fourth in national sales, behind James, Denver’s Carmelo Anthony, and Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant, though the NBA said SportsScan does not count sales at Wal-Mart, one of the largest retailers.

There’s no market debate at AmericanAirlines Arena, where $150 jerseys are hot sellers at the Hoops Gear store.

“Throughout history, there’s always been more power in numbers,” Murray said. “Wearing your jersey is like carrying your flag.”

James has had fans wearing his No. 23 jersey since he was a high school sensation in Ohio. He also has a collection of replica jerseys, including the Purdue jersey of Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese.

“It was just something that I just cherished and loved to do,” James said.

During his rookie season, James often wore throwback jerseys on the road. But the NBA’s dress code has kept most of his merchandise in the closet.

O’Neal has seen jerseys grow into big business, even from his days at LSU when the “Shaq Pack” donned his purple-and-yellow No. 32 in one corner of the arena. Sales mushroomed when he joined the Orlando Magic.

“I would go back to the old neighborhood and everyone was wearing my jersey,” he said.

Wade appreciates the fervor. Growing up in Chicago, he proudly wore his first jersey â€â€? Michael Jordan’s red No. 23 â€? and his brother donned a No. 33 Scottie Pippen when they played in the driveway.

He doesn’t care about psychology or sales. But he knows what that jersey meant to him. And that only makes him prouder when he sees fans wearing his number.

“It just means so much because people have identified with me, not only on the court, but off the court, and (they) like the person I am,” Wade said. “Sometimes, it’s kind of emotional, when you see so many people with your jersey on.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.