‘I Need a Bob’: The Man Who Helped Dwyane Wade Pioneer Content Ownership

    • Bob Metelus went from part-time photographer to full-time studio owner and director with an A-list clientele - all of which started with his work with Wade.
    • “[Bob’s] the kind of person who can walk into a room and not know anybody and leave knowing 20 people and feel like he’s known them his whole life,” Wade says.

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Chris Paul said it first. Jimmy Butler said it next. 

Carmelo Anthony, Udonis Haslem, Serena Williams and more eventually decided it for themselves too. 

“I need a Bob.”

They didn’t need any Bob, though, they needed Bob Metelus – photographer, cinematographer, director, producer and above all, he says, “storyteller.” The problem was, this Bob was taken. He was Dwyane Wade’s.

The Miami-based photographer and South Florida native built a brand around his name largely through his work with Wade, although today it extends far beyond the retired Heat hero. The photos Metelus had taken of Paul, Anthony and others when they’d spent time with Wade made an impression – on Jordan Brand trips or at All-Star games or wherever else the pair wound up in a given year. 

And as word spread about Metelus’s fly on the wall verité and his uncanny ability to capture the most candid and intimate of moments without intruding, so too did his clientele. Wade, although still the focus of most of Metelus’s work over the last decade, was willing to share, encouraging Metelus to take on new projects and grow his business.

Metelus remembers the moment Paul called him and said it – it was his birthday.

It was also the day that Metelus, the man behind the ‘D. Wade: Life Unexpected’ documentary that aired on ESPN in February, realized that his work could be bigger than Wade, if that were possible.

“Chris called me and was like, ‘Yo bro, I need a Bob in my life,” Metelus recalls, the humility hanging off every word. “‘I need a Bob to do what you do for D for me.’ Then with Jimmy, same idea. He saw me around in the locker room when Dwyane was in Chicago and he was like, ‘I need a Bob, too.’ To be known as [that] kind of person, that was really something.”

Metelus couldn’t have imagined any of this, he says, when he began photographing Wade’s life in 2008 while still working a full-time sales job. A decade, a wedding, and two kids later, he’s now built an entire business out of that beginning. 

Metelus is the man everyone wants to work with.

Wade says it started with a photo on an airplane. Metelus says it started with a PowerPoint presentation. But both still marvel at how Metelus’s role as Wade’s right-hand archival man ultimately turned into a full-time career in photography and cinematography and birthed his eponymous studio.

“When I saw the documentary and it said ‘Directed by Bob Metelus,’ it was like wow – look at where we came from,” Wade says. “One photo [and] that’s how this whole thing started. I didn’t know he was shooting and he showed me and I was like ‘Oh, that’s dope.’ And he was like, ‘Man, we should do this more often.’ And now he’s directing my documentary.”

Metelus met Wade through his now-wife, Lisa, who was – and still is – Wade’s business manager when she and Metelus started dating. And while that bit of happenstance opened the doors, it was a sales pitch that sealed the deal.

His passion for photography started at a young age and extended into adulthood when Metelus started shooting weddings and events in South Florida outside of his 9-5 in 1998. He’d done some editorial work here and there, photographing for a few news outlets around the Super Bowl in 1999, but working with Wade was what he wanted.

And he wanted Wade to know he was serious about taking his part-time passion for photography one step further.

Metelus wrote a proposal for Wade’s team. The PowerPoint presentation outlined not only why he should be the one to shoot Wade’s life but why Wade needed the most intimate details of his already very public life captured in the first place. 

“This is kind of like a thing in sales, where you gotta show someone they can’t live without something,” Metelus says. “You need to capture your life because someone’s gotta do it. And [it] might as well be me because you know me.”

Metelus used the photographs he’d shot for Wade over the last year since they’d met through Lisa to pitch himself as the right person, listing moments in Wade’s life he thought should be caught on camera, and including moments he’d already captured through the lens of their existing friendship.

“There’s no one capturing it [now] and if you don’t shoot it, someone else is going to shoot it and own it,” Metelus says. “The idea, as easy as you think that is now for someone to say, ‘Of course I want to own my own content,’ – was new then. You had Muhammad Ali, but you only had a couple of guys who may have done it. That’s what I sold him on: owning your own.”

The time he took to craft the pitch didn’t go unnoticed by Wade’s team. 

“When I sent it to his agent and [to] Lisa, they were like, ‘Oh, he’s serious, serious,’ Metelus laughs as he remembers the reaction to the old school sales side of himself. “He’d been approached before me about having a life photographer. But those were more of a conversation. I felt that PowerPoint presentation at the time was a show of how serious I was. I’m not here trying to play no games. So now it was time to deliver.”

And for more than a decade, he delivered. 

Metelus traveled the world with Wade, capturing hundreds of hours of candid moments of Wade’s career and personal life: the struggles and triumphs, successes and failures, lessons learned and moments that may have otherwise been forgotten. Many of those were captured in the documentary – from LeBron James drawing out his decision to make the Big Three a reality in Miami to bumps in the road in Wade’s relationship with his now-wife Gabrielle Union to the three-time NBA champion’s 12-year-old, Zaya, publicly identifying as transgender. 

“We all go through life everyday – whatever we’re trying to do, whoever we’re trying to be, whatever we’re trying to build – and it becomes an everyday grind,” Wade says. “You don’t really stop and reflect. Going through the documentary and going through some of the photos or videos he’d send me sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh s—,  you got that? We got that?’ Because I don’t know all of the times he’s [shooting].”

Wade points to a photo of him with Melo mid-conversation in a restroom – one of his favorite photos to date, one he says will wind up in one of his books one day. 

“That’s kind of the relationship we have and he has with other guys like CP who really let him in. When he shoots, a lot of times you don’t even know he’s there because he’s just a fly on the wall.”

“I didn’t even know Bob was shooting,” Wade says. “That’s kind of the relationship we have and he has with other guys like CP who really let him in. When he shoots, a lot of times you don’t even know he’s there because he’s just a fly on the wall. It allows him to capture a lot of moments a lot of people won’t share with others, even people that are close to them. You end up sharing them around Bob because you don’t feel like he’s there or he’s intruding into your personal space even though he is. But he doesn’t make it feel that way.”

And as time went on and trust grew between the two, so did the work they were doing and the opportunities that came Metelus’s way as a result of their relationship.

Metelus got his first taste of commercial photography through Wade. When Wade first signed with Li-Ning, Metelus shot photos for the Way of Wade sneaker announcement. When clients would ask Wade for covers or campaign photos, his response was always, “I got a guy.” That guy was always Bob.

“It started more for archival purposes, we were just trying to protect Dwyane’s legacy. You know, content is king,” Metelus says. “Let’s just capture our own content. But once you’re around the subjects as long as I’ve been, more opportunities come. You just, you start to try more things, do more things.”

When the Heat lost the championship in 2011 – the first year of the Big Three with Wade, James and Chris Bosh – they started doing just that. Metelus, who hadn’t shot video footage before, bought a new camera and began learning as he went. He scrapped early thoughts about film school and continued to capture Wade’s life in a hybrid way through both video footage and photographs over the next several years before that call from Paul, who wanted to let Metelus in the same way that Wade did. 

The end result was the critically acclaimed, Metelus-directed 2017 ESPN docuseries “Chris Paul’s Chapter 3,” in which Metelus intimately chronicled Paul’s free agency decision to leave the Clippers for the Rockets. 

Metelus put that series together just five months after finally leaving his sales job to pursue photography full-time, the same year he landed Jimmy Butler as an official client. For the nine years prior, he had – somehow – been doing both.

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The decision to go all-in on his studio stemmed from a conversation where credit again gets tossed around. Metelus attributes the decision to a call from Wade that came that January – a call that Wade says came from a conversation he had with Lisa.

“Dwyane called me and was like, ‘Man, Bobby, business is growing!’” Metelus says. “He said, ‘You know, I think you should step out and do [this] full-time. He was like, ‘Man, it’s time. It’s time to get out there.’ But it’s comfortable to get a check that you know is coming every other week. And to kind of take that leap of faith, it was [because] he had that faith in me like, ‘It’s time, you ready,’ and just kind of backing me. And ever since then I haven’t looked back. From there it just grew. To this day I thank him for that call.”

Wade is quick to coyly defer credit to Metelus’s wife, who he says was on her husband for several years leading up to his decision to go solo about “not being one foot in and one foot out.”

“She sat down with me about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to do lined up with what Bob wanted to do so she told me to call him,” Wade says. “I reached out to him and I said, ‘Bob, it’s time. This is something that you really see yourself doing and this is what your passion is and it’s time to take this leap and take this chance. You got me. Take this chance with me. And then from there, we’ll build and we’ll go.’” 

Despite Metelus’s initial fears about leaving the life he’d grown accustomed after nearly a decade – build is exactly what they did. 

A sizzle reel Metelus made for a meeting Paul had with his team in Las Vegas before free agency began was shown to then-Disney CEO Bob Iger, turning into a bidding war for what became the three-part series. None of Metelus’s work had been put out in the world in the way this was up until this point. Twitter and Instagram he was used to. A production budget he was not.

Nor was he used to becoming part of these deeply private, raw conversations that made his films so unique, as opposed to just their capturer. 

During Paul’s free agency, he asked Metelus to join him for a handful of meetings, one of which was with rapper and business mogul, Jay-Z, who was days away from releasing his 4:44 album. 

“The album didn’t even have a name at the time but he wanted to talk to Chris, so Chris says, ‘Oh, that’s my guy, he’s good, don’t worry about it. He’s good,’” Metelus says. “And they had the most candid conversation in the room for about three hours. And this is in a room where it’s literally like only the people that need to be in there are there type stuff. I’m in the room and my camera’s getting heavy. But it is so golden, it feels so intimate that you’re in a moment and you realize that it’s like history, I can’t stop shooting.”

A question from Jay-Z interrupted Metelus’s thoughts about the weight of the equipment he was holding and the conversation it was capturing.

“Jay plays the album and he asked me like, ‘What you think?’” Metelus says. “And I literally look around like, ‘You asked me?’ I was so hyped that he asked that because it was dope. I loved the album. And it’s crazy cause I heard it before it came out. Like I heard it, heard it. And it was just [one of] those things [that] I will always have to tell my children.”

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The moment was redemption for a missed moment a few years prior when Metelus was with Wade in Paris in 2011 for fashion week. They were staying in the same hotel as rapper Kanye West, who was there with Virgil Abloh, now the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collection and CEO of the Milan-based label Off-White, a fashion house he founded in 2013.

“He wasn’t Virgil like that at the time though,” Metelus jokes. 

West invited Wade to hang in their hotel room after one of the fashion shows. Wade, tired from all the travel, declined. Metelus then ran into Abloh in the elevator, who invited them to come listen to West’s ‘Watch The Throne’ album made with Jay-Z which was set to be released later that summer. 

“I’m invited because of Dwyane, not because of me,” Metelus says. “So I just can’t just pop up in the room. So we never went. But to this day, every time we listen to Watch The Throne and hear ‘N—s in Paris,’ and the album I’m like, ‘Dwyane, that could’ve been us.’ I give him crap about that all the time.”

And he can give him crap for it, because candid is what Metelus does best, in his work and in his personal life.

“[Bob’s] the kind of person who can walk into a room and not know nobody and leave knowing 20 people and feel like he’s known them his whole life,” Wade says. “He has a great way with people. It never seems like he’s fishing for anything. It seems authentic and it seems real whenever you have a conversation with him. That’s kind of how our relationship built – simply off of the person he was to me. And I think everyone [he works with] feels that same kind of vibe when it comes to Bob.”

That relationship eventually led to the 2020 documentary about Wade’s life, which Metelus filmed much of. He also directed and executive produced the feature. Hundreds of hours of footage, years of time spent together and an unbroken bond – Metelus says he’s “deeper than Fort Knox” – turned into an intimate 96-minute summation of a star’s life and a studio now staffed by 10 employees that’s continuing to take on new projects in the aftermath of Wade’s retirement and the film’s release.

The next chapter, Metelus says, is about telling more stories about moments and people far bigger than himself. He’s continuing his work with Wade through a legacy project about his son, Zaire, a senior guard at Sierra Canyon high school. Metelus also just directed the music video for Rick Ross’s ode to Miami, “Season Ticket Holder,” which features Wade and Haslem, his longtime Heat teammate, and is working on what he calls a “passion project” with Haslem focusing on the city of Miami itself, among others.

“I got stories in my head that I feel like need to be told. So I’m going to start developing them now when I have a little break and see where they go,” Metelus said. “That’s my passion. I would do it all [again] in a heartbeat.”

Metelus said those stories, though, won’t require quite as much to get off the ground now.

“I don’t have to do no PowerPoint presentations now,” Metelus jokes. “I think people know what I can do.”