What You Don't Know About Gabrielle Union

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The following references sexual assault.

Gabrielle Union has been lighting up the silver screen ever since she made her debut in 1999's "She's All That." From there, Union would score parts in features like "Deliver Us from Eva, "Love & Basketball," "Bring It On," "Bad Boys II," and "Think Like a Man," and land television roles in "Being Mary Jane" and "L.A.'s Finest." A bona fide Hollywood star who happens to be married to a pretty famous former NBA player, she's captured our hearts by sharing some of the most intimate moments in her life that some celebrities would rather keep to themselves. 

While some celebs tend to shy away from divulging personal issues and only post about their "picture-perfect" lifestyles on social media, Union has shared many of her struggles in interviews and in her two memoirs,  2017's "We're Going to Need More Wine" and "You Got Anything Stronger?" from 2021. In an interview with Health, Union shared her decision to get even more personal in her second book, which includes her journey with infertility. "I find that the more painfully honest I am, the more impactful I am. You just have to talk about it. And finally, I'm ready. I'm as ready as I'm going to be," she said.

Union is so much more than an actor. She's a mother, wife, and activist, and has worked behind the lens, too. Check out what else there is to know about Union that makes her so much more than the roles she's played on the big screen. 

Gabrielle Union was a star athlete

Before Gabrielle Union was auditioning for roles in movies and television and married to one of the biggest names in the NBA, she was a kid growing up in the East Bay of San Francisco. Just like her husband Dwyane Wade, Union played basketball at her high school and was really good. 

According to Andscape, the future actor was the point guard for her high school's basketball team for three years. Jim McClure, her coach at Foothill High School, said, "She was tremendous. By far the quickest player we had, and one of the best athletes in the conference. I'd tell her to stop the other team's point guard, and she was always up for the challenge." Her old teammate Lora Howell also shared that Union was known for her game face, adding, "It wasn't necessarily trash-talking, it was that aggressive energy and attitude that really bothered other teams."

While digging into her basketball skills on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Kimmel," Union recalled, "I led the league in technicals, I was like the Draymond Green of my time, the Rasheed Wallace of my day." Fans can also watch some of her moves while appearing on "The Steve Harvey Morning Show" back in 2012. 

She wanted to be a 'video vixen'

This may come as a shock to fans, but when Gabrielle Union was growing up, she did not dream of getting into the world of acting in movies and TV shows. As she revealed on "The Old Man and the Three" podcast, she believed being a music video star was her calling. She gave that path a shot and even scored an audition for Tupac Shakur's "California Love" video, but it did not pan out the way she hoped at the time. So, she pivoted. "I was like, 'Let me try my hand at acting.' I have a photographic memory, and you know, memorizing 'Saved By the Bell' scripts, not that hard," she shared. And what do you know, Union nabbed that part in "Saved By the Bell: The New Class," and that first acting gig set the wheels in motion. "I was, like, 'Mistletoe Girl Number One,' making the lowest you could possibly pay somebody," she remembered in Elle

While she did not get the "California Love" role, Union did end up in other major artists' music videos after her own career took off, including Busta Rhymes' "I Love My Chick" and "LL Cool J's "Paradise." "Once I became an actor that people could recognize, then I became this in demand video vixen," she told "The Old Man and the Three." Isn't that the way it goes.

Her self-esteem journey wasn't easy

Well into adulthood — and her career — Gabrielle Union suffered from low self-esteem. Open and honest as always, the "Being Mary Jane" star got into her struggles with confidence on a 2022 episode of "Good Morning America." "It appeared that I was sitting on top of the world, I had all the answers, I felt amazing about myself," she said. "But inside, as a Black girl in predominately non-minority spaces, I felt like I was never enough of anything. I always felt too Black. I felt way too intelligent. I felt too, I felt very scrutinized."

Although she has now learned to love herself, she hopes to instill that positive mindset in her children, especially her daughter, Kaavia James, who she shares with husband Dwyane Wade. She tells her young daughter, "Your Black is beautiful. Your hair is beautiful. Your skin, lips, everything that makes you you is absolutely beautiful and amazing." 

Union wrote about her path towards self-confidence in her 2017 memoir "We're Going to Need More Wine" and shared with Thrive Global in 2017 that it took recognizing that self-acceptance has to come from within — a significant mindset change. "You are stuck with yourself — better to learn to love who and what you are," she said.

Gabrielle Union regrets her Bring It On character

In 2000, Gabrielle Union's career trajectory really stuck the landing with a little feature film called "Bring It On." In the hit cheer comedy, the actor played Isis, the head cheerleader of the East Compton Clovers, a team from a predominantly Black high school that rivaled the Rancho Carne Toros, a predominately white cheer squad led by Torrance, who is played by actor Kirsten Dunst. Looking back on this movie, Union has regrets regarding how she portrayed Isis.

She told "Good Morning America," "I was given full rein to do whatever I wanted with Isis in 'Bring It On,' and I chose respectability and to be classy and take the high road because I felt like that would make her be appropriate, the right kind of Black girl. Black girls aren't allowed to be angry — certainly not demonstratively angry — and I muzzled her." Union pointed out that even after she made all of these deliberate character choices, some audience members still see Isis as a villain. 

While fans might have found Isis as strong-willed and determined, Union thought otherwise, even penning a letter to the character in her memoir "You Got Anything Stronger?" She wrote (via The Cut), "I am here to apologize to you. When I said today that you didn't go far enough, that was on me. I failed you and myself ... I wish I had given you the space to be a Black girl who is exceptional without making any kind of compromise."

Her first husband was also an athlete

Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade have been praised for their long-lasting marriage, but it's not the actor's first time down the aisle. She was previously married to NFL alum Chris Howard. The running back was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 1998, but he had a short-lived career, heading to the Jacksonville Jaguars that same year, and playing his final game in 2000, per Pro Football Reference

Although his career was over, his life with Union was just beginning when they wed in 2001. However, as the "Bad Boys II" actor shared in "We're Going to Need More Wine" (via Daily Mail), things were apparently amiss right away. As she recalled, the day after he proposed to her with a bucket of KFC chicken, she learned he'd been unfaithful — and that would not be the last time his infidelities would cause issues for their relationship. The couple divorced in 2006 when Union found out that Howard was a serial cheater. 

Union may have a type when she revealed in her first memoir that way before Wade and Howard, she dated former NBA player turned Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd in high school, but they ended things right before prom night. She wrote (via ET), "He called me that night to officially break up with me, which is exactly what he had done to the girl he dated before me."

Why Gabrielle Union demanded a prenup

Gabrielle Union's divorce from first husband Chris Howard left her with a little less money in her pocket. As per Us Weekly, the former couple did not have a prenuptial agreement in place. In 2007, just a year after her divorce, Union began to date NBA player Dwyane Wade. Union not only took the necessary steps to protect herself and her assets, but her parents were also wary of her decision to date another athlete.

Appearing on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in 2021, Union shared that her family believed Wade might also take her earnings. She told Kimmel, "There was some precedent there, otherwise known as my first marriage. Left me a little lighter." Although both men made money as professional athletes, Union's own career was bringing in the bucks by then, too. Regarding her marriage to Howard, she said, "When it was over, I had to write the check."

Before she and Wade wed in February 2014, she asked him for a prenup. As she explained on "The Arsenio Hall Show," "When you have your own stuff, you don't need to worry about anyone else's stuff ... And the reality is I've never seen Dwyane balance a checkbook, so I gotta protect my stuff."

She's almost a decade older than her husband

Gabrielle Union had a few doubts before taking things to the next level with former Miami Heat basketball star Dwyane Wade. The couple met in 2007 while Wade was going through a bitter divorce and custody battle with his ex-wife Siohvaughn Funches. On top of that, he was almost 10 years younger than the star. Union assumed they were too incompatible and in too different stages of life to make it work. 

Regarding her first impression of Wade, Union told Glamour, "None of that screamed, 'Let's have a lasting relationship.' Then, after I had a heart-crushing breakup with yet another immature jerk, I thought, it can't be any worse if I date a fetus. Let's just see what happens.'" Well, we all know what happened: Union and Wade hit it off, age difference be darned. Union told Essence that the age gap became less of a thing as their relationship progressed, quipping, "I came to realize that he's basically Issac Hayes in a twenty-something body. He's an old soul."

The couple briefly split in 2013, and Wade would father a child with "Basketball Wives" star Aja Metoyer. However, Union and Wade reunited and tied the knot in a lavish wedding at the Chateau Artisan in Miami, Florida, in August 2014.

She developed PTSD

In her first memoir "We're Going to Need More Wine," Gabrielle Union shared several personal stories of her life including the day she was held at gunpoint and sexually assaulted at the age of 19. Talking about the assault became a form of therapy for the actor. "Acknowledging you're in pain is the first step, and then seeking help," she wrote (via Page Six).

What some fans may not know about the actor is that the rape left her suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In a June 2022 Instagram post, she opened up about the long-lasting impacts the attack and the PTSD have had on her mental health. She wrote, "There's times the anxiety is so bad it shrinks my life. Leaving the house or making a left hand turn at an uncontrolled light can fill me with terror. Anxiety can turn my anticipation about a party or fun event I've been excited about attending (Met Ball) into pure agony."

Union told People that she opened up about her story because she wanted other women to see that healing is possible, though not necessarily easy. "They need to know healing is a process — a slow process like moving a boulder uphill with one hand tied behind your back but there's hope," she said. 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Gabrielle Union is a big foodie

While most celebrities post about their healthy meals on social media — take Kourtney Kardashian's famous avocado pudding, for example — Gabrielle Union doesn't shy away from telling her fans that she likes the not-so-healthy stuff. In 2017, the "Bring It On" actor spoke to Women's Health to share her favorite foods and how she manages to eat whatever she pleases.

"My dream food is all food: Mexican, Indian, Italian, soul food. I just really like food, especially cheese, bread, and bacon, bacon, bacon," Union declared. The actor went on to add that cleanses aren't really her thing. "I was so hungry, I couldn't function," she said of the time she gave a cleanse a go. As far as digging into "cheat meals" is concerned, she said, "If I've inhaled some of my favorite foods one night, the next day I boost my water intake to a gallon and a half and just try to move." She also noted that she always makes time for some form of physical activity, whether it be a workout session or going for a walk. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, the star told Katie Couric on Instagram Live (via CNBC) that she finds a lot of value in tucking into her favorite foods. "Before all of this eating healthy made me feel good, and now I just eat whatever brings me joy," she said. 

It took her some time to 'make peace' with surrogacy

Gabrielle Union has been extremely open about her infertility struggles after tying the knot with Dwyane Wade. She shared in her first memoir, "We're Going to Need More Wine" (via Brides), "For three years, my body has been a prisoner of trying to get pregnant — I've either been about to go into an IVF cycle, in the middle of an IVF cycle, or coming out of an IVF cycle."

Union learned that she had adenomyosis which caused her to have multiple miscarriages. After going through many rounds of unsuccessful IVF treatments and learning that if she tried to carry a baby, she was at risk of breaking her bones, she had a serious conversation with her husband about going the surrogate route, which was a struggle for her to accept at the time. She wrote in her second memoir, "You Got Anything Stronger?" (via Time), "I wanted the experience of being pregnant. To watch my body expand and shift to accommodate this miracle inside me."

It was an emotional journey for the star, who said in "You Got Anything Stronger?" that she thought she was letting her husband down. However, she ultimately concluded that surrogacy was the right choice for their family. She wrote, "If there was another way for me to bring my baby into the world, and have my health, why was it so hard for me to make peace with that?" Union and Wade welcomed a daughter named Kaavia James in November 2018.

Gabrielle Union loves reading and writing

Gabrielle Union sure keeps busy with her movie and television career, but when she does have a spare moment? She'll crack open a book. "I'm just a happy reader," Union told Parade in 2021. "I am most happy and at peace in libraries and bookstores, and when I'm on location, that's where I go." The actor went on to share that she feels connected to fellow bibliophiles. "We tend to be on the same page," she said. (We have to assume that perfect pun was intended.)

Her love of books might have helped Union write her two memoirs. In 2017, she released "We're Going to Need More Wine," where she unpacks personal issues and struggles including her divorce from her first husband, sexual assault, and racism she's experienced in Hollywood. In 2021, she released her second memoir, "You Got Anything Stronger?" In her book, she details her road to surrogacy and motherhood, social issues, and her marriage, all while including bits of humor throughout. 

After the birth of her daughter Kaavia in 2018, Union was inspired to write a children's book titled "Welcome to the Party." The book, as she told Essence, "celebrate[s] family creation and family expansion that happens a little non-traditionally."

How she feels about being relationship goals

One could argue David and Victoria Beckham, Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck are all celebrity couple relationship goals. One could also argue Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade definitely fit on that list too — but maybe hold off before you add them to the roster. Why? Well, because Union doesn't want people to put them on some pedestal as an objectively perfect couple. 

She told Ebony, "Stop listening to people who have failed miserably at relationships as they offer relationship advice: that's the first thing. Second, my 'perfect' relationship isn't the next person's. Stop comparing your life, your love and your marriage." The long and short of it, the relationship should be something that works for the people in the relationship, not something that "works" for social media. Union continued, "Whatever that is or however that looks on you, there should be peace, grace, and joy with anything you do, whether that's a relationship, business, friendship or hobbies. Make sure it brings you peace."

So while she wants her fans to know that a true relationship is more than a hashtag, people still want to know the couple's secret to their success. In a joint interview, Union told People that she and Wade both learned from their first marriages and hope to apply both the good and the bad lessons to this marriage. "We humble ourselves, listen and we meet in the middle," she said. 

She's a vocal activist for the LGBTQ+ community

In 2020, Gabrielle Union's stepdaughter Zaya Wade came out publicly as transgender. Dwyane Wade, who shares Zaya and son Zaire Wade with ex-wife Siohvaughn Funches, spoke about his daughter's gender identity on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," sharing how proud both he and Union are of Zaya. When Zaya came out to them,  Dwyane and Union made it clear they will always be her support system. "I looked at her and said, 'You are a leader,'" Dwyane recalled.

The day the "Ellen" interview dropped, Union tweeted out a video of Zaya and Wade and wrote, "Meet Zaya. She's compassionate, loving, whip-smart and we are so proud of her. It's OK to listen to, love & respect your children exactly as they are. Love and light good people."

Union and Dwyane have become vocal activists for the LGBTQ+ community through their Wade Family Foundation. Union told BuzzFeed, "As our children show up, it is our job to believe them when they tell us who they are and not impose our dreams, hopes, fears, and desires on them. It's our job to be loving, compassionate, protective guides for our children." 

She's an executive producer

Gabrielle Union added executive producer to her resume when she produced her first film in 2015. The flick, which is called "With This Ring" is a Lifetime movie that also stars Regina Hall, Eve, and Jill Scott. The next year, she was the executive producer for the comedy "Almost Christmas," and would be named executive producer for several episodes of her shows "Being Mary Jane" and "L.A.'s Finest."

Her work as a producer for the 2018 thriller "Breaking In" was honored at the 2018 CinemaCon Big Screen Achievement Awards with the award for "Breakthrough Prouder of the Year," per Daily Mail. Her most recent work as an executive producer is 2022's "Cheaper By the Dozen," a reimagined take of the classic 2003 film which starred Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, and Hilary Duff. This time, Union stars in the film with her blended family of 12 with actor Zach Braff starring as her husband. Union shared with the "The View" panel, "It's blended in every way you can imagine. We are racially blended, culturally blended, we have each been married to other people and had children with them. So we are showing you what co-parenting can look like in all of its challenges."

Union will also be executive producing a few more films including, "The Perfect Find," "Relentless," and "The Idea of You."