Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or just hate sneakers in general, you probably knew before yesterday that Dwyane Wade was defying conventional wisdom, and signing with Li-Ning. In a conference call last night, Wade himself even admitted with a laugh, “This was the worst-kept secret in the world.” Still, that doesn’t change the significance. At all. One of the NBA’s best players, a cat coming off a NBA championship and yet another All-Star appearance, is signing with a Chinese sneaker company in the hopes of creating something new and unique and cornering the global market.
The new partnership allows the two sides to explore new avenues. They can push the boundaries.
Yesterday afternoon, after spending parts of the morning speaking with Li-Ning execs and designers on the details of the new sneaker, I got the chance to catch up with D-Wade to talk about the move, his future, his legacy and what it’s like being a trendsetter…
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Dime: Why not? Why make the jump to Li-Ning now?
Dwyane Wade: I just felt for me this is an unbelievable opportunity. As I can say, I had a great time and I learned a lot in my nine years in the Nike umbrella. I’m able to do things that I want to do in a sense, that I’ve never had to do, that I’ve never had the chance to do before. Just going in a different direction and trying to create my own legacy, similar to what Michael Jordan has done of creating his own brand outside of Nike and I’m able to do that, designing my own WADE brand outside of Li-Ning.
Just to have this opportunity, man to understand how big the game of basketball really is, how big and how global the game is. To make an impact over here would be huge. In a sense, this is what I’ve always done. I’ve always done things differently. When I signed with Converse, they were coming out of bankruptcy, so I’ve always made decisions a little differently than probably what was the popular choice at the time. If you really believe in something, if you’re really dedicated to it, you can kind of change the perception a little bit. That’s all I’m doing… a little bit here in the States when we come there to try to change the perception. I’m excited about my new beginning, and what I’m able to build here with something that goes way beyond basketball for many, many years with the WADE brand, similar to the Jordan model.
Dime: So looking at your legacy down the road was a big part of making this jump for you?
DW: It was. Another part was I just have so much creative control. I have more say in what goes on every day. Like I said, I made my own brand. I’m the Chief Brand Officer, so I decide who I sign to my brand, and handpick them. Hopefully, I can sign some guys who can carry the torch when I’m done playing or even when I’m playing. The decision for me was understanding what was important for myself, and I know the easy and the popular choice would’ve been to sign back with Brand Jordan. But that wasn’t what I wanted for my legacy and for myself. I thought the opportunity that I had here in China to be in the biggest market in the world, to be with the biggest brand in China, I thought the opportunity was just unbelievable and felt I had to do it.
Dime: Li-Ning has had some NBA players under their name, but never anyone still in their prime and at the top of the game. Do you want to be a trendsetter?
DW: I like being a trendsetter (laughs), whether it’s pink pants or whatever the case may be. I’m into doing things a little differently. I reached out to Baron Davis. I reached out to Evan Turner and asked them for more about this brand and to get more comfortable with what this brand can do. I did my research as well. I’ve seen that this brand has been doing some amazing things of late with great product. I think that as people open up their minds to change in a sense and give this brand a chance. They’ve shown they can do some creative things and especially through me. I think we’re gonna do some fun things. Yeah man, I’m all about trailblazing. Obviously players have done it before me, but to do it right now at this point in my career, especially since I was with a brand like Jordan is unprecedented in a sense.
And I don’t know if everyone will understand it, but I understand it and I understand that this is something that I need to do for me. That’s what I focus on.
Dime: You’re a pretty stylish guy. How will that factor into your sneakers and apparel?
DW: Yeah man, I think you’re going to see that in my apparel. You’ll see that in my sneakers. It was created my two people. It was created by a basketball designer but also by a fashion designer so I brought both worlds together. I wanted to do that. I want this shoe to speak to Dwyane Wade and who I am. I perform on the court but I’m also into fashion as well. This shoe, depending on the color, depending on the leather, depending on what we put on the shoe, it changes to be a performance and off-the-court as well. We’re working on something else as well, something off the court, a lifestyle sneaker.
Like I said, this is going to be something different for Li-Ning and I’m excited about it.
Dime: So this is the first time you’ve ever had this much control over the smaller aspects of creating a shoe?
DW: Yeah man, in every aspect. I’ve had a say in certain sneakers that I’ve worn before, getting with the designer. But this one is more so really, really every day in the short period of time putting my stamp on what I feel comfortable with. Just having more creative control of now even what you see now but what you see later as well… really just being creative and saying “I want to do something different. I want to try this. I want to try that.” And they’d say, “Okay, let’s do it.” I love that. I love having the opportunity to be myself. I think I put this on Instagram not too long ago: You have to leave home to find yourself sometimes, and that’s what I was able to do. I had to leave home to find myself. I’m happy, comfortable and confident going forward that we can do some things differently, and hopefully people can want to be a part of it, especially in the States. I know in China, they’re very excited about this, and we are gonna do great things here. But in the States when we make our move there in due time, then hopefully everyone wants to be a part of it.