Today, Li-Ning and Dwyane Wade made official what most in the industry knew or suspected: one of the NBA’s biggest superstars was going to go bold. He is partnering with a Chinese-based sneaker company, and together they’re creating a new athletic footwear and apparel brand called WADE, which will serve as the centerpiece of the corporation’s growing international basketball strategy, and be shaped by an unprecedented level of creative and strategic direction from the two-time NBA Champion.
The partnership will include a signature sneaker (called Way Of Wade) and apparel line, which will soon be released online and in Li-Ning retail stores in China. Li-Ning executive Brian Cupps says the sneakers will absolutely be available in select retailers throughout the U.S. once 2013 hits as he is personally fielding calls from retailers and outlets. The biggest thing, Li-Ning says, is to make sure the ones who really appreciate this – the true sneaker lovers – get a crack at the WADE brand.
“As we laid out the foundation of this deal with Dwyane, he really wanted to manage his brand and our brand in the U.S. maybe more selectively than we have in the past,” says Cupps. “We’re in this for the long haul, and we want to use him as the sharp point to really drive basketball vertically as our key business in the U.S.”
Right now, Miami’s next two preseason games will include trips to China, and Wade will debut the special “China Collection,” two graphically-customized shoes that’ll later be available online as limited editions. As the season begins, Li-Ning will also debut the “Dynasty Collection” and as of now, details are still up in the air as to what that’ll be (possibly two sneakers, as well as a t-shirt).
Wade’s love of style and fashion expands what Li-Ning can do with him. For instance, an upcoming sneaker has a theme of one of Wade’s favorite animals. The Miami guard’s personality and personal life will also heavily influence the sneaker. Expect to see call outs for the initials of his girlfriend, his kids and his nephew, as well as the age of his grandmother or his kids. Cupps says we’ll also probably see the favorite biblical saying of his mother somewhere in the line.
Wade just makes everything cooler. As Cupps says, he elevates everything across Li-Ning, not just the basketball side of things.
Says Cupps, “I think it just provides us more opportunity to explore and push the boundaries of maybe what traditional endorsers, sneakers and apparel have been in the past.”
Wade is one of the few players who can balance a gritty on-court style with a fashion sense off it. Li-Ning will incorporate both into the WADE brand.
“I think that’s gonna be the balance,” says Cupps, “how to have something cool, sophisticated, refined, but still have that swagger to it. And I think there are very few players who have the ability to pull it off the way he does. So that raises the bar for us.”
Wade will play a major part in the brand’s design.
“He’s truly involved,” says Cupps. “He truly has a voice and a unique sense of style.”
Cupps has been with Li-Ning for three years. He knew how many years Wade had left on his deal with Nike/Jordan, knew Li-Ning wanted to elevate themselves as a major basketball brand, and in order to do that, knew they’d have to add some key signature partnerships. They partnered with the Chinese Basketball League, and now, their top target all along, D-Wade.
“We felt like Wade was going to be at a place in his career with his brand and sneaker deal that he’d be interested in doing something unique and different, and something no one else had done,” Cupps says.
The top goal for Li-Ning will always be on-court performance but they say they’re looking to create something with Wade that’ll still resonate five years down the road. Classic and timeless.
Around All-Star Weekend in Houston, they’ll be releasing a premium apparel line that’ll speak to all that Wade is about, and while details are still in the air regarding future colorways, you can expect to see a lot of variety this year and beyond.
The shoe will retail somewhere between $120-130 U.S. dollars and will soon be available at Li-Ning’s official online store.