by Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson)

You know Dwyane Wade is serious when he's calling at 3:30 a.m.. Thankfully he's in China for a couple of pre-season games, so it's a far more civilized 3:30 p.m. in New York. But Wade sounds wide awake despite the hour, and no wonder. He had quite the summer, what with the second NBA championship and all, and followed that up with an even wilder fall, as speculation ran rampant that he would leave Jordan Brand for Chinese brand Li-Ning. Well, he did just that. And on the very day of the official announcement, we got Dwyane on the line to explain just how the deal went down — and how they got his sneaker made so fast. 

 

The first thing I have to ask you is, how did you break this to Mike?

[Laughs] To MJ? Well, you know, obviously how this works with contracts, man, is that you go into a year and I think people what people don’t know is I had a chance to sign back with Michael and Brand Jordan and Nike, they still wanted me to be a part of the family, and I just wanted to have my options open a little bit, and I think they knew that through the whole year — I didn’t sign my extension. And going into the summer I was really looking for the deal I felt as best for me, and when this deal came I think everyone knew it. So I didn’t personally talk to MJ about it, but Nike and all the Jordan guys that I have a relationship with they kinda knew the direction I was goin’ in. I didn’t leave on bad terms or anything, it was just something I had to do for me. And hopefully Michael understands that, because Michael had to do his own thing as well. And that’s all I’m trying to do, I’m trying to create and build my own legacy in a sense, and I had an unbelievable opportunity to do it globally, differently, than probably what Michael has done or what people are used to, in a sense.  So I would hope that his viewpoint would be, ‘I can understand.’

 

You’re sort of a trailblazer in this regard — other players have signed with Chinese brands, but not with a deal like this. Did you talk to any of them about it ? And what was the big thing for you, what was the overriding reason to sign with Li-Ning.

Well, I think Li-Ning made Li-Ning, man, they really wanted me to be a part of this brand. They really made sure that I felt that this was not just another endorsement, that this was a partnership. And really building out the Wade brand was something that was very important to me because I wanted this to be a deal that lasts beyond basketball and not just another three-four year deal and move on to something else — I say I do things in threes, this is my third brand and this is it. [Laughs] They really came to the table and came on board and said listen, this is a partnership — they want me and Mr. Li Ning to stand side-by-side and not one in front of the other. I really appreciate that, and it really meant a lot to me. And I did, I asked Baron Davis a lot of questions, I asked Evan Turner a lot of questions — these guys who’ve been in the brand who I have relationships with — and got a comfort with what the brand could do.  And as I learned more about the brand and what they’ve done and what they’ve been doing of late, I was very comfortable with what they were able to put out on the court.

And I knew, I know that the popular choice, the easy choice that everybody would say is “go

 

I say I do things in threes, this is my third brand and this is it.

 

back with Brand Jordan.’ That’s the popular choice in the States. But that’s just not who I am. And for me, I felt that I had this opportunity to leave my own legacy that I’ve never had before., that I’d never had the opportunity to do before with Converse or Jordan. And I’m just going in a different direction. Anybody know anything about me they know I’m all about making that change, whether it’s coming in and getting drafted by the Miami Heat when they win 25 games or going to Marquette University when no one knows who Marquette is, just all these different things. That’s who I am.

 

How far along were they on this shoe when you signed? Clearly they didn’t design it overnight — you just signed, and ‘oh, here’s the shoe.’

Well, the thing that surprised me, man — I’ve been so thankful to them for this — when I had an opportunity to meet with them, they didn’t sit around and wait, they were proactive. Sitting down and talking to them, they’d say ‘if we were to create a shoe for you, what would you like?’ And I think they took the notes from me saying what would I like, and they got together with — this shoe was created by a fashion designer and the Li Ning basketball designer as well, Eric Miller, and Alejandro Ingelmo. And they kind of flipped what I said, on paper, and made it reality. And I was really just saying to those guys, I want something right now that’s classic, something that people can look at it and say, you know what, this takes well in different colors, this takes well in different leathers, this is something that’s simple — not only that you can wear on the court, but you can wear off the court. And there’s not a lot going on, but it’s something that can really make a statement for this brand, be the first shoe but be different than anything they’ve seen in the Li Ning brand and really start making this a cool factor.

We had a small window, man, but they did an unbelievable job of pulling off and really listening to the things I wanted done.

 

So this is stuff you talked to them about a while ago when they first contacted you.

Yeah, when I was first able to contact them. This is some of the questions they had — like I said, they was proactive, they didn’t wait to say, OK, we’re gonna wait ‘til September 30th,  when they were first able to contact me and they asked me these questions, I think they felt very comfortable in what they were able to offer me and the direction they were going in, and knowing I’m the kind of player who like going in a similar direction. They got proactive on it and I think it’s phenomenal that we even have a shoe right now. It’s phenomenal, man. I don’t think people understand — that shows you their commitment,  their commitment to really doing something amazing. The factories are here, they’re in China. The shoes that Nike and Jordan and adidas — everyone wears, they come from here. So they’re able to do things a little quicker.

 

That’s what we talked about — you signed now, and they already have the shoe for you to start the season, and All-Star’s coming up — you know from working with those other companies that they’re working years ahead.

Yeah, they’re working years ahead and I think — I’m excited about even next year because we got a whole year to come up with something. And I see what they came up with in even a short period of time? I’m like ‘oh yeah.’ [Laughs] But you know I think the one thing, and it’s a message I continue to say is throughout this year we’re going to continue to refine the [first] shoe, it’s gonna be different parts of the shoe that’s gonna change a little bit, and maybe the All-Star shoe will be a little different in a sense. The shoe that I’m wearing now and everyone’s seeing pictures of, it’s gonna be a little different from the shoe I wear when the season starts — the leather’s gonna change on the shoe, the midsole is gonna change a little bit on the shoe. This was kinda China inspired in a sense of now, and then once we get into the season it’ll change a little bit as well. So you know, we in that process of doing it kind of on the fly, but what we have now is a good staple to start with.

 

And being based in China allows you do it on the fly.

Yes sir, it does. And because I have the creative control to do that. Small things, man, saying I want to change this, I want to do this. I just never had the opportunity. I talk to my designer 24/7 — he’s probably gettin’ tired of me by now. [Laughs] But I’m on him because I want people to see this shoe and pick this shoe up, obviously in China but even when we decide to bring it to the States, I want people to pick it up and say ‘you know what? I want to be a part of this. This is something different, but this is Dwyane Wade. I’m a supporter and a follower of him and I want to be a part of this brand, of what he’s building,’ in a sense.

 

And building it means getting other players to wear it? I realize I’m jumping a little ahead…

Yeah, we’re moving a little far, but that is it— I am chief brand officer of my own brand, and I have to keep my eye out. That’s what I’m doing right now, I have my eye out. This season I’ll be going through, and in college, I’ll be watching the college basketball, I’ll have my eye out on someone who can represent the Wade brand and someone who wants to do something different. Someone who don’t wanna stick to the status quo, and hopefully we can build this brand out for years to come.

 

So this is really your Jordan — you’re taking THAT role. CEO Wade.

Yeah, exactly.

 

The only other thing is, since you do things in threes, does that mean you’re winning again this year?

[Laughs] That’d be awesome. That would hold true to my ‘do things in threes,’ right?