Up until now, most Chinese sneaker brands have been content to stay on the periphery. There has been the occasional high-profile signing—Jason Kidd to Peak, Kevin Garnett to Anta—but like Davis, they were past their prime (er, sorry KG). Thus while the sneakers Garnett and Kidd wore on-court sparked interest in a “WTF are those?” sense, there was never really any demand for them at retail. Wade’s signing could change all that. The fact that they brought on noted fashion designer Alejandro Ingelmo to work on Wade’s off-court product implies that they’re serious.

The question is how? With a planned Q1 US release, the Way of Wade should hit the U.S. market in

If the product is right, Li Ning could do $5 million here with Wade. Hey, look, that’s not chump change, but it pales in comparison to the $2 billion that Jordan did.


early 2013. And while Wade’s checks will cash regardless, the true measure of a signature shoe’s success is how many people wear it in the U.S. of A. Wade’s previous shoes were readily available nationwide, getting primo shelf space thanks to Converse and Jordan. However Li-Ning has yet to stake their claim amongst the big national retailers who, if anything, have too many SKUs as it is. And while e-tailing may be the way of the future, how many people are willing to spend $120 on a shoe — let alone a brand — that they’ve never even tried on? 

“The [Li-Ning] shoe needs to be seen at retail in order to give it more validity,” says Powell. “So I think you’ll see them try to sell some product into Foot Locker, Finish Line, Foot Action. They’ll probably buy a moderate amount with some guarantees that if the shoes don’t sell they’ll be returned, that sort of thing. But I don’t expect a major breakthrough here where anybody is in serious jeopardy on their market share.”

So will the Wade deal make any real impact in the U.S.? Are Chinese sneakers about to take over? “If the product is right, Li Ning could do $5 million here with Wade,” says Powell. “Hey, look, that’s not chump change, but it pales in comparison to the $2 billion that Jordan did.

“Li-Ning’s primary interest in Wade and even in trying to sell sneakers in the U.S. market is to sell to the Chinese kid. They want to be legitimate to the Chinese kid and for them to be there, they need to be able to say ‘we have American players, we sell our stuff in America, we have an office in America.’ I think all of that is to prove validity to the Chinese consumer who of course is their core consumer. I don’t think they have high expectations for making a big footprint in the U.S. Which is not to say they’re not going to attempt to do business here, but I think the primary motive is validity with the Chinese consumer as opposed to really try and take a significant share in the U.S. market.”

Wade should be able to give them that. But regardless of Li-Ning’s presumed goals, Wade framed his decision in different terms: “I knew that the popular choice, the easy choice that everybody would say is ‘go back with Brand Jordan,’” he said when the deal became official.“That was 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.”

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