The biggest change is that Wade becomes the de facto Jordan of his own brand. Signature shoes? Been there, done that. If Wade just wanted a signature shoe, he could have simply re-signed with Jordan. Wade wanted more, and Li-Ning was willing to give it. “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.”

To be fair, athletes always say this sort of thing when they switch teams or brands. Here’s what Wade said in the summer of 2009 when he moved from Converse to Jordan: “For me, the move to Jordan Brand is a dream come true. As a kid, I grew up on the Southside of Chicago idolizing Michael Jordan and have worked hard to achieve the same success that he’s had on the court. I have enormous respect for this brand and all that it stands for. I’m humbled to be a part of the Team Jordan family and I’m looking forward to a great future.”

That was typical press release boilerplate, presumably crafted to within an inch of its life. Wade’s remarks on the Li Ning deal were more off-the-cuff, not to mention having three more years of

 

The fact is that most high-end basketball footwear, regardless of brand, is produced in China already.

 

experience behind them. “[I don’t want this to be] just another three-four year deal and move on to something else,” he said. “I do things in threes; this is my third brand and this is it.” He laughed at that last bit, but more in a “I realize this has been ridiculous” sense rather than an “I’m just kidding” one. Wade isn’t unaware of how so many endorsement moves can affect a player’s own brand.

All that said, though, this doesn’t appear to be a terribly risky move for anyone involved. On the most basic of levels, Li-Ning gets their superstar and Wade gets his money. And just because his shoes are the product of a Chinese brand doesn’t mean they’ll be any less viable on the court. Li-Ning’s primary basketball designer, Eric Miller, had actually worked on Wade product at Converse, and did a stint in Nike’s famed Innovation Kitchen. And the fact is that most high-end basketball footwear, regardless of brand, is produced in China already (look inside whatever you’re wearing right now if you have any doubts). So having the brand and the factories in the same country should streamline the operation and make changes on the fly much simpler to pull off.

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