As someone who grew up playing hoops in the supple genuine leather constructions of the ‘90s, I sometimes feel a bit disillusioned with the oversaturation of synthetic, plasticy uppers. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that these materials serve a purpose and that many of them allow for even tougher durability and end up weighing less than their natural counterparts. Getting your toes stepped on in leather shoes hurts a lot more than some of the more resilient fused materials, and in a game with an emphasis on quickness, it's understandable why featherweight sneakers are the new norm. Still, when that's all you encounter at nearly every turn, you begin to long for the golden days.
The Li-Ning Way of Wade 2 takes it back to the roots. Picking up where Dwyane Wade’s first official Li-Ning signature shoe left off, the Way of Wade 2’s most noticeable feature is of course its genuine full-grain leather upper. Without a doubt, this stuff is the real deal. After spending much of my time playing in synthetic-based basketball shoes over the last few years, the Way of Wade 2’s leather upper required a brief adjustment period.
Out of the box, the upper felt more rigid and structured than sneakers I'm used to due to its thick leather cut. But after a couple rounds on the court, the leather began to break in nicely, providing a true glove-like lockdown while maintaining its natural durability. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the tongue or the laces on the Way of Wade 2. The tongue is constructed with very little padding, and features a thin leather overlay at its peak. Unlike the leather used on the upper, the tongue didn’t seem to mold or soften up very much, remaining stiff throughout multiple runs. Meanwhile, the laces just feel cheap and inflexible, which takes away from the otherwise luxurious sneaker.
Down low, the Way of Wade 2 features two of Li-Ning’s proprietary cushioning systems, BounSe and CushioN. BounSe’s forefoot placement caters to Wade’s slashing, fearless play with its responsive feel, while CushioN delivers the impact protection needed for hardwood (and pavement) landings. Aside from the leather construction, the proprietary foams and underfoot setup was one of my favorite features of the Way of Wade 2. Much like the upper, the BounSe and CushioN foams keep it simple with tried and true technologies that provide protection and stability. While BounSe and CushioN aren't going to wow you with innovation, they play their role extremely well, providing just the right amount of cushioning. Extra stability is added by a carbon fiber shank plate that runs throughout the underfoot, and I found its placement to be ideal once comfortably broken in. The insole of the Way of Wade 2 doesn’t feature any additional cushion, but it is equipped with several large perforations for extra airflow. Overall, there’s nothing fancy here, but that’s what part of what makes the Li-Ning Way of Wade 2 great: it’s all business.
Two major areas I’d like to see improved in future Way of Wade models would be the breathability and traction. When you’re playing in heavier, thicker materials like natural leather, things are going to get steamy and sweaty pretty quickly. This is especially true if you’re playing outdoors in the heat, and a couple of my outdoor sessions started to approach foot sauna territory. Up top, the Way of Wade 2 features traditional toe box perforations, while its mesh tongue and TPU lace eyelets allow for extra air flow. As previously mentioned, the insoles also have several breathable openings, but they're pretty ineffective because there just isn’t anywhere for the heat to escape to. The Way of Wade 2 could have really benefitted from some cut-outs throughout the side panels or an open mesh tongue. As for the traction, it wasn’t terrible, but the stickiness of the outsole proved to be detrimental as it picks up more dirt than a vacuum. I also wouldn’t mind seeing a more basic herringbone pattern to keep up with the traditional, classic vibe.
For more information on the Li-Ning Way of Wade 2, be sure to read our interview with designer Eric Miller.
Best For: Players seeking the feel and look of a classic leather construction, complete with tech endorsed by one of the NBA’s most experienced players
Weight: 17.9 ounces
Star Feature: BounSe and CushioN midsole cushioning
Bottom Line: The Li-Ning Way of Wade 2 is far from a game changer, but it forgoes the gimmicks and makes use of iconic materials and battle-tested technologies to deliver a sneaker suitable for players of all levels
Riley Jones is a freelance writer from Charlottesville, VA and a contributor to Sneaker Report. With an unshakable affinity for basketball and all things pop culture, he can be found on Twitter @rchrstphr.