Dwyane Wade Talks His Latest Signature Sneaker, the Li-Ning Way of Wade 4

D-Wade talks his latest Li-Ning signature shoe, James Harden's adidas deal, and possible post-retirement plans.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

When Dwyane Wade bought his Miami Beach home on North Bay Road back in 2010, it included a tennis court. Unsurprisingly, he immediately it had converted to a basketball court, painted in the colors of his alma mater, Marquette. It’s on the road side of the property, so observant passersby might catch a glimpse of the 11-time All-Star getting some shots up—or, on one lovely October evening, taking on bloggers and their ilk in a spirited game of knockout.

We’ve been granted access to Wade’s property to celebrate the launch of the Way of Wade 4, his latest signature model from Chinese brand Li-Ning. It’s the first to be launched with this much fanfare stateside—the first colorway, inspired by the Statue of Liberty, dropped today—and as such may be the first Wade shoe many people see. A mostly mesh creation, it’s a departure from the previous models, which were done up with premium leathers with a nod toward sneakerhead culture. The 4 is the lightest Wade yet, and the most performance-oriented model. The debut introduces three different makeups: The Liberty, the “Lucky 13,” celebrating Wade’s 13th season, and an all-over reflective one done up for the 25th anniversary of the Li-Ning brand.

For now, the Way of Wade will only be available online, with drops planned for the NBA Store in NYC. But this lavish Miami welcome—including a repast prepared by Wade’s personal chef—represents something of a new beginning four years into the Wade/Li-Ning relationship. Swish.

We caught up with Wade at Edition earlier in the day to talk about his 13-year sneaker history, what he’s learned in his four years with Li-Ning, and where the Way of Wade is heading.

I wanted to start talking about the 13 years: You’ve had a shoe for 13 years, you’ve been with three different sneaker companies, what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned in those 13 years from a sneaker standpoint?
Well, it’s changed so much. You know, I remember my first shoe with Converse, it was just about being an athlete and you had a signature shoe. It wasn’t even like, the sneaker culture now and the world we live in with sneakers is so different—the want, the crave, it wasn’t like that then, it was just, "I got a shoe with my name on it." Now it’s bigger than that, so just the evolution—and I’ve been around for all these years of the evolution of the sneakers and where they’ve been and where they’re going. To still be able to be in that game for me, it’s unbelievable. I’ve just learned so much in the years of going from Converse where we was a known brand but we was just startin’ back up, then moving to Jordan where it was Jordan but I didn’t have a big, I never made my mark in the brand—I was associated with that brand, it was cool, the storyline was cool, and then now going to Li-Ning where this is the time where it’s OK to branch off and do different things and you don’t have to just have to be with either Nike or Jordan to be successful. A lot of people proved that, so it’s just different stages of sneakers, man.

Do you think it’s tough with Jordan—you’re coming in and obviously Jordan wants the best athletes, but you’re putting your name under someone else’s. Was that the most difficult thing for you?
It was for me. It works for certain guys—like I said, I had a hell of a time over there just being associated with a cool brand and my idol, but when I looked at it overall and I said, "What do I want for myself in the sneaker world and what I could possibly do for myself and my future and try to get what I really have inside of me out, where I need to be?" And that’s when I looked at the opportunity in China with Li-Ning, was like, this is my opportunity where one day I want to eventually get to the point where I feel comfortable putting out what I want under my own umbrella. Just like Jordan has his Jordan with Nike, I have my Wade brand with Li-Ning, and it was a cool thing for me to be able to do at a very important period of time in my life, coming off the championships, etcetera, now is the time.

I was talking to James Harden about his adidas deal the other day, and I asked him what he was looking forward to most, the off-court or the on-court, and he said he was just looking forward to his voice being heard. You kind of said the same thing—is that the biggest part of all of this?
It is, it is. It’s crazy, because we in a world today where everyone’s mind is open to all new things. But we’re in a sneaker world where it’s not. It’s kind of closed—if it’s not Jordan, if it’s not Nike—and now Kanye has made his way into that but it even took him a while to now get in there, and now he’s in there where he has Yeezy Season. But it’s like everyone’s mind is closed to, “if it ain’t this it’s not cool,” or, “if it doesn’t have this logo on it it’s not cool,” but that’s not the world we live in today. So, yeah, you want your voice to be heard, you want everyone to open their minds up, man, and kinda understand there’s more out there. I feel that in the Li-Ning brand we’ve done some cool things that hasn’t got traction, and because of that we could have stopped, but we’re gonna continue to keep pluggin’ away because it may come an opportunity—it may not come today, it may be years from now where it will happen, so keep pluggin’.

Do you feel coming into this fourth shoe that you’ve established that base now? It seems like going to the mesh and going to something different you feel like, “OK, we’ve done this,” and it’s taking another step?
Yeah, this is. Hopefully this is that shoe I look back on years from now and say, "That’s what changed the Wade brand." It took a while for even my designers and everybody to get to know me and me get comfortable with them to get exactly what I wanted to see. And now I’m at the point where I’m so comfortable, I love this sneaker, I love how it feels, I love how it performs—and I’m not just saying that because I’m supposed to say it, I’m saying it because this is the shoe for me. And I’m already excited about the next shoe, because the 5, I know, is similar in this direction. So I’m excited about where the future is going. It took a while to get there, but I think in this fourth shoe you see we’ve never done this, we’ve never done anything in the states where we brought people in and talked about the shoe or nothing like that because we wasn’t ready. Now I think we’re headed in that direction.

This is the longest you’ve worked with one sneaker designer too, right?
Four years, yeah. You’re right.

Do you feel like you’ve developed more of a way of working on it?
I think we are. I think the one cool thing about me and Eric’s relationship is it’s no egos, man. He has ideas, I have ideas, we bring those ideas to the table then we try to figure out how to mesh ‘em. It’s not about “well I’m a designer, this is how I do it” “well I’m the athlete this is how I want it” it’s kind of like you know what, you have specialties, you have things you love and you want that you know, and vice-versa, and we try to put them together, with the thought of our fans. Like I said I do a lot of reading man, like fans, what they’re talking about, not just our sneaker but other sneakers, what they want to see, what they don’t like, and then trying to see if we can bring that to like.

Has your relationship changed with the Chinese fanbase since you signed with Li-Ning?
Yeah, it’s grown a lot. Li-Ning has done a good job—I’m not there all the time, obviously—they’ve done a good job of building that brand there. At the end of the day I knew how big this world is. For me to be the face of a global brand, people in the states probably would never understand how big the Li-Ning and Wade brand is in China, but we still got a lot of growth to do there. We think that we can continue to grow there and that’s what we’re continuing to do.

Have you considered—not that I’m trying to push you out the NBA door quite yet—post-retirement and what you want to do, are you going to bring on other athletes to represent the Wade brand?
Well I mean, that’s ideal, right? That’s ideal. Right now it’s just about trying to find certain athletes that you put in as part of your brand, and you might land that big fish someday. You know, at the right time and hopefully we do. I would love for this brand to continue to keep growing years beyond my playing career and own the basketball court in the NBA. And I think that we have the ability to do that as long as Li-Ning wants to be a big player in basketball. I think by using my platform and using the things that we’re building now, I think we can get there, it’s just about sticking with it, continuing to come out with cool product where—kind of like Jordan did in a sense, where his stuff still lives many years later. Things that we come out with, you look at and say when we bring this back someday, this could be nice.