Recently while watching an episode of Doomsday Preppers , I ran across one of the most peculiar ‘Preppers’ of them all; a man who was preparing his family for the end of life as we know it in the Western world due to China taking over the economy and making American currency pretty much null. If this guy was a sneaker collector him and his family would be 10 feet underground in their bunker after hearing the recent news of NBA super star Dwyane Wade jumping ship from Jordan Brand to Chinese sneaker staple Li-Ning.
NBA ballers going to China is looking like a sort of trend as just this week we got news that Tracy McGrady has been shopping deals in China and that Allen Iverson and Jason Williams are playing for a team coached by NBA legend Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald that will be squaring off against Stephon Marbury in Beijing in less than a month; however, Wade’s switch to Li-Ning is a little surprising because unlike all the names mentioned, he’s still a star.
As a business move the debate for Dwyane Wade and Li-Ning could go either way, and Forbes did a great job of outlining why the jump to Li-Ning could be a good or bad thing for Wade, but either way, that’s not where we stand. In this case Wade is digging an even deeper hole to his overall sneaker legacy – which may or may not be something he cares about, but is certainly something we care about. My argument is concerned with Dwyane Wade’s legacy as it is concerned with the sneaker community. Every player that is considered his athletic peer has made some kind of impression on collectors from LeBron James to Kobe Bryant, and hell, even Melo has enough sneakers in his name to garner videos like this which receive over 10,000 views.
Wade on the other hand, had made little noise with his Converse sneakers and as the face for Jordan got outshined by Carmelo Anthony once the former Nugget packed his bags for the Big Apple. If we rewind to another moment, things don’t get any better when we remember the horrifying Air Jordan 2010 with which Wade pretty much became the face of. The ‘Fly Wade’ series which were supposed to be Wade’s rising phoenix from the ashes of Converse left many sneaker heads suggesting that the Jordan Brand simply make their signed players wear retros and leaving comments on the blogosphere that were almost unanimously negative.
Partnering with Li-Ning hasn’t exactly been a boost to anyone’s sneaker standing (think Baron Davis) so Wade’s association with unsatisfactory sneakers will surely bring mixed results for both parties.
In the end, I’m left kind of confused on both sides; Li-Ning has for many years now been second to Nike in China, especially in recent years as their sales have declined. Wade has been superseded by LeBron James in Miami, leaving him the number two guy in the big three. We are essentially left with a company who can’t sell sneakers and a player who hasn’t gotten his own signature series to sell under the same company that Carmelo Anthony, a player who has no championship rings (versus Wade’s two), has had several. This may look like a Chinese take over, and while one may be possible, this isn’t it -Doomsday Preppers- you can climb out the hole.
Besides all of this there is also the Chinese market itself to consider. China has already favored Nike over Li-Ning, so that is going to be a hard hurdle to jump. All top-tier Chinese sneaker shops have already started to shift more towards lifestyle sneakers, so there still won’t be the respect level that is needed to really push things to the next level. In our interview with Scotti Li, even he says that he is looking more towards what Western stores are doing to build his brand, and I have yet to see a single Li-Ning sneaker at Supreme, DQM, Reed Space, or any Footlocker for that matter.
Before the floods of emails come in, I want to make it clear that I totally understand that he made A LOT of money on this deal, and as a man who comes from poverty who could have gone down a totally different path, that is amazing. I hope I am wrong, I hope we see a Dwayne Wade x Li-Ning signature collection that is better than anything Jordan ever did with Nike and that he takes sneakers to a new level with a global partnership. As of now I do not see that happening, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I don’t think that given his track record, Wade will be the one who can convince Americans or Chinese to support Li-Ning over Nike.