The appeal of having a high-profile NBA endorser is obvious for a major shoe company; the league's most tremendous players have an unmistakable charisma to their respective personal brands, and association with the style and performance of those players can do wonders for a particular model or line.
But, the monstrously successful and omnipresent Jordan Brand isn't just any major shoe company. The reach of the most renowned line of basketball footwear may be extended by the brand's current endorsing crew, but first and foremost, the shoes are peddled by the ghost of the greatest basketball player of all time.
Michael Jordan himself is the propelling force behind the brand's appeal to this day, with the latest athletes signed merely as a conduit for advertisement and sales.
That's why the news that Dwyane Wade—one of the top players still under the Jordan flag—may be on the outs with the brand wasn't some earth-shaking bit of sports business news. From Nick DePaula of Sole Collector:
Despite literally all of the stars aligning, the endorsement deal somehow didn't end up working out for either party. Wade signed on with the understanding that he would be the lone man to lead the annual Air Jordan shoe each February, a huge undertaking and passing of the torch for a guy who grew up on the south side of Chicago and as a teen idolized MJ during the Bulls' legendary '90s run. Once Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and others rocked the Air Jordan 2010 during Wade's very first All-Star Weekend with the brand, the plan seemed to already be in disarray and the relationship more fractured than anyone wanted to admit at the time.
By all accounts, Wade can certainly be sensitive to work with at times and indecisive when it comes to product feedback. The brand's efforts to make up and launch his very own signature Fly Wade series for each spring's playoff run churned out two models that struggled mightily at retail. With an endorsement price tag of nearly $10 million a year and all kinds of athlete service stress to deal with in the form of custom sneaker modifications and extra attention, perhaps Jordan Brand doesn't see the value in extending Wade's deal this summer.
In a tweet, DePaula went on to state a possible deal between Wade and Li Ning in far less hypothetical terms on Thursday, but the entire sequence of events raises the question of whether Jordan really needs a stable of top-tier athletic endorsers at all.
Obviously, it doesn't hurt to have Wade, Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony clad in your brand's gear, but the prestige and unique nature of this particular brand allows Jordan to manage endorsements differently.
Such is the benefit of an imprint whose spokesman became an icon, and said icon became one of the most recognizable people on the planet. Jordan Brand can afford to lose Wade, and not just because Paul and Anthony—among others—are still under contract.
If Jordan is at the point where a silhouette and a classic style alone can line up fans across the country, then what does Wade really bring to the table that the brand doesn't already have?