Why Dwyane Wade Leaving Jordan Brand for Li-Ning Is Terrible Career Move

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2012

June 5, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) during the first half in game five of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics of the 2012 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Money talks.

And it just so happens to speak a few different languages.

Regardless of how much Chinese Dwyane Wade actually learns, he's about to find out plenty about Chinese purchasing power. To hear him explain his decision to ditch Jordan Brand shoes for China's own Li-Ning equivalent, this is about doing this his way (via ESPN's Darren Rovell).

"This is a great opportunity for me," Wade told [Rovell]. "I can either choose to stick to the status quo or be a trailblazer."

To hear reality explain it (or anyway, the Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman), there may have been some additional motives:

The reason for Wade’s move is simple enough. Wade’s deal with Li-Ning could one day make him one of the richest athletes in the world. At least that’s the vision. Wade has reportedly been given equity in the company and, of course, a multimillion, multiyear deal that will pad his pockets well into retirement.

Wade may be one of the most significant names yet to take his celebrity to an overseas sneaker company, but he's hardly the first one to see the world through cash-colored glasses (and thick-rimmed ones at that).

Flash is about as much of a trailblazer as Roy Hibbert—which is to say, close but no cigar.

And as far as breaking with the status quo goes, what's so revolutionary about signing up with the same company Shaq worked with—and not even awesome Shaq, but broken-down, ring-chasing, about-to-retire Shaq (the 2006-2010 edition to be exact)?

But fine, Wade has to sell this, so we'll give him a pass on these inane comments about breaking ground and changing the sneaker world as we know it.

There are a lot of things that could go wrong with this deal, not least among them the fact that it could flop in business terms. Li-Ning's sales have seen a steep decline recently, and according to the Want China Times, there's a precedent for failure with these kind of deals.

Li Ning has also reached out to NBA giants but the deals turned out unexpectedly poor when the public found the shoes too big for their tastes. The name of Li Ning does not ring the bell for most of the younger Chinese consumers either.

Of course, the gamble in this instance hinges on Wade turning things around—like his team did down 0-2 in the NBA Finals—a situation he knows a thing or two about.

To do so, Wade will need to make this brand seem cool. That might have been easier to do back in 2006 too.

Yes, the Miami Heat shooting guard is still very good, still an All-Star and still capable of taking games over. It's just that—well, he seems redundant now, even if he isn't actually.

Making kicks cool is about image, and Wade's image has deteriorated far more quickly than his game.

The guy went from putting a team on his back and single-handedly winning a title to recruiting the two best players he could get his hands on to do some of the work for him. No one will blame him for it, but no one's going to idolize him either.

A once heroic and somewhat unheralded superstar, Wade now conjures up scenes of yelling at coaches, poor sportsmanship, sordid custody battles, flopping and a bad knee. Most of that isn't the guy's fault in the least, save for the Dirk mockery and flopping. But that's entirely irrelevant when it comes to a public image.

Brands aren't judged on a day-to-day basis by discerning jurists. They're roughly gauged by gut reactions, group-think and trends with minds of their own.

There's no mercy or fairness in that equation.

On the other hand, maybe that's why China is so appealing.

Over the next few years, it may very well be the case that Wade's popularity in China will dwarf what he musters here in the US. Perhaps he's banking on a demographic that's not quite as familiar with his baggage.

Whatever the reason, and whatever the outcome, the American audience won't think especially highly of the decision. It may not like the shoes much either.

Wade makes it sound as if every other big star going the traditional Nike or Adidas routes is somehow mundane, but isn't there a reason they do that? Isn't there inherently something second-best about abandoning the tried-and-true brands that have come to symbolize the NBA elite?

Footwear has become a cultural signifier in this league. If you can tell a lot by a man's shoes, you can tell that much more from a superstar's sneakers.

Though it's still too soon to know exactly what to make of Wade's move, the skeptic in all of us has to wonder if he's preparing for a T-Mac-like NBA retirement plan at some point.

If Wade's injury struggles grow worse, better to be an icon overseas than a has-been at home.


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