So just how exactly did Dwyane Wade come to find his way to Li-Ning in what’s easily the most monumental footwear endorsement change of recent memory?
He tells us in this wide ranging interview covering his Eric Miller designed Way of Wade signature shoe, his thought process in leaving the Jordan Brand (and if MJ is still taking his calls), whether Marquette University might switch allegiance to Li-Ning, reminiscences of past Converse and Jordan models, and how sneaker websites and a hand-written list helped DWade determine that this will be the “last shoe deal” he ever signs.
CounterKicks: What’s your favorite aspect to your new Li-Ning Way of Wade signature shoes?
Dwyane Wade: My favorite aspect is just — one of the things I was looking for in trying to get a shoe with a short period of time to deal with, I really wanted to make something that I felt was classic in a sense. And when I say classy, if you look at the shoe and the design of it I mean there’s not a lot going on. I think a lot of the shoes that lives on many years later so you can bring back a shoe are ones that stands the time and something that lives on beyond its years. So I really wanted to make something that was clean and classic, and I think that this shoe is clean and not busy and it obviously changes with color and changes with the leathers that we decide to use on this shoe. But there’s not a lot going on and that’s something I really wanted to make sure of is that this shoe is clean and classic.
CK: How did you feel when you saw the photo shoot inspired tongue on your new shoe that Li-Ning designer Eric Miller put on there?
Wade: Yeah man, that was cool. When I was in Paris I did a shoot for VMAN. I wore this vest kind of thing that was leather or whatever. When Eric showed me that he got the inspiration from that, man, I was like I love it. I love the tongue. First, I just love the way it looks but I also love the way it plays out of lifestyle. And you know, with me really coming into this and saying, you know what, what I would want to see is a shoe that can both transfer on a court and off the court. How can we do that and how can it be faster but also perform well and really working with Eric and Alejandro Ingelmo to really come up with in a short period of time something where we felt that could live in both arenas. But I love the tongue, man, it was crazy.
CK: I know you own the rights to the primary logos or brand marks that’s on the Way of Wade, seen on the pivot point underfoot and “Wade” word mark elsewhere. How did those logos come together? Did you bring that into the process and say I want this specifically on my Li-Ning sneakers?
Wade: Well yeah, I mean I have a brand logo and a brand Wade logo that I’ve sat down with a designer, Willo Perron, and he works very close to Kanye West. So I sat down with him and said I want to create a brand logo for me. And my logo is two things — one is the Wade name and the Wade is blocked, and then the other one is in the circle on the bottom of the shoe and even on the top of the shoe. I want it to feel kind of futuristic in a sense. I wanted something that reads both ways. And with that logo, once you look at that logo, every side turns into each letter. So the top is a W, the bottom can be a W, the side can be an A, the top can be an A. Every side turns to a W, an A, a D or an E. So that’s just my brand logo, man. That’s something that I wanted to put on the first shoe. As we continue to make subtle changes to it possibly in the shoe, I wanted everyone to know that this is Wade and Li-Ning, both brands coming together.
CK: From a technical and a comfort standpoint, how does this first Li-Ning Wade model compare to other previous shoe models that you’ve worn from Jordan Brand or Converse in the past?
Wade: I would say that I’m happy with it. I’m excited about it. I thought Duane Lawrence did some great things at Converse in our years that we had there. I think this will be one of my better performance shoes and even one of my better looking shoes. I think the hardest part is people giving you the chance in the States. In China, it’s going to do great. But in the States, you know, people are so used to what we’re used to. It’s hard to make that change but I think once you look at it and see what I’m able to perform and what I put on the court, I think it’ll be one of the better shoes that I’ve put on and worn in a while. But the logo is different. It’s not the Jumpman, it’s not what people are used it.
CK: So what’s your initial feedback and thoughts on the Way of Wade shoe having played in them?
Wade: I thought that we did a great job of talking to Eric [Miller] and these guys and everyone in the factory on trying to create a shoe that we felt was good performance-wise. And they kind of gave me the lead — they didn’t feel like or they didn’t come at you and say, ‘We know what we’re doing. We doing a shoe…’ They came and said listen, we want to make sure that this shoe is comfortable for you, how do we do that? And they got with my trainers and my doctors and put in the shoe what we felt that I needed to perform great. It’s a very comfortable shoe and I’m all about comfort. I like to look good but I like my shoe to feel good as well. So from that standpoint I give it a thumbs up.
CK: Do you have any plans or have talked about having Marquette become a Li-Ning school?
Wade: I haven’t, I haven’t had that conversation, man. You know, I had a whole conversation this summer when I was thinking about where I was going and talking to Buzz [Williams, Marquette University head coach]. He was waiting to see what I was going to do, and I was just telling him I think that what you guys have at Brand Jordan is phenomenal and I wouldn’t say you guys should wait on what I’m going to do. Stick with it, go forward with the plans. If something happens later, something happens later. But Marquette University I’ll always be a part of whether they’re wearing my shoes or not because it’s my university. I want them to do what they feel is best for them as a school. So we’ll see. I think right now they’re comfortable and confident where they’re at. I know that Nike loves having them, they’re one of the top schools, especially for many years now being ranked and being in the Big East as well, so we’ll see down the line.
CK: Did Michael Jordan make any kind of last, final ditch pitch to keep you at Jordan Brand?
Wade: Well, no…Jordan Brand I think they showed the whole time that they wanted me in the brand. It wasn’t nothing that was like a bitter ending for us. I think they saw the opportunity that I was presented and that I was looking for. And it was something that I’ve never had the opportunity to do before. Obviously, it’s nothing I could do at Brand Jordan. I mean, Michael Jordan has his own brand, his own legacy, there was nothing I could do off of that. In a sense, I’m kind of following the model that MJ’s laid out. I’m following the blueprint. So my time with Jordan, my time with the Nike family, to me, they’re always going to be family. I’m always going to have a relationship with a lot of those guys because of what we were able to accomplish and do. But I’m building my own legacy now. I’m doing something different on a global stage in the biggest market in the world, in a sense, and I’m going to enjoy it.
CK: If you call MJ on his cell is he still going to answer?
Wade: I don’t know because he’s working on the Bobcats and I’m in a Heat uniform so during the season probably not. [Laughs] But I’ve had many conversations with MJ. I would say at the end that I dealt with the brand guys, the Nike guys, and the Jordan guys, I didn’t really necessarily deal with MJ on the deal, per se. But I know he knows what happened with the deal and everything. Like I said, everything was done in a way where we both mutually agreed to go different ways. We both wanted something different and there’s nothing wrong with that. My nine years was great, but this opportunity that was presented to me is another reason why I had to move on. So I’m excited about it and I’m glad I had the experience but now I’m looking forward to my new adventure.
CK: What do see as the biggest takeaway with all this? I know you keep referencing this Li-Ning deal as your last shoe deal, a legacy type of thing. Where do you see this going ultimately? Where do you see the Wade brand in five to 10 years from now? What do you hope to accomplish with it all?
Wade: You know that’s the cool thing about it, you just never know what to expect. And honestly, I’m trying to build my Wade brand. Right now I’m the first endorser of my own brand. I’m going to keep my eye out on some players that I feel can represent my brand and can live beyond my playing days, and even while I’m playing. You know, it’s a couple years from now but as I build this brand, as we continue to put out great product, and people start to really understand more about the brand, hopefully people will want to be a part of it. I think this is the time. You see so many guys in the league now, and it’s not just sticking to the status quo. Guys are wearing PEAK, they’re wearing 361, guys are wearing Li-Ning, guys are wearing Spalding and all kinds of shoes and doing different things. So I have my eye out. I’ll be looking to bring someone else in to represent and stand side-by-side with me to represent the WADE brand. And then when I’m done playing, I’ll have someone to continue to carry the torch as I move on.
CK: Do you follow any of the sneaker blogs or websites?
Wade: Yeah, I follow a couple of them. I only follow a few. I mean I’ve always been a sneakerhead and I’m very interested in what they say. I mean even when I was thinking about signing with Li-Ning I went and I researched, I looked to see what they said about their previous product and I got a lot of feedback just from that, just from the sneakerheads knowing exactly what’s a good product, what feels good on the feet. I know I can add a different element to it in a different kind of way on the design and the way things look. But when it comes to is this is a nice, quality sneaker, this is something that when you put on your feet your feet feel good, your feet will thank you later that you put them on. I heard a lot of good things about it.
CK: One question that has been in the public’s mind is why you didn’t wear some of your endorsed footwear product in the past from Jordan Brand and Converse. You didn’t wear the Jordan Fly Wade 2 shoe frequently, nor the Converse Wade 4. What would you say to that? What exactly was going on at those stages?
Wade: This is the biggest thing, like I’ve said, one of my biggest things is about performance and comfort. As the season goes on your feet changes a little bit and maybe you want something a little different. So at the times when I wasn’t wearing the Fly Wade 2s, or the time when I wasn’t wearing the Converse 4s, or whatever it may be, I was just trying to get the shoe to perform the way I needed it to perform. They sent them back out to try to get something I needed to add to the shoe. That was it but I was still wearing the brand shoe. When I wasn’t wearing the Fly Wade 2, I was wearing retros, or I was wearing Fly Wade 1s. When I wasn’t wearing the Converse Wade 4, I was wearing the Converse Wade 1s that I felt was comfortable for my feet. To me it’s all about performance first. I have to perform on the court and if I don’t perform on the court then no one’s going to care about what I have on my feet. So when those opportunities came up it was just about adding certain things, changing certain things, that as my feet changes as the season goes on, you have different wants and different needs so you try to add them to your product and you try to wear what’s comfortable for you at that time. Like I said, the summer is different than a season. There’s going to be times when you got to go back to the lab and say you know what, let’s add this or let’s take this away. Just in a sense it’s bigger than that, that’s the way it is with it.
CK: Did you have a lot of hesitation making the big switch to a Chinese-based brand? Was there a certain moment, someone you talked to, or something that happened where you just said I’ve got to pull the trigger on this, just try it out?
Wade: What I try to do with every big decision I have to make in my life is I try to sit down and put a list together. One side says pros and one side says cons. And when I sat down there I wrote and started with the cons first. One was that I’d never played in a shoe outside of Nike’s umbrella. So this was something that was different. And then the other one was I’m losing the cool factor, if that makes sense. Once I got over that, the biggest thing is, okay, if I can get this shoe to perform the way I want it to perform, which like I said I did my research, I understood that they had great performance in a sneaker. And then the cool factor, that’s just not really who I’ve been. I feel like if you’re cool, you’re cool. And you’re not cool just because you’re wearing something. You’re cool because you’re a cool individual. And I’ve always done things a little different than the status quo like when I was going to Marquette University when no one heard of it. When I was drafted by the Miami Heat at 25-years-old and winning a championship in three years. I started with Converse when they came out of bankruptcy, et cetera. So whether it’s wearing pink pants to a press conference or whatever it’s been I’ve always done things kind of my way and differently. And hopefully, like I said, my supporters and followers throughout, and the ones that I’ve picked up along the way as well, can continue to support me and they understand that I make moves depending on what I’m comfortable with and this is a move that I’m comfortable with and I think that it’s a game changer.
CK: So the big thing here is you’re setting up your own kind of Jordan Brand, you’re setting up a Wade brand under Li-Ning. And you’d like to see a big product line and athletes endorsing the Wade brand eventually. This is your major, long term play.
Wade: Yeah man, this is my last shoe deal. This is something I’m going to do after my basketball playing days. And I’m excited about it. I’m my first endorser of my own Wade brand. [Laughs] As we continue to build it out and continue to grow it, hopefully I can find the right athletes to represent my brand. Like I’ve said, it’s similar to the model that Jordan has laid for us, the blueprint that he made, and there’s not a lot of athletes that have the opportunity to do it. I have my opportunity on the global stage to do that and I’m very excited about this different direction that I’m able to go in right now. I think it’s the perfect time for me to do it and I’m pumped about it.
Visit Li-Ning.com for more on the Dwyane Wade partnership and Way of Wade collection