It was all good just a year ago.
The chatter started months before in the summer. It was a shocking, exciting concept to consider. Would Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade leave Jordan Brand? Was it true? Could it happen? It was left settling as rumor, conjecture, possible fabrication, and with no true confirmation. No dice.
But then a tweet came. A seemingly innocuous tweet, produced by promising Philadelphia 76ers swingman Evan Turner welcoming Wade into the fold as a new member of his footwear family, stirred about (tracked expertly by a curious editor). And then it disappeared.
Soon after, what was merely hearsay became a part of the here and now. The two-time NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist was no longer a member of Jordan Brand and, of all companies to go to, reportedly, he is going to sign with Chinese footwear company Li-Ning, known mainly for representing lower-tier players in big Chinese markets in the NBA (see Jones, Damon; when queried about the Wade signing, Li-Ning offered no comment).
What?! D-Wade left Brand Jordan, the standard of elite basketball footwear? And possibly for Li-Ning? In China? No. 3 got to steppin’, and he left with nary a sound uttered from his lips, nor a trail of tears to follow. What Wade did was demonstrate an active statement that has clearly impacted the discussion of brand status and affiliation. The Shadow League’s own Khalid Salaam said it best:
“In the ‘80s and ‘90s, having a signature line was a rite of passage, if you wanted to be considered big-time. Now? It’s just another thing.”
He’s right, especially today, where the signature sneaker of yesterday has become something of an evolved concept; where players often push a general model, but with their own logos and likenesses stamped on their game shoes in team-specific colors. It’s not just a Jordan-thing or a Nike-thing – adidas, Reebok, and even Li-Ning all do the same thing. The economics have a say in this, too.
If a company puts out a signature shoe and it blows up, great – but, with the current high-level production of shoes out on the market, if a signature shoe doesn’t meet its projected sells, the company takes a financial loss. So what’s easier – making one shoe with a player name and leaning on that one product, or making several non-signature shoes that can be customized to an entire array of athletes and colors for many consumers? Lately, the latter has been a hit with the masses.
KiX and the City founder/publisher and footwear insider Rich “MaZe” Lopez explains, “Nowadays, the brand behind the athlete is becoming less important to players who won't be the face of a big brand. Add in the fact that a brand like Li-Ning has the money, and you can clearly see why Wade made this move. It’s all about control, pushing your personal brand, and of course, money.”
The sentiment was also shared by John Brilliant, the famously secretive proprietor of footwear industry news site CounterKicks, who expounded on the news of the break-up, calling it “a win-win situation for every party involved, strangely.”
“The Wade product never sold well,” explained Brilliant. “With Dwyane Wade himself, it's another new footwear brand opportunity and he'll be paid much more handsomely by Li-Ning than Jordan Brand.”
And so it goes. Brand status has gone the way of the athlete, in an era where the players themselves are becoming their own businesses and establishing themselves as forces in their own right (word to Shawn). If nothing else, Wade’s old boss shouldn’t be too surprised by the move.
Michael Jordan essentially did the same thing.