Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade is a really great player who grew up watching Michael Jordan as a boy in Chicago. So, when Wade's relationship with the shoe company Converse ended in 2009, it made perfect sense for him to jump to MJ's Jordan Brand, a division of Nike. (Converse has been a Nike subsidiary since 2003, but that relationship is not promoted nearly as often as the one they have with Jordan.) Wade was able to continue Jordan's legacy, however indirectly, at a time when he was coming into his own as a corporate spokesman and public figure.
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Over the past three years, Wade has done good work for Jordan, helping to debut a couple iterations of the iconic Air Jordan and starring in at least one memorable (if not for all right reasons) ad campaign. However, his contract with the company ended a few days ago. As both Wade and Jordan Brand announced on Tuesday, they have ended their professional relationship. Here's part of Jordan Brand's statement, as reported by Erik Siemers of Portland Business Journal (via EOB):
Nike Inc.'s Jordan Brand has lost one of its biggest names after severing ties with Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade. "The Jordan Brand and Dwyane Wade have mutually agreed to end our relationship," the Jordan Brand said in a statement Tuesday. "We wish Dwyane well as he continues his career."
And here's Wade, as quoted by Chris Tomasson of FoxSportsFlorida.com (also via EOB):
"I just really can't comment on my new deal,'' Wade said. "I did mutually part ways with the Jordan umbrella, with Jordan and Converse. I had a great nine years, but we have mutually parted ways, and I'm moving on.'' [...]
"It's just the time,'' Wade said. "We just went our separate ways. But I still feel honored to have represented my favorite player of all time and his brand and the opportunity I was given.''
Wade does have a new deal, though, and all indications are that it's with Li-Ning, a Chinese brand that runs its U.S. business out of Chicago. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel has more details, including a comment from one of Wade's teammates and an endorser of a different Chinese company:
He now will become the face of China-based apparel company Li-Ning, with that formal announcement likely to come during next week's Heat preseason trip to China. While Wade declined to confirm the Li-Ning agreement, Heat teammate Shane Battier, who has his own China shoe deal, effectively did.
"I told him, 'Let the friendly competition begin, Peak vs. Li-Ning," said Battier, who has a marketing agreement with Peak. "I stand by my brand. I was a pioneer over there, so it's good to have a fellow brother over there."
Li-Ning is based in Beijing, which is the first of two stops on the China trip that also will take the Heat to Shanghai. Wade had been with Jordan Brand since 2010. Wade posted a sneaker photo late Tuesday on his Instgram account next to the date 10/10, indicating his new shoe will be released next Wednesday when the Heat are in Beijiing.
Wade is a major star with global appeal, so this news carries more weight than most changes in endorsement. It's a risk, as well — Wade is moving from one of the most popular brands on the planet to a relatively new company with plenty of money but little market penetration, especially in America. Li-Ning has deals with players like Evan Turner and Jose Calderon, and has worked with bigger names like Shaquille O'Neal and Baron Davis in the past, but it's yet to work with a major superstar in his marketing prime. Wade is that kind of player, and he can help Li-Ning reach new heights in America. Plus, he'll see new heights of fame in China now that he's aligned with a native corporation.
At the same time, there's only so much they can do. Nike still controls the majority of the basketball shoe and apparel market, and Jordan Brand is in good shape with Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony still on board as endorsers. Of course, that doesn't mean that Li-Ning is foolish to compete — it just means that their goals aren't necessarily to defeat Nike within the next decade. Their climb to the top will be arduous, with many smaller goals along the way.
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Nabbing Wade is the first step towards achieving many of those goals. If he helps establish Li-Ning as a major force in the market, then new opportunities will open up quickly. And while that might not lead to the heights of the industry, it could result in some very meaningful gains.
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