by Tim Reynolds, Associated Press
Two-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade is signing with Chinese sportswear provider Li-Ning, which is giving the Miami Heat guard his own brand within the company along with plenty of creative and strategic input.
The partnership will be announced Wednesday in Beijing, where Li-Ning is headquartered and where the Heat are visiting for the NBA China Games tour.
Wade told The Associated Press that he expects the Li-Ning deal to continue through at least the remainder of his playing career. Wade wore Converse for his first six seasons, then Jordan Brand for the past three years.
“It was a great nine years, but for me, it was just time to move on,” Wade told the AP. “I have certain goals that I want to reach and I felt that I had to leave to reach those. So I’m doing things a little differently. That’s how I am, in a sense. I’m not necessarily a status-quo type guy.”
Wade’s debut in Li-Ning sneakers is expected Thursday, when the Heat play a preseason game in Beijing against the Los Angeles Clippers. He’s also hoping to play when the Heat and Clippers meet again in Shanghai on Sunday, and Li-Ning plans to auction off the sneakers from those first two games.
However, what he’s wearing this week is not a true unveiling of his brand — to be called Wade.
“What you see in China will not be the final product,” Wade said.
Wade’s line of apparel and footwear is to be available at Li-Ning retail stores and online in China “soon,” with a U.S. retail debut expected in 2013. His shoes are expected to sell for about $120.
Wade has worn sneakers with no obvious brand markings in practices in recent days, but has tweeted several references to “10/10″ — the date when the deal will be announced — and posed recently on a court emblazoned with the phrase “Make The Change,” a Li-Ning slogan.
“I picked the best situation for me,” Wade said.
Wade becomes the biggest NBA name to endorse the Li-Ning brand since his former Miami teammate Shaquille O’Neal. Wade said he has gotten to know Li Ning, the brand’s namesake, after first seeing the Chinese gymnastics hero — a winner of six medals, three gold, at the Los Angeles Olympics — when he lighted the cauldron at the 2008 Beijing Games. Wade helped the U.S. win basketball gold at those Olympics.
“I had to get to know him and have him get to know me,” Wade said.
Li-Ning is still trying to gain recognition in the U.S. It has around 8,000 retail outlets in China.
“In the U.S., the China brand is not the cool factor,” Wade said. “A lot of work has gone into this and a lot of work is going to continue to go into it. For me, it’s a challenge. As an athlete, you look forward to that.”
Wade is the second Heat player to endorse a Chinese shoe label. Heat forward Shane Battier has worn Peak sneakers since 2006.
“My biggest concern was the language barrier,” Battier said. ” But all in all, it’s been a great experience. It’s been fun.”
Wade’s deal with Jordan Brand expired Sept. 30. He will have say in virtually everything about his brand, from design to endorsers.
He’s hopeful that he’ll be able to wear something close to a final product by Oct. 30, when the Heat open the regular season against Boston.
“I’m not rushing,” Wade said. “To me, I want to make sure it’s a good product and when people see me, they need to know I’m comfortable with it. I want to make sure people understand that this is a big deal, not only for China, but for me.”
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