SLAM: This is your third shoe company in your career…
DW: We do things in threes, baby! (Laughs.)
SLAM: Is this the one you feel most comfortable with?
DW: This is the one I feel most excited about. First of all, let me say this: Growing up you look at other players and you wear their sneakers and when you have an opportunity to put your own name on a sneaker…man, I can’t even explain it. I had the opportunity with Converse and the Wade 1 and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.
Then I moved on to Jordan Brand and that was like a dream come true. I grew up in Chicago and I always felt like I was a Jordan fan and I should be wearing Jordan. I had the opportunity to do it and be endorsed by Jordan. Once my time was up, I was able to find myself in a sense and figure out what I wanted to do.
With Li-Ning, I have more creative control, I have more of a partnership, I have more of a say in a sense. It’s a bigger opportunity for me. I’ve been excited for all my opportunities but this one right here is will be my last shoe brand and something I’m excited about.
SLAM: You’ve talked a lot about your upbringing and your past—could you have ever envisioned being a global icon and the face of a Chinese brand?
DW: No, and I think that’s why I got emotional in the back when I was sitting behind the curtains before I walked out to the stage. I know where I come from. If people have read my book, they know the hardship I grew up in and the things that I have dealt with. To be where I am today, leading a global brand…I don’t even have the words for it, I’m speechless. To think about where God has taken me and my family. I’m going to continue to do things that I’m comfortable and confident in doing. I’m going to continue to show athletes and young kids that you don’t have to follow the status quo and you can do what you’re comfortable with even if it’s not the popular choice or the cool choice at the time. But if your comfortable and you’re confident in the move and you really believe in it, you can change people’s perceptions and have them say, ‘Man, you know what? I like that and I want to be a part of that.’
SLAM: Performance-wise, what makes these sneakers different from your previous signature shoes?
DW: I think that the thing that we tried to do in this short period of time is try to get into what’s most important to me and my foot. First is comfort, as always. Then making sure I have the build of the shoe that I need to help me play at my best. Just really working with that.
I think a lot of people in the US have this idea in their mind that China’s branding is cheap, but I don’t think people understand that everything is made in the same factory. Everything is made right next to each other. It’s all the same in the sense that you have to put your stamp on it and make sure that it’s something comfortable and that’s what I was able to do.
SLAM: With Shane Battier signed to Peak, is there a rivalry between the two of you?
DW: No doubt! (Laughs.) It’s funny, man, during practice Shane went to the basket and I fouled him and everyone stopped and went, “Oh! It’s a war between the two brands!”
Honestly though, I think what Shane was able to do by signing with Peak was trailblazing in it’s own right. Looking at the young guys even on our roster, Terrell Harris is thinking about signing with Peak if he hasn’t already. Shane helped him understand the brand and that’s what I want to do. I want guys to really understand Li-Ning and want them to be a part of it. As Chief Brand Officer, I have my eye out for certain players that can represent my brand and hopefully I can take some of that Peak love and bring it over to Li-Ning.