by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad

From SLAM 164:

When the deal between Dwyane Wade and Li-Ning was made public in early October, the news caused waves. Wade, one of the most popular basketball players in the world, had left the most recognizable sneaker-making corporation in the world for a company that is largely unknown in America. The decision initially left many dumbfounded but Li-Ning—in true Don Corleone fashion—made Wade an offer he couldn’t refuse. Li-Ning, it was later learned, pulled out all the stops during the courtship, agreeing to give Wade creative control, a position within the company and, most importantly, a chance to build his legacy in a way that will carry on well beyond his playing days.

It’s that twist, the appointment of Wade as Chief Brand Officer, which makes the move to Li-Ning unique. Among other charges, Wade is now responsible for the duty of recruiting other athletes and changing the perception of the brand. “I’ve always been about doing something different and helping change the perception of places,” explains Wade. “I have work to do. I have to keep my eye out for players to help build this brand. I’ll be helping this brand even when I’m done playing and having my own brand similar to Jordan. It’s a new beginning, a new era, a new opportunity.”

Li-Ning has been making moves in the sneaker world for a while, having inked guys like Baron Davis and Evan Turner, the former No. 2 pick in the Draft, three years ago. While Turner has shown some promise, Li-Ning realized that they needed an established superstar to help take them to the next level. “To really elevate ourselves as a basketball brand, we recognized we needed to find some keystone partnerships,” says Brian Cupps, Li-Ning’s Brand Initiative Director for Basketball. “Dwyane Wade was a name that we knew whose contract was going to be up, and based on our feedback and research, he resonated with our consumer base and had a shared vision of who we are as a brand as both a person and player.”

With Wade now in tow, Li-Ning has high hopes that they will be able to appeal not only to the younger American demographic but also expand in China in an effort to seriously compete against the basketball apparel strongholds. “Our goal is to leverage Dwyane and carve out a nice niche and say, ‘We’re going to be here for a long time and we’re willing to stay committed and focused on growing something here,’” says Cupps. “At the same time, we think that’s going to benefit our business in China as well because the young kid in China is certainly looking to the US for what they want to consume and the NBA and what that culture is all about.”

For Wade, now on his third and final shoe deal, Li-Ning offers him an abundance of opportunity going forward. For Li-Ning, the Wade deal signifies their determination to take their brand to new heights. The relationship between the Far East and South Beach looks perfect. Now let the work begin

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With DWade’s keen sense of fashion, it should come as no surprise that he his first major move as Chief Brand Officer was to call on award-winning footwear and accessory designer Alejandro Ingelmo to become Creative Consultant for Special Projects for WADE. Ingelmo (or, simply, AI) has been selling his unique designs to Wade and now is making his first crossover to the basketball world to collaborate with Wade and create a sneaker that will take off court style to a whole ‘nother level.The result of Ingelmo and Wade’s collaboration will be shown during AI’s Fashion Week Show in New York City in February.

For now, check this Q+A with AI to get an idea of just what he he has in store.

SLAM: How did you get linked up with Dwyane Wade and Li-Ning?

Alejandro Ingelmo: I got a request from his stylist and he became a customer of mine and started wearing my stuff. I would make special orders for him since I usually don’t make his size. He approached me and asked if I would be the creative director for what he was working on. It was a natural…He already liked my stuff so it made sense.

SLAM: Can you give a brief overview of what exactly you’ll be doing with Li-Ning and WADE?

AI: Dwyane and Li-Ning wanted to create more of a fashion aesthetic to the shoe so they brought me in for this idea of off-court shoes and give the sneakers more of a lux feel, so that’s what this is going to be.

SLAM: Do you think your style will translate over to the basketball lifestyle world?

AI: I know what my aesthetic is and in terms of technical, it’s a basketball shoe but in terms of craftsmanship and details and materials, it totally takes it to another place. I’ve always been a fan of basketball shoes. I used to collect sneakers as a kid, so I understand that whole sneaker world. For me and why I started my collection and why I even started going into men’s was because it was stuff I wanted to wear. As far as comfort, I used to live in sneakers and hated when my mom would put me in dress shoes [laughs].

Will it translate into the basketball world? Yeah, I think it will. I think the whole idea is that you can take these sneakers off court. With basketball shoes, you can take them off court but only with jeans. You can never take it past that. The idea here is to go even further and make it a little more dressier. You can wear it with a jacket or a suit. Wade is very dapper in the way he dresses, he has more of a gentlemen’s way of dressing. I think it’s going to be cool, I’m looking forward to this project.

SLAM: Your history with sneakers and being a collector growing up, will you draw inspiration with that when you go into design?

AI: Yeah, I think with what were doing and what we’re designing. This is more of looking back and going back to basics. It’s something that’s been engineered really, really well and speaks for itself in terms of material and in terms of where things are placed. It’s really looking at everything.

SLAM: Will you and Dwyane be working together on design?

AI: Yeah, he’s already given me some guidelines and things he wanted out of the shoe. It’s a collaboration, it’s an open conversation between us.

SLAM: Is this your first experience working with athletes?

AI: Yes, it is.

SLAM: What challenges does that pose?

AI: [Laughs] You’re putting me on the spot here! It’s been great. You want to bring in elements of someone’s life into design, I think it’s really interesting because it’s something I’ve never really done before. It’s the way they think and their performance and how to put that into shoes and design, it’s interesting. It’s been really, really good.

SLAM: How different is it working with an athlete compared to doing high end footwear for models?

AI: The technical aspect—as far as what the athlete needs on court—you don’t want to take that away from what you’re doing. Understanding all that is really, really interesting. Performance wise, in terms of comfort, it gets to a certain level in the fashion world. When you’re talking about basketball shoes, it’s this whole other world. I’m still working on understanding all of that but I think it’s going to be a great shoe. As far as construction, in terms of the stitching and the materials we’re using, that’s where I’m having more of the design.

SLAM: Were you at all surprised when you were approached by Li-Ning and WADE being that you didn’t have experience working with athletes?

AI: I looked at as a great opportunity. As a designer, you don’t always want to do something in one place. It’s about taking what you do and using it in different aspects of life and that makes you a better designer. It’s great.

When two things that are very unexpected come together and what really comes out is something that’s different and unique and I think that’s what it’s all about. That’s what a true collaboration is. That’s what makes something cool.