CJ McCollum Talks Li-Ning Signature Sneaker, Design Process and More

This past weekend, CJ McCollum and Li-Ning hosted a pop-up shop to celebrate McCollum’s signature shoe, the YuShuai 12, at Index in Portland. Fans lined up outside one of PDX’s famous consignment shops to purchase the Rose City-themed sneakers, pose for pictures with McCollum and get a first look at the Chinese-based brand’s 2019 line. Since inking a multiyear partnership with Li-Ning last October, McCollum first played in the YuShuai, one of Li-Ning’s performance models, before getting his own sneaker.

We caught up with McCollum to talk getting a signature shoe, the design process, keys things he needs in his sneakers and more.

SLAM: What was that feeling like when you first heard you were getting a signature sneaker?

CJ McCollum: It was a dope feeling, honestly. Just to be able to have creative control over logo, location of it, theme of the shoe and all the things that go into making a personalized shoe I thought was good. It’s a unique experience that I’m definitely grateful to be a part of.

SLAM: Now to see it unfold and have a pop-up in the city you play in must be crazy, right?

CM: Yeah, man, it’s a dream come true to be able to have that pop-up shop and hand-pick some of the gear that would be displayed and have a hand in the designing process of T-shirts, jackets, hats, logo stuff, themes and figuring out how we wanted to set up the pop-up shop. It’s a great experience and opportunity for me to learn more about creating these types of things and for people to learn more about the Li-Ning brand, especially up here in Portland being exposed [to] some of the gear we offer.

SLAM: How hands-on are you in the design process, whether it’s with your sneakers or apparel?

CM: When we’re creating a theme shoe, they’re constantly looking for my feedback—sending me pictures of the shoes, figuring out logo location [and] colors that I’d like to see. I’m very involved in the process. In terms of gear, I give them my feedback on what I like and don’t like with the fitting, logo location, colors, hoodies, the design process—everything. I have a hand in at some point or another because at the end of the day, it’s about making it the way I want it to be made and making sure I like it and approve of it because as the person that has to play in it and wear it every day, it’s important that I feel comfortable with it.

SLAM: What’s the No. 1 thing for you when it comes to performance?

CM: I think comfort is everything for me—just making sure the shoe is comfortable first and foremost; making sure I’m able to move, get in and out of my cuts in a comfortable manner, making sure the mid-foot and some of those areas of the foot are patted in a position to wear, so I can freely move and not have to worry about it from a weight-standpoint. And the size of the shoe to make sure it’s not too bulky, not too high, too low and find that comfort zone. I usually play in mids for the most part and have had success with that.

SLAM: Dwyane Wade is also at Li-Ning, and you mentioned he’s one of your favorite players last time we spoke. Is there a special-edition tribute pair in the works?

CM: We’re definitely in the process of working on a tribute shoe and recognizing D-Wade with the career and impact he’s had in my life that’ll be discussed as the season progresses. Big fan of D-Wade. Happy birthday to the OG, 37 years young, doing his last dance right now and finishing up a great, great run.

I’m just thankful to have the friendship and mentorship and be able to have a Hall of Famer—not only on the court but off the court—from a business standpoint that understands life and the importance of building your brand outside of sports and being able to have that relationship is influential.

SLAM: This colorway pays homage to Portland with the roses. Any other special colorways you’re breaking out this season?

CM: Yeah, actually, I just played in a Dark Knight-themed shoe. The Dark Knight’s one of my favorite movies, so one of the homies designed it and I had Li-Ning bring it into production. I’m looking forward to showcasing that and I got some other colorways. I got an “Ace of Spades” shoe I played in. Blackjack is one of my favorite pastimes when I’m gambling. There’ll be some themed shoes—Black History Month, a wine-themed shoe because I’m a fan of wine. But there’s always something that we’re working on depending on the day of the week and time of the year.

SLAM: As you continue to grow with the brand, where do you see the CJ McCollum line going in a couple of years?

CM: I just want to inspire, continue to innovate and figure out ways to change the game, whether that’d be attracting more players or people to the brand. And just showing people that there’s a lot of unique stuff happening with the Li-Ning brand in terms of colorways, gear, lifestyle and continue to expose people to things they may have never been exposed to before.

Feature and body photo courtesy of Cooper Patterson