NEW YORK — Dwyane Wade insists this wasn’t all planned. He’s sitting across the table from a display of his wares, the eclectic mix of ties, basketball shoes, socks and leisure wear that he’s created and imprinted as part of his brand. He’s wearing a tailored suit with a bold collar bar that sets everything off. He’s already taken the photo that he’ll later post to Twitter — but not Instagram.
This wasn’t all planned, the 35-year-old says. And how could it be?
But, how couldn’t it be?
The Chicago Bulls guard is sitting in the offices of Rubenstein, the famed New York public relations firm. Wade is the only athlete represented by the firm. He might tell you he didn’t know that, and it might be true.
Wade was the first NBA player to sign with Stance, probably the first ever to sign a sock deal separate from his shoe deal. Not the last. Stance hadn’t even begun to negotiate with the NBA at the time, but it now outfits all 30 teams with their on-court socks. Wade still has his own line with the company. Dress socks, not basketball socks.
They match his ties. That deal is with Tie Bar, where he’s the only athlete with his own line. He’s the only NBA player partnered with Mission apparel, where he is listed second on the brand’s athletes page — behind only a fellow equity partner, the iconic Serena Williams. And the shoes? Those are Li-Ning, the Chinese company that gave Wade enough money and freedom that he left Nike’s Jordan Brand imprint. Ten NBA players wore Li-Ning last season, and seven of them wore Wade’s signature shoes. He also created a capsule collection with designer brand Dsquared2.
These things weren’t all planned, exactly. Wade wasn’t setting out trying to create a fashion empire, the one that now has been brought together in a partnership with Amazon Fashion. He’s the first athlete to partner with Amazon Fashion in this way, of course. Exclusivity is part of the Wade brand. He’s eschewed many of the normal channels to create a diverse portfolio, emphasizing partnerships over traditional endorsements.
“What you’re trying to do is set up a brand that is lifelong, like Michael Jordan,” Wade says. “Eight years ago — around when I turned 27— I started thinking different. It was crazy because I was right at the height of my career. That’s the prime, that’s it. But at that moment, I started thinking differently. I started thinking about life after. I started thinking about what moves I can make, what positions can I put myself in to give myself an opportunity.”
Eight years ago was 2009. Wade had led the NBA in scoring, averaging 30.2 points, 7.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks a game in the best individual season of his career. He also was a year removed from the 2008 Summer Olympics, when he and close friend LeBron James began discussing the partnership that would rock the NBA world in 2010.
This wasn’t all planned, no, but Wade can’t deny the synergy. If he hadn’t won a championship in his third NBA season, would he have been willing to ride shotgun in his eighth? If he hadn’t brought James to Miami, would he have two more rings? If he hadn’t won those three rings, would a respected brand let him design a “Camo Conspiracy” tie?
“Everything has to work perfectly for things to work out,” Wade says. “For me, getting drafted to Miami, a sexy — even though it’s not the biggest — market, everyone knows Miami. Then I’m playing with (Shaquille O’Neal), one of the biggest entrepreneurs and personalities, really has his DNA in everything he’s doing, who I learned from. Everything worked perfectly. It’s all part of the journey.”
So it couldn’t have been planned, not exactly. But Wade took risks — like the chance of losing his “cool factor,” by joining Li-Ning, he says —and positioned himself with these companies in a way that gives him the unique ability to express himself. He’s important to Mission’s “athleisure” brand in a way that he couldn’t be with Nike, important to Stance in a way that he wouldn’t be if he were just joining.
“Dwyane Wade could not be a better partner,” a Stance spokesman wrote in an email statement to For The Win. “No matter the need — an idea, a meeting, a social post, a photoshoot, etc — he can always be counted on, and all of that hard work has played a significant role in Stance’s growth over the past few years.”
Wade has set himself up for a future that seems to be coming quickly, one where he’s simply not an NBA superstar anymore. He was not selected for the All-Star Game for the first time since his rookie year last season. He is aware that he’s moving closer to retirement than his prime.
Moving his family — Wade’s wife is the accomplished actress Gabrielle Union, and he has three sons and custody of a nephew — back to his hometown of Chicago to show them his roots is all part of this plan. Yet it couldn’t be planned because he never intended to leave the Heat. Family is crucial to Wade, who wrote a book about fatherhood not long after getting custody of his oldest two sons. It’s as much a part of his brand as the Way of Wade sneakers. But the synergy finds its way into those worlds, too — and not simply in how he uses his nephew as a measuring stick for his latest sneaker patterns.
“I’m very open with my kids,” Wade says. “I sat down with my son. My son loves basketball, and he could play basketball, and hopefully for him, his goal and dream becomes a reality and he becomes a basketball player in the NBA. But the thing I told him was, I’m building a brand. And I’m building a Wade brand. So in a sense, I’m building this for you. In a sense, if that day comes in five years, and we’re having that conversation, I already went through all the tough stuff. I’m building it for you to take over. You won’t have to come into it new like the Balls are doing. I’ve already went through 10 years of the bullcrap. So I let him know, I will sign you to a shoe contract if you’re good enough.”
On the court, Wade is entering a pivotal season. He opted into the second year of his two-year, $47 million contract despite knowing the Bulls were going through a rebuilding phase. He’ll likely be the only player over 30 on the team, and he may even be waived before the season ends, allowing him to possibly rejoin James with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After that, who knows?
Perhaps that’s why he’s chosen to enjoy himself now. He and Union have shown the world their beautiful vacations through social media. He’s cracked wise at former teammates, shut down Twitter trolls and embraced the idea of mentoring the Bulls’ youth. Moments like announcing a partnership with Amazon Fashion feel like a victory lap in the middle of an unfinished race.
“Thumbs up — 27-year-old me would give two thumbs up to 35-year-old me,” Wade says. “You took some risks, you did some things that were unpopular at the time. And maybe in five years, I’ll give it even bigger thumbs up, but I’m definitely happy with me doing it the way I’m going to do it. I got out of line a little bit, and I’m happy with it because it’s me.”