While companies like Adidas, Reebok, and Nike dominate the American shoe market, some NBA players look overseas to China for their shoe deals and almost completely bypass the American market in the process. Since Yao Ming came into the league with a bang, China has been consistently been a reliable market for the NBA, and even with recent controversies, it will likely remain that way for many years to come.
From former superstars to lesser-known names, these players have gone to China to sell their footwear, and some of them made hefty payday in the process.
Easily the biggest name of the bunch, Dwyane Wade once struggled to get the type of deals that his friends draftmates LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony had gotten heading into the league. Instead, he went to the popular, but less lucrative Converse.
Converse gave him $400,000 on his shoe deal. This deal lasted until 2009 when Wade was one of the best players in the NBA. Then, he went to Jordan until 2012.
In 2012, Wade was once again looking for a new shoe deal, and the Chinese shoe company Li-Ning came calling. They offered Wade a 10-year deal worth $60M, and he gladly accepted.
The relationship remains intact until this day, as Wade reportedly has a lifetime deal with the company. According to Wade, the move to the overseas brand wasn’t just about the money, but about building his brand beyond where it may have otherwise grown.
“This was something I needed to do from the standpoint of building something,” Wade told the AP (per NBA.com). “That’s what I set out to do. This word we all talk about, legacy, I tried to set out to build a legacy for myself and my family. And after six years of that, it’s cool to be here today.”
Klay Thompson signed overseas almost immediately after the American shoe companies failed to match the offer that Chinese shoe company Anta offered him. First signing right before the Warriors’ historic run of NBA Finals, Thompson signed a 10-year extension in 2016 that was worth $8M a year for the veteran sharpshooter.
Klay was not the first NBA player to sign a shoe deal there, however, but he was the biggest client they had since Kevin Garnett retired.
NBA fans were surprised when Dwyane Wade played his final game in Sacramento and gave his jersey to then-King Frank Mason. After much confusion, it was revealed that Mason, like Wade, was signed at Li-Ning. Although he is currently trying to find a place in NBA rotations, Li-Ning locked up Mason early on.
Rajon Rondo signed with Anta back in 2013, near the end of his days with the Boston Celtics. He was, at the time, one of the best point guards in the NBA, and a major get for the sneaker company. Rondo designed his first signature shoe, the RR1, and has seen decent success with the shoe company.
Michael Carter-Williams signed with Li-Ning back in 2017, and while his NBA career has not lived up to what his initial success may have led people to believe, his shoe is popular overseas. Perhaps, part of some of these deals’ appeal is the fact that they could bank on the players if they move over to the CBA in the future.
Evan Turner and CJ McCollum
Turner has been with Li-Ning since 2010. The company had success before Turner, with Baron Davis releasing shoes over there. The company was also able to use its sway to get other players to sign there, too, and Turner recruited his former teammate, CJ McCollum, to sign there in 2017. Turner has the biggest shoes for the company behind Dwyane Wade.