Friday, September 28, 2012

The Beast from the East, Li-Ning

If you follow basketball and didn't just stumble upon this website, I would insulting your intelligence to say that you are unaware of the role that the shoe companies play in the world of hoops. They are just as important to the game as the backboard. No other sport has a marriage with an article of clothing like the matrimony between the two.

Unlike the 54% population of the United States that had a divorce, the divorce between sneaker companies and their ballers are not nearly as high. Yes, we all know that Kobe left Adidas and that Dwyane Wade left Converse for Jordan Brand. Now it appears that Wade is on his way out of a second marriage.

The new shoe company that Wade is flirting with Li-Ning who has a target locked on to the United States market. While Li-Ning is still in the embryonic stages of their basketball life, compared to the old stalwarts of Nike, Adidas and Reebok, they certainly have gained the attention of them.

Ni-Ling has been around since 1990. They broke into the sporting apparel scene with their gear for table tennis and badminton. Not exactly the beginnings you would think for a basketball ball shoe company. They first made a splash in the hoops world when they got Shaq to sign on. Shaq has always signed on with obscure and non-mainstream companies so this wasn't exactly earth shattering news. Since then they however have recruited Baron Davis, Evan Turner, Sun Yue and Yi Jianlian. Not a lineup that will sway any middle schooler to go beg his parents or write a letter to Santa for the new Evan Turner kicks, but that could change. Dwyane Wade is someone who would cause the kid to do that. Getting D-Wade on board would cause a seismic wave to reverberate through the hoopscape.
Now all the cynics will line up and immediately shout, "Look at Grant Hill and FILA!" "They had him when he was the best player in the association and they didn't stick, they even caused his ankle problems!" Well, that's not exactly true. The Italian company FILA, has always cared more about tennis and sports that are played primarily in the Alps than basketball. Basketball was just a side venture, if it worked out great, if not, oh well.

I will always remember as a kid getting a pair of Jerry Stackhouse's FILA's. Along with the kicks came a poster of Stack as rookie with Philadelphia. He was wearing a maroon jersey with FILA printed on the chest and he was jumping in front of the green road sigh that said, "Welcome to FILAdelphia". Very clever Italian marketing right there. Another thing that is hard to get of my mind is the critics saying that the poor shoe choice led to Grant Hill's ankle issues, whether or not that is the case we will never know, but it dealt a crippling blow to the shoemaker's basketball market. Are we seeing the same with Derrick Rose?

If Wade spurns the advances of Li-Ning and stays with Jordan Brand it won't shock any of us, who can turn down being paid to wear Michael Jordan's company? But, if he does imagine how shocking that will be? That would cut a chunk from the turf that Nike and Adidas hold on to. Reebok could feel the squeeze get really tight. Yes, Wade is eroding and certainly not the player he was 7 years ago, but he still has mass appeal. He still can sell sneakers. D-Wade makes the needle move. Li-Ning is not going to be content to sigh end-of-the-bench guys, they want a star. They have the money for them, and unlike FILA, they care.


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