Miami Heat star “promises” to play in China

Here’s my Sports Talk column from today:

The rumors have been circulating for months, but now, for the first time, they have been aired in public. Last week, ESPN analyst Jalen Rose mentioned on his podcast that two-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade has promised to play for a year in China after retiring from the NBA.

The big question is when. Wade is 31, so likely won’t be leaving the US anytime soon, but seven-time All-Star Tracy McGrady arrived in China aged 33, so Wade’s year abroad could come sooner rather than later.

Dwyane Wade Way of Wade Li-NingIt’s important to stress that this is nothing more than rumor at this point – Wade’s agency CAA wouldn’t comment on the matter – but the reason the speculation won’t go away is, according to Chinese basketball blog NiuBBall.com’s Jon Pastuszek, that it simply makes a lot of sense.

Wade signed a massive contract with Chinese sportswear company Li-Ning last year – reportedly a nine-figure sum, including equity – but the headlines back home weren’t so generous, with the deal variously described as “bizarre” and a “terrible career move”. Wade’s promise to play in China, while likely not specified in writing, is thought to be linked to the Li-Ning agreement.

To be sure, there is certainly a lot of risk involved. Li-Ning’s share price has been tanking, and the company recently announced plans to raise funds to boost its flagging fortunes. Chinese brands, by Wade’s own admission, are not cool in the US, and Li-Ning’s focus has reverted to China after a failed attempt to enter the US market.

But for Wade, who would be the biggest name to play in the Chinese Basketball Association, the upside is clear. “If he’s truly serious about being the frontman for the company, playing a season in China would certainly be a huge boost to his brand,” says Pastuszek.

His “Way of Wade” Li-Ning sneakers are now on sale, and he’s also promoted other products in China.

Whether he’s up for the business challenge or attracted by the money, it’s not a given, Pastuszek says, that Wade will turn Li-Ning’s fortunes around and sell lots of shoes. “He does have a track record in that respect with Brand Jordan, but it’s going to be more of a long-term process with Li-Ning,” he said.

The framework is in place for Wade to hit it out of the park, but it’s equally likely that he could crash and burn. It should be interesting either way.

Abridged version in today’s Global Times.

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