But last week the endorsement game took an unexpected turn.
In early October, Dwyane Wade, of the NBA Champion Miami Heat, left Jordan Brand, where he had been since 2009, and signed a contract with Chinese sportswear company Li-Ning. Now details about that deal have emerged: Wade will endorse his own brand for the company, creatively called Wade.
Wade has been testing shoes for the company and finally made an official debut with them on the court this week. By the time the Heat's season opens on Oct. 30, he expects to be wearing his own shoe full-time. Soon thereafter consumers will be able to get a piece of the action as well. No doubt a clothing line will soon follow.
Coming Soon to a Store Near You
Wade's line of shoes is expected to cost around $120 and will be available in the U.S. in 2013. But Wade has a lot of marketing to do to find stateside success for the brand.
Li-Ning is a well-known brand in China -- with around 8,000 retail outlets in the country -- but it isn't exactly a household name in the U.S. If anyone can change that, Dwyane Wade may be the guy. But when you're fighting against shoes from Lebron James, Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, and others, not to mention the marketing machines at Nike and Under Armour, it's a tall order.
On top of the branding barrier, the initial reviews of the shoes are also making people wonder what Wade was thinking.
You Left Jordan for This?
Wade spent the last three years of his career wearing the Jordan Brand, which is a high-end brand under the Nike umbrella and makes some of the best sneakers out there. Leaving the cache of Jordan for a Chinese brand is a head-scratcher.
The Wade name will only go so far when selling shoes or anything else. The design has to be right, and right now observers don't seem impressed. If the design doesn't change soon, consumers will be wondering if this is really what he left Jordan for -- or if there were other reasons for the move.
A Cog in the NBA Machine
The NBA has been trying to expand its game globally for decades, and since the days of Yao Ming, the game's popularity in China has been growing. It was probably only a matter of time until a Chinese brand swooped in to grab one of the NBA's top athletes.
NBA commissioner David Stern is probably giddy over the move, as basketball becomes a more global game. Any exposure for the NBA in China is good, and Wade endorsing a shoe in the country will likely help the game's image.
While Dwyane Wade is a big name loss to Nike, executives there and at the Jordan Brand probably aren't losing any sleep over the new Wade line. Chinese brands have never held much sway in the U.S., and with a plethora of other athletes endorsing Nike, Jordan, and even other competitors, it's unlikely that Li-Ning will be the next big thing in shoes.
Motley Fool contributor Travis Hoium does not have a position in any company mentioned. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Nike. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a position in Under Armour.