At this moment, Li-Ning isn’t on the level of adidas or Nike in the shoe world. And at this moment, CJ McCollum isn’t on the level of LeBron James or Stephen Curry in the basketball world. But both are quickly rising in their respective arenas, so a partnership makes sense for each side.
Nick DePaula of ESPN highlights the Blazers guard’s switch from Nike to the Chinese basketball brand this summer:
"I was looking for a unique opportunity to go where I was wanted," said McCollum. "Similar to college with different universities, there needs to be a mutual admiration. You want to go somewhere where you're wanted and where you can be utilized and have input in the brand. I felt like I was going to have those things and influence into my shoes.”
The mutual admiration had a couple of sources that helped bring the two suitors together.
First, there was McCollum’s own brother, Errick, who’s an overseas star. He’s played in the Chinese Basketball Association, which is outfitted by Li-Ning, for the past two seasons:
"I was able to learn about it through him and his experience of seeing the previous years of the brand," said McCollum.
Then, current Cavs guard Dwyane Wade came into the fold after McCollum reached out to the former Finals MVP.
Wade left Jordan Brand in 2012 for Li-Ning, where he received an equity stake in the company as well. Over the past couple of seasons, he’s seen several iterations of his Way of Wade signature shoes:
"I was just getting an understanding of his overall experience with it," McCollum said. "He left at 29 when he went to Li-Ning. With me as a 26-year-old, our mindset and our approach to the situation is very similar."
Teammate Evan Turner, a Li-Ning athlete, also helped McCollum through his decision. There was no car-salesman gimmicks, just realness from the vet:
"I just kept it real with him, what I liked about the brand and how I thought we could get better," Turner said. "As his star was rising, I told him I thought it'd be advantageous for him to partner with an up-and-coming brand."
Li-Ning also did their part to make McCollum feel at home, too:
"On the performance side, Li-Ning wants to find more young talent from the league," said Fei Guo, Li-Ning's Basketball Sports Marketing Director. "CJ is a guard, and we recognized that CJ has great leadership and the ability to dominate the game in the clutch."
A McCollum signature shoe is bound to be on the way, but not quite yet. He’s still testing out Li-Ning’s array of shoes to get a feel for what he likes.
And in the longer term, McCollum is looking to open one of his CJ McCollum Dream Centers in China, helping educate underserved kids and helping the star reach out in the vast market he’s entering.