In 1905, baseball legend Honus Wagner signed a deal that changed everything for professional athletes. In exchange for a fee, the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop agreed to let Louisville Slugger imprint his signature on its bats, a partnership the company says is the first endorsement ever of a piece of athletic equipment by an athlete.
While many of these endorsements entail a signature or a cheeky commercial and nothing more, some athletes insist on having a hands-on role--to the point of even designing the product.
Dwyane Wade fits into the latter category. Like most NBA stars, the Miami Heat guard and three-time NBA champion has footwear deals; unlike most NBA stars, he's the co-founder of a sock company for which he creates many of the designs himself. (The company, called PKWY, is a spinoff from Jay-Z's sock brand Stance.) Wade left Michael Jordan's Jordan Brand in 2012 to join Chinese sneaker company Li-Ning, in part because the company offered him the freedom to be hands-on and creative. And he's the only athlete to have his own line with The Tie Bar, for whom he creates colorful bow ties and pocket squares to match his equally colorful socks.
This week, Wade's own line of Away luggage is rolling out to customers. It has a matte-black aluminum exterior (Wade thinks it looks "presidential") that opens to a tropically themed liner--a shout-out to his home city of Miami.
Athlete endorsement deals are often lucrative: Just ask Roger Federer, who has made "only" $116 million in prize money during his playing career while raking in more than $500 million in sponsorships. So why bother putting in the extra effort to be hands-on when it comes to design?
"This is what I tell everyone, especially young kids and young NBA players coming up," Wade tells Inc. "If you're going to do something, especially if it's going to take away from you playing basketball or spending time with your family, make sure it's something authentic. Make sure it's something that you really like doing, because often it takes a lot of hard work, and if you don't like it, it's going to be terrible."
Wade, now 36, has ventured more into the business world in recent years. According to Business Insider, he's made $194 million in NBA salaries during his career, which spans three teams and includes an NBA Finals MVP. While he won't reveal how much of those earnings he's invested in his various businesses, he admits that his path has followed a familiar arc.
"When I was younger, I just wanted to play basketball," he says. "But then you realize, most men or women make the most money in their careers in their 40s and 50s--that's when they hit the jackpot. In the NBA, we make ours at 20, sometimes 19 years old. By the time we're thirtysomething, we're retired. So you have to spark your interest in other things, so you can continue to live the way you've become accustomed to."
As has become almost a cliché for athletes at or past the twilights of their careers--just ask Wayne Gretzky, Arnold Palmer, and Joe Montana--Wade launched a wine label in 2015. Wade Cellars focuses on his preferred red and rosé Napa Valley wines, which, as the brand's website declares, he developed a taste for while hanging out with teammates Chris Bosh and Lebron James. It's one more company in a portfolio that Wade hopes will one day be thought of as a "one-stop shop" lifestyle brand in the vein of Tom Ford.
"It's a grind to build a brand and grow these businesses," Wade says. "If I can build something that lasts many, many years after my time on this earth, that would be incredible. But I'm just enjoying being able to share what's going on in my mind and seeing some of those things come to life."