CNBCNBA legend Dwyane Wade likes to take risks in business, and now he’s getting into NFTs

May 14, 20220
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Former Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade addresses the crowd during his jersey retirement ceremony at American Airlines Arena on February 22, 2020 in Miami, Florida.

Michael Reaves | Getty Images

Dwyane Wade likes taking chances when it comes to business.

The retired three-time NBA champion has investments in media companies and consumer products. Wade, 40, purchased an equity stake in two sports teams, and he’s hosting a TV show. Wade is also taking a chance with the volatile NFT marketplace.

“I’ve always taken chances,” Wade told CNBC in an interview. “I’ve always been a guy that’s done things a little different than everybody.”

Wade is working with Budweiser Zero on an NFT collection that will go on sale May 24. Wade co-founded the alcohol- and sugar-free beverage in 2020. The NFTs will sell for $180 each and give buyers opportunities to win prizes, including autographed Wade sneakers and a chance to watch a Utah Jazz game with him. Wade is a minority owner in the NBA franchise.

“This is an opportunity to be a part of a young brand that is trying to build a fan base and provide great experiences,” he said, calling the NFT collection another option for fans “to do something unique and something cool.”

Yet the NFT collection is rolling out during a down cycle for digital assets. Daily sales of NFTs have declined more than 90% since September 2021, according to The Wall Street Journal. It also comes amid a sell-off around cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin.

But Wade doesn’t mind taking a chance on the space.

“If you look at my basketball career, my business career has gone very similar,” he said.

Wade’s pivotal business decision

Wade, who retired from basketball in 2019, accumulated nearly $200 million in earnings during his 16-year NBA career, according to Spotrac, a website that tracks sports contacts. Forbes estimates he makes $17 million annually in endorsements.

“It’s different,” said Wade when asked about retirement. Wade said he figured out how to apply “the same things that made me special athlete” to his post-career during the pandemic.

He set the tone for his post-retirement years with a pivotal business move during the prime of his career.

As a rookie in 2003, Wade signed with sneaker brand Converse. Then he made a big move over to Nike’s Michael Jordan brand in 2009, pairing him with fellow NBA stars Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, among others.

Then, in 2012, China-based sports apparel company Li-Ning approached Wade about starting his own shoe line. They offered him an equity stake. Wade, who called the offer his “most important deal from a business standpoint,” took the chance and left the Jordan brand for Li-Ning. 

“Thank you for laying the blueprint,” Wade said he told Jordan. “I’m going to try and do my own version of it.”

Jordan, in turn, told Wade that he “understood and respected” the move, according to Wade.

Eventually, in 2018, Wade signed a lifetime deal with Li-Ning for an undisclosed amount. Younger NBA stars such as New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum and Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler joined him on the brand. Minnesota Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell also signed with the sneaker line.

“It’s a slow build,” said Wade said. “Athletes are taking chances doing something a little different.”

He added: “I’m not trying to recreate anything,” Wade explained. “I’m trying to have a sneaker and apparel business that players are wearing for many years. I want to build something that’s a legacy for my family.”

Dwayne Wade

Issac Baldizon | NBAE | Getty Images

Building on the momentum

Wade kept pressing into new business areas after he retired.

Wade started a wine company called “Wade Cellars.” He has a stake in the media company Players TV. He and his wife, actor Gabrielle Union, co-founded Proudly, a company that makes baby products. He said the start-up company “came from a need.”

Wade said, “We have a 3-year-old daughter and going to 80 different stores to grab products. We said, ‘This doesn’t work for us. How can we build what works for us — the minorities in our world and communities?'”

In April, Proudly released its product line, including baby wash and lotion. The company will eventually offer diapers. 

On the sports ownership front, Wade also took a small stake in the NBA’s Utah Jazz in April 2021 and joined Blackstone executive David Blitzer as a co-owner in MLS club Real Salt Lake. Wade didn’t disclose the value of his stakes but said it’s a small percentage. 

Wade said becoming a majority team owner is “the ultimate goal” for him. But there may be limits to his risk-taking appetite in this scenario.

“But maybe I’m going to go through this process and tell myself, ‘No, you don’t want those headaches,'” he said.

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