NBA legend Dwyane Wade may have retired at the end of the 2018-19 season, but there’s little downtime in his future. The 13-time All-Star is launching a new company with powerhouse talent agency CAA to help marketers connect with diverse audiences.
“Work doesn’t stop when the ball stops bouncing,” he told Adweek. “I want to do everything, and I would, if I could, clone myself. With CAA, I want to add value to this conglomerate. I don’t just want to be part of something—I want to leave an imprint.”
Wade, who will soon celebrate his 38th birthday and have his Miami Heat jersey retired during a three-day ceremony, said he’s motivated in part by being “extremely competitive” with his wife, actress-businesswoman Gabrielle Union, and setting an example for his family.
(The couple’s good-natured competitive spirit has been the theme of several recent Gatorade spots.)
“I’m first-generation rich—the first to make it to this level—and I want that to continue for future generations,” said Wade, who won three NBA championships with the Heat and a gold medal with Team USA at the Beijing Olympics.
Wade’s role at CAA, much like his off-court career in general, which includes an entertainment production company, will have several facets.
He’s launching CAA AMP, described as a brand-focused “cultural strategy agency,” and taking on the title of chief culture officer of CAA Basketball. There, Wade intends to help other athletes chart an entrepreneurial course for their post-playing lives.
“I didn’t have a blueprint on how to do these things,” said Wade, a New York Times-bestselling author and philanthropist whose sponsor roster includes a landmark lifetime deal with Chinese sporting goods company Li-Ning. “Now I’m in a position, I’ve walked through certain doors, and I want to leave those doors open for others.”
AMP will be housed in CAA’s Brand Consulting division, whose 250 agents work with companies like Bose, JPMorgan Chase, Google, KPMG, Mondelez and Pizza Hut. Its goal is to “help brands understand the powerful role of cultural amplification today and deliver marketing solutions that result in reaching new audiences and deeper consumer engagement,” according to the Hollywood agency.
AMP deepens Wade’s relationship with CAA, more than a decade standing, and comes after ongoing discussions between the partners about Wade’s post-NBA plans.
“When we met Dwyane, he was in the middle of his playing career, and we were immediately struck by how focused he was on building the foundation of a business that would last long after his playing days were over,” said Michael Levine, co-head of CAA Sports.
“We were sad to say goodbye to his basketball career, and we miss seeing him suit up every night,” Levine said. “But we’re fired up to see him suit up in boardrooms.”
Wade said he was inspired by CAA’s Social Impact group and its nonprofit arm, CAA Foundation, which several years ago created Amplify, an annual summer gathering that brings together diverse leaders from entertainment, sports, media, brands, tech and social justice. (Among the recent participants: Samsung’s chief innovation officer David Eun, former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, actor Jamie Foxx, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker and actor-director-producer and Adweek Beacon Award-winner Eva Longoria).
“That turned on a light bulb for me and sparked an idea,” Wade said, noting that he saw “white space” and “something missing” in the business world, namely diverse voices and values. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with top endorsers, but those rooms often don’t have anyone in them that looks like me or understands my community.”
AMP, which aims to tap into the existing stable of CAA brand clients as well as scout new business, will “offer those perspectives to brands that may not be used to hearing from someone who’ll speak as authentically as Dwyane will,” Levine said.
Wade, a Chicago native, lists Amazon Fashion, Away, Budweiser, Gatorade, Stance and other marketers on his endorsement roster, and his approach to sponsorships spawned a Harvard Business School case study taught in the MBA and executive education programs.
Upcoming projects from his 59th & Prairie production company include a documentary about his final year in the NBA, airing next month on ESPN, and an analyst gig on TNT’s NBA and NCAA event coverage.