Exclusive: NBA Star CJ McCollum Talks Li-Ning Sneakers and His Love for Oregon

NBA star CJ McCollum made a name for himself playing pro basketball in Portland, Ore. And tomorrow, fans of his will have a chance to pick up a limited iteration of his Li-Ning sneakers.

McCollum and Li-Ning will host a pop-up shop this weekend at Index, a renowned skate shop in the area, which will stock the “Rose City” YuShuai 12 shoe, a performance silhouette executed with a floral pattern. (The shop is open 1-7 p.m. PT Saturday, with remaining product available for purchase Sunday starting at 11 a.m. PT.) Aside from the sneakers, which retail for $160, fans can pick up apparel from the baller’s line.

Ahead of the event, the Portland Trail Blazers guard spoke with FN about developing sneakers with Li-Ning, his love for Portland and if a signature sneaker is in the works.

What is the inspiration behind the “Rose City” YuShuai 12? What does the colorway mean to you?

“The inspiration behind the ‘Rose City’ shoe is just basically to tribute a shoe to Oregon — not just Portland, but the state of Oregon and how important the Trail Blazers have been to my career. I felt it was right to recognize how the city has impacted my life and how thankful I am to be a part of Portland.”

Is this the start of seeing your Li-Ning product in the U.S.? With a majority of the sneakers sold in Asia, will your upcoming styles beyond the YuShuai 12 be sold stateside?

“I think at some point we’ll continue to expand, introduce more people to the brand and what Li-Ning is about. [At the pop-up] from an apparel standpoint we have hoodies to match the ‘Rose City’-themed shoe, T-shirts, we have a printing station where you can customize and make your own T-shirts, we have hats and some other things. But as we continue to grow the brand in the U.S. we’ll come up with new ways to interact with fans, we look forward to that.”

Li-Ning "Rose City" YuShuai 12
Li-Ning “Rose City” YuShuai 12

Li-Ning is largely sold abroad, but you’re a star in the U.S. Does that concern you?

“I think they’re doing a great job of continuing to figure out ways to interact and market with people in the United States. Obviously it’s a Chinese brand, a Chinese company that thrives in China and Asia, but as they continue to expand and figure out ways to better interact with people in the states we’ll continue to increase the brand recognition.”

Why would Li-Ning be a formidable competitor to the big brands in the U.S., such as Nike and Adidas?

“They offer a variety of colorways, a variety of lifestyle apparel as well as performance. And from what I’ve seen in China, the brand is continuing to progress — being in Paris Fashion Week last year, using the players’ minds and creativity, working with guys like D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] who are very into the fashion world, that will continue to grow and people will have another option from a hot brand with high quality.”

How involved are you in the development of your sneakers?

“I’m definitely involved in the performance side, the day-to-day activities in terms of what I like about the shoes, what I don’t like, providing feedback, being involved in the colorways, the ideas behind it, logo placement, things of that nature. And I’ll continue to be involved in lifestyle apparel as well, wearing the gear and continuing to critique it and figure out ways to make it better. It’s an ongoing communication and scission on how to make things better.”

What do you require in a performance sneaker?

“Comfort is everything to me, so being able to have comfort in a shoe is crucial. That’s the balance, the foundation of an athlete is having balance and not having to worry about his lower extremities. The other part is figuring out the size — if you want to lave lows, mids or highs, and then you make sure the weight is somewhere reasonable depending on the position you play and how much you want to carry on your feet. I’ve been very successful playing in mids. And traction, having the right traction in the right areas, especially if you like to drag your feet or move your feet in certain ways, that’s important.”

Are you a sneakerhead?

“I’m not a fanatic but I’ve always loved shoes, I’ve always enjoyed collecting shoes and buying certain brands and styles. I was also always curious about the process of creating a shoe, and now that I’m part of a brand, going into year two with Li-Ning, I just continue to learn more about it — what goes on in the factories, what goes into production, how long it takes to do a mold, how long it takes to put together a shoe and to critique a shoe. I’m enjoying the process and continuing to learn.”

After the “Rose City” release, what are the next colorways to drop?

“That is a great question. We’ve done three different colorways so far — the ‘Ace of Spades’ colorway, the ‘Rose City’ colorway and we dedicated one to Lanzhou, China, a white silhouette with floral print dedicated to a specific garden in the city. We’ll continue to discuss different things and ideas I have and things I like. I played in a ‘Dark Knight’ shoe the other night that was dedicated to the Joker because ‘Dark Knight’ is one of my favorite movies. We’ll do little things like that and continue to figure out feedback and listen to fans of the brand and figure out how we’ll go forward.

Is a signature line in the future?

“That is a great question. Right now it’s my adopted line, the 12th year of the shoe, and we’ve come up with some themes that resonate with me, relate to me. The future has yet to be determined, I’m sure we’ll be in discussions for lots of things.”

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