words & images_Nick DePaula After dominating the Chinese market to the tune of $1 Billion in sales this year, which also happens to be their 20th Anniversary, Li-Ning has now entered the American market with the opening of their very first US retail location in Portland's Pearl District. The brand pulled out all the stops earlier tonight, as Portland Mayor Sam Adams was even on hand for the official ribbon cutting, joining Baron Davis and Li-Ning General Manager Jay Li for the ceremonial grand opening. "Portland is the epicenter of athletic footwear," said Li. "It is a great testing ground for us to introduce the brand and ease into our international presence." With a crowd of thirty people waiting outside to buy a pair of Baron's signature BD Doom sneakers, there was an added bonus as they also went home with an autographed Baron Davis vinyl figure. If you're wondering where you can find Li-Ning products outside of Portland, during the event, Jay Li announced the brand's partnership with Champs Sports, the second largest retailer in the Foot Locker family. In August of this year, Li-Ning footwear and apparel will be carried in fifty Champs mall doors along the west coast. Below you'll find an interview with Baron Davis that took place during the invite-only media session. Special shout out to Aron Phillips from DIME as well, as he and I enjoyed hogging most of the questions. Be sure to keep checking back on SoleCollector.com for an interview with BD Doom designer Eric Miller and brand direction insights with General Manager Jay Li. What has it been like joining the Li-Ning family and having your own shoe? To be in this position, to work all your life as a kid to make it to the NBA, to have goals and dreams and to see a bunch of NBA players before me to have their own shoes and their own commercials, to be able to come to a point in my career to where I'm at now, to be able to be representing a brand that is a world-wide brand, and a brand that is coming to the United States to do great things and show innovation and show performance, as well as style, I would just like to thank everyone at Li-Ning for accepting me with open arms. I remember [the first time] I came here, and it was just really like two offices. [laughs] And now, in year two of being with the company, to see this great showroom and to see all these great people here in this community, a big shoe community, it just really means a lot to the brand. I just thank Li-Ning for having the wherewithal and having the guts to come to the United States and know that there's room for more, and there's room for improvement in performance. There's room for style and creativity, and I thank them for taking the chance on me.

Above: A look at the Tech Pack and sketchwork of the BD Doom.

How are you liking the shoes from a performance standpoint? The shoe from a performance standpoint, it helps a lot with cutting. I'm a player that likes to make sharp cuts and pretty much run into people, so it's more of a power-based shoe, but it's not heavy like a lot of the other shoes that I wore throughout my career, so it allows me to have that explosion and that lift. I think it's one of the best shoes that I've ever worn. It's good to have your own shoe, and it's even better when it's perfect for my game. What's the response been in the locker room? Oh, crazy! We were playing Cleveland, and LeBron looked at me, and he was like, "Yo BD, why are your shoes better than everybody else's?" [laughs] So that was a compliment there, and every time I'm on the court, guys are coming up and asking, "What are those man? What are those?" I think I've signed like over fifty pairs of shoes for guys, and I've never ever signed shoes for anybody. That's also a compliment, when guys want your autographed shoes, knowing that they're authentic and they're fresh and the style is impeccable.

Above: Several concept logos for Baron Davis.

What was your first reaction when you saw the Beardman logo? I liked it! [laughs] I was like, "That kinda looks like me." [laughs] Do you feel an obligation now, like you can't shave the beard? I'll play around with it every now and then, but I just can't be out in public without my beard now. You had two videos of you walking through New York and Shanghai, do you plan on making more videos? Yeah I definitely want to make more videos. The one we made in Shanghai was after we did our Li-Ning tour. We were on tour for ten days, and on the eleventh day, we just decided, "Hey, let's get some footage around Shanghai and let's come up with a concept that works. It was all pretty much freestyle, which was the best thing about it. Once we saw the cut of the China video in Shanghai, we wanted to do the same thing in New York. These videos are pretty much a lot more impromptu than anything. I think in the future, you'll see a lot more strategic videos and some that are more well thought out. I thought that they turned out great for what we did them for, and just going forward, I'd love to be able to do that and use my creativity behind the camera to show people a representation of what Li-Ning [is] and what the brand is all about. It touches different people in different ways, and [we want to show] how everyone can be apart of it. That was pretty much the basis of all of the videos, just moving through the cities and letting people know that Li-Ning can function in every part of the city. It has a style, a fashion, a trend and an intellect that brings people together, and that's why you always would see me walking away with a crowd of people that look different. On IBeatYou.com, you're always doing stuff with new challenges, and just had a Best Beard contest, are there going to be any more Li-Ning tie-ins there? Oh yeah. Coming up with slogans and best quotes for a season. Best name for a shoe. We've got a bunch of different tie-ins for IBeatYou that I'm working on. Secondary designs we'll put up there and see what is the best design.

Above: Look for this limited edition Grey/ Neon colorway to drop later in the year.

Can you talk about working with the designers? How hands-on have you been with the process? They've been great. The only thing I do is say, "Yeah, I like that. I like that." [laughs] It's great to work with people that take the time out to listen to you. They take the time out to listen and get to know who you are as a person. I think that the design and everything that you see with the shoe and the brand, from my standpoint, has come from just spending time with the designers. They're just great people to be around, and they're attentive to details and really pay attention to the details in my life. They just bring that to life in the shoes. When they bring it to me, it's like, "Oh, I like that. I like that!" It's not much input, but I get an opportunity to voice my opinion and say, "Maybe I don't like that color or this color." For me, the opportunity is great. I was at other shoe brands, and they just give you a shoe and say, "Here, you're wearing this color." With the Li-Ning design team, they've been extra great as far as getting me involved and listening to every little thing that I have to say. Overall it's been a great process to just see how the shoe has been crafted into its delivery. What kind of input have you had on some off-court shoes? Are you guys working on some lifestyle stuff? We have. We got some really cool shoes coming. More so, when I'm talking about off-the-court, it's the stuff that I wear, and the stuff that I would go into a store and say, "I want to buy those." Or, if I see somebody with some shoes that aren't name brand, I'd like to take maybe the tongue or different accents of the shoe and just apply it to everyday walking. When you see our lifestyle shoe and our off the court shoe, it'll be more fashion forward and something that people are going to want to try and play basketball in, but you'll see them walking around and it'll be the it shoe to have. LA back home, that's where fashion talks, so what are people saying about the shoes? They're going crazy. They want these jackets too. [laughs] So when I get home, they're gonna expect a lot. [laughs] In LA, like you said, a lot of fashion trends take off, and a lot of fashion brands have been successful being able to penetrate the LA market. Being a young guy going to college there and being in the NBA and living in LA, I've always been able to hang with all of the young and upcoming fashion people. I've always kept them abreast of what we're doing over here, and they've been pretty much gung-ho about it. All of the shoe stores are asking about the shoes and asking, "When can we get a special limited edition shoe?" They're looking for anything, but the thing with Li-Ning and the way that we're rolling it out, I think it's going to be really special, because you just want to hit the ground running. We've been prepping and getting ready, and want to target that LA market for a big explosion and I think that the community is ready and the kids are going crazy over it. Kids pretty much dictate trends, and that's what we want to do, we want to get all of the kids to rock our stuff and I think they'll love it. Are you already working on the BD2? Those are gonna be sweet! I have nothing but good stuff to say of course. [laughs] I think the Doom 2 will be a little more sophisticated, I want to say. A little more classic when you see it on the court, as far as just a traditional basketball shoe. It's pretty funky. It's like a shoe that you can almost wear with a tuxedo. That's what we're coming up with. We want to have a shoe going into next season that you can wear on the court, but you can also wear it with jeans or you can also wear it with your suit. It's all high performance, but it also looks comfortable, and you want to have something that looks comfortable and looks like you never have to take the shoe off. That's what the 2s are going to be about. Do you have a favorite color on the first BDs? Whether it's UCLA, Dodgers or the Blue Snake? I would have to say the Dodgers because I didn't expect that. The Dodgers color kind of came out of nowhere, and I'm a huge Dodger fan and I didn't expect that. I like the Black and Blue snakeskin too, those are a big fan favorites and all of my teammates love those, and we win when I wear them. [laughs] They always want me to wear those. [laughs]