Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne receive signature sneakers


ATLANTA — Elena Delle Donne stretches at one end of the field inside the Gateway Center, the music blaring, rainbow-footed Nikes, knowing she’s part of an exclusive group of women. On the other side of the track, first overall, Rhyne Howard, performed her own warm-up – wearing an NBA player’s shoe – and pondered what might come next.

Delle Donne will join Breanna Stewart as the first WNBA players to debut iconic designs since Candace Parker in 2011. The self-proclaimed sneakerheads are just the 10th and 11th women to have their own shoe.

Howard has the same aspirations.

For Delle Donne, that all changed when Sheryl Swoopes became the first female player with her own shoe, the Nike Air Swoopes in 1995.

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“The moment I got the Swoopes felt like one of the greatest moments of my basketball career,” Delle Donne said. “Being able to play in the Swoopes, being in my backyard with the shoes on, thinking I was Sheryl. So that memory is really like a big moment of why I fell in love with basketball.

“My mom was probably so mad at me. “Can we go get them? When can we pick them up? There’s just something like when you can get your favorite players’ shoes and then be able to try and emulate them and be in their gear, it’s really neat.

More than two decades later, Delle Donne is a two-time MVP wearing the Nike Air Deldon 1, which is slated for release in October. Stewart has his own MVP trophy and his Stewie 1 is due out in September. By comparison, 22 NBA players had their own signature shoe at the start of last season, according to sports company website Boardroom. WNBA players have sneaker deals and some have player editions, but the signature is the top of the mountain. These are models specially designed for the player and marketed as his own shoe. The Player Editions, which Delle Donne once had, are unique tweaks to other models.

Delle Donne and Stewart grew up dreaming of having their own shoe, knowing that few women were able to reach that height. Swoopes, Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley, Cynthia Cooper, Nikki McCray, Chamique Holdsclaw, Diana Taurasi and Parker are the full roster.

Stewart, like sneakerheads around the world, was on the hunt for the latest signings of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but she always wanted more.

“Hopefully I’ll be the start of something,” Stewart said. “There are so many amazing players in this league and unique stories and things like that, and hopefully we’ll have more signature shoes in the WNBA coming in a lot faster than they have been. “

The sneakers have exceeded the basic function. They are used as an avenue of storytelling to convey a multitude of ideas. The Jordan 13 is inspired by Michael’s Ferrari. Durant had colorways, a shoe with a different color palette, dedicated to his aunt Pearl who died of lung cancer in 2000. The Nike Air Deldon is inspired by Delle Donne’s sister, Lizzie, who suffers from paralysis brain and autism and was a tester during the creation process. The shoe features a “press and go fit” system that allows the shoe to be easily put on without using the hands, which was important to Delle Donne. The rainbow colorway is inspired by Pride and there are others attached to his woodworking business, his alma mater University of Delaware, a green version with a nod to his Lyme disease and a dedicated to the orange WNBA hoodie popularized by Kobe Bryant. There will even be an insole with a nod to the movie Bring it On after Delle Donne had a crush on Missy’s character.

The WNBA, which plays its All-Star Game on Sunday, is constantly trying to reach new fans while engaging more with the current base. The sneaker market is an opportunity to do just that, but companies just haven’t taken that step with any regularity.

“Anyway, they’re here to make as much money as possible,” Taurasi said. “There was a time when women’s basketball was very important to these sneaker makers. And you see how they dictate what society thinks is cool and uncool. And when they bring things to the fore, those are the things they push and move.

“So I think you’re going to see, hopefully, with the re-emergence of different companies coming back into the game and pushing each other.”

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Puma is one such company after returning to the performance basketball market in 2018. The comeback began with a heavy investment in this NBA draft signing five of the top 16 picks, including the No. overall Deandre Ayton. The company hired fashion designer June Ambrose – who has worked with Jay-Z, Missy Elliot and Diddy – as creative director in 2020 to lead its women’s basketball collection. Stewart, who previously wore Nikes, said it was Puma’s commitment to women in sports and women’s basketball in particular that made the partnership a good fit. Skylar Diggins-Smith, Jackie Young, Katie Lou Samuelson and NaLyssa Smith are also on this list.

The timing of the investment seems perfect as interest in the WNBA is at an all-time high, including apparel the league is struggling to keep in stock.

“Change has happened,” said Allison Giorgio, vice president of marketing for Puma North America. “I think we, and I would personally say, there hasn’t been enough change and it hasn’t happened fast enough. But I think things like working with Breanna Stewart, launching a female signing will help be one more step in the series of changes that need to be made. And my real hope is that it inspires other brands, other athletes, and even ourselves to do more like it.

“I hope this isn’t the last women’s signature model.”

Howard certainly looks like the favorite to win Rookie of the Year – like Delle Donne and Stewart – and was named an all-star in his first season. She’s already signed with Jordan Brand and regularly wears the Jordan Zion 1 and Jordan 36. She said there’s already been some discussion about having her own signature one day.

“It would be huge to have a signature shoe,” Howard said. “I feel like that would be inspiring.

“It just gives [young girls] I hope bigger things happen for women’s sport and that they should never give up and that by the time they grow up and play in this league things will be different. And just so they keep wanting to fight for it.

The Stewie 1 is set to release first in September after being officially unveiled on Friday. The Quiet Fire colourway features a neon yellow toe and body blending into a black heel – a nod to his personality and passion. Stewart called the fact that a decade had passed between designer shoes for women “crazy” and said the biggest hurdle was that companies were willing to invest in and support women.

“The representation of iconic footwear is huge for women’s sports, huge for women’s basketball, a way to really connect with young people at all levels,” Stewart said. “And that’s what we’re missing. It’s really the investment in women. … Continue to fight for equality.

Delle Donne, who has 200 pairs in his collection, and Howard both rated the Jordan 1 as their favorite sneakers – a timeless design that can be worn anywhere. And it is a key for the new models noted by Delle Donne, being fashionable on and off the pitch. She was involved in the creation of the shoe, which has been in the works for over a year. The six-time star was, and still is, obsessed with the Space Jam Jordan 11s. She doesn’t really remember the movie, but the shoes are a whole different story.

Although she has her own signature shoe, Delle Donne is like other sneakerheads around the world – getting up on a Saturday morning for a night out, connecting with her wife, Amanda, on multiple devices and still catching “L’s” when they sell out in minutes. She joked that they needed a bigger house to store all the sneakers the two collected.

While having signature sneakers is a huge first step, it’s not the end. Sneakers come and go that are not well advertised and therefore do not sell well. And, according to Taurasi, companies are there to make money.

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“They have to put the same marketing dollars behind the shoe because you don’t want to hear, ‘Hey, the shoe didn’t sell,'” Delle Donne said. “But it’s like, ‘Wait, you didn’t put any money into marketing it. People didn’t even know it was out. So I think that’s crucial.

“I think now is the time. I think, obviously, it’s late, but it’s a good time to do it. And I think companies will see the value in women’s sport and continue to invest.

Delle Donne got her Swoopes, but she wanted more Taurasis. Swoopes were also a staple for Taurasi, who also had Cooper’s model. These are moments that go beyond shoes and fashion. They have inspired some of the greatest players in the world.

“A signature shoe is something that will last forever, which I think is something really important when you look at how important sneakers are to basketball,” Taurasi said. “You think of the Jordan line, the LeBron line, Griffeys. They become more than the person. It becomes that way of life that everyone can cling to.

“And I don’t think we’ve had that on the women’s side where you say, ‘Man, I’m going to go get the Delle Donnes every year. I’ll get the Maya Moores. I’m going to get the Sues. I go and get the A’ja Wilsons every year. You don’t feel like you have that connection. And to me, that’s probably the saddest thing.


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