WNBA’s All-Star Weekend 2022 was in Chicago, and it was definitely one for the books. The Windy City gave us sunshine and perfect temps as it welcomed us for the festivities. We at Made for the W got to celebrate it with the Nike crew, and to experience Nike’s intentionality and purposeful placement throughout all of the events. Nike set the precedent of WNBA All-Star Weekend being designed to celebrate HER game, on and off the court, from the world’s best in the WNBA to the next generation of athletes who will shape the future of sport. Nike exemplified the three pillars of access, innovation and investment, to be what is breaking the barriers for girls and women to engage and excel in sport. Each event this weekend was indicative of just that.
We were able to begin such a memorable time by having some conversation and coffee with Naphessa Collier of the Minnesota Lynx and Sonja Henning, Nike VP of North America League Partnerships. After introductions and a brief Q+A, we were able to sit down with each of them, and dig deeper into their stories.
Nike continues to foster deeper and more meaningful relationships with their women athletes. As the world’s largest athletic brand serving women, Napheesa Collier praises Nike as they continue to help break down the barriers that women and girls in sport, “It’s awesome because Nike is such a household name, so for them to be in the community is so important especially for young girls and of course it’s cool to be a Nike athlete and to see it even more within the league to help build us up.” When asked about the KD15 Community “Napheesa Collier”, she said Nike incorporated what she’s doing, what she wants, and being really great about pulling that information from her, and putting it into a physical shoe and a design that she can view. “The process was so fun and I’ve never done something like this. Especially, partnering with a KD shoe – I love KD. I try to emulate certain aspects of my game from him, so I really enjoyed the whole process, and I’m so excited for the shoe launch.”
We asked Napheesa to describe the importance of platforms like ours to be able to elevate women athletes and tell their stories, on and off the court. She responded by saying, “It’s so important because I think we really pride ourselves, especially in the W, with being more than an athlete, and getting our stories out there is really important, to see that we’re individual people and we have other interest besides basketball. Basketball is a huge part of our lives and we love it, and we do it for a living, but I think a lot of people in the league have a lot of interesting things about them, so to get those stories out is really cool to see.”
You know we had to ask Napheesa our infamous Sneaker Confession: what’s the craziest thing she’s done for a pair of sneakers. That was met with a sigh and laughter, as she answered, “Oh man. The craziest thing I’ve done for some sneakers…it’s not that crazy but I mean like saving up for months and months of my allowance to get a certain pair of sneakers. Definitely spent my whole allowance on sneakers.”
What was a special moment for me was to be able to share space with Sonja Henning. With me having grown up in Racine, WI, Sonja Henning was a household name. To be able to come from that city and having made such an impact, as an athlete and scholar, before any known examples existed to follow, is monumental. After we touched on our love of Kringle and cheese curds, we dove right into what felt like seamless conversation.
Sonja says the Midwest in general, is a community, and being a product of community, when it came to Racine, that stemmed from the north side to the south side. There wasn’t a barrier between people supporting a young black girl who had big feet that loved sports. With that community group effort, it didn’t feel like a burden to her. Instead, it felt like a blessing and an opportunity – an opportunity to show them, thank you for believing in me and the access to sports. “Coming from Racine back then, a Cadillac was a big deal. Then I get to Stanford, BMWs, cars I wasn’t even familiar with. It too was an environment that people there wanted you to be successful and they would do all they can to ensure that. So, those two experiences are really ingrained in me – the value of community and the importance of helping others.”
When asked how her journey as an athlete and scholar aligned with her corporate position now, Sonja answered that so much translates from playing sport to corporate America. The self discipline, focus, hard work, team mentality, and knowing that it’s bigger than you. The beauty of a team sport like basketball is that you understand the importance of a team. When you have that mentality ingrained early on, then you realize the work that you do and the things that you’re building are not for an individual purpose, it’s for a larger purpose. Once you have that mindset that larger purpose continues to grow. “Knowing that all the things I learned as a basketball player has helped me in Nike, when I was practicing law – the resiliency. Because you’re gonna get knocked down. You learn you have to bounce back up. There is nothing that I felt I couldn’t figure out or solve; it was just a matter of when and how. That comes from playing sports.” We did have to ask Sonja her favorite silhouette to play in and swears by the Nike Uptempos. As far as just kicking it, she loves a good Jordan 3 and any of Nike’s sustainable shoes that come with comfort, style, and are environmentally friendly.
From there, we got to pull up to Chicago’s Southside YMCA’s official unveiling and ribbon cutting for Her Court, a newly designed community basketball court, in conjunction and courtesy of Nike. The energy was vibrant, excited, and celebratory, as DJ Cash Era’s music was keeping everyone in high spirits. Young girls from the neighboring community were in attendance and seated on the court, because this was who the court was for – they were the VIPs. Rain had prevented the logos from being painted on to the court before the unveiling, but we were able to see what they would be. The young girls even had these logos on their Nike shirts they were wearing. I loved how each of them carried a deep meaning. The court is meant to be a safe haven for all young girls to know that there is a place for them that was made with them in mind. Two of the logos are a heart and love – be it love for you, others, community, sport, and just a reminder that all we do, we operate from the heart. The other logos represented Chicago, friendship, respect, sport, and sportsmanship. Our hearts were beyond full as we walked around the court and saw all the joyous faces taking in such a special moment in Chicago history for young girls and women there, knowing how many doors of possibility and opportunity this would open for them. It was telling of how Nike is serving the next generation of athletes and sport, starting with the community.
We had one last stop for the day after we left the court, and it was Nike Chicago. We were able to browse and buy from 5 beautiful floors of fire options from apparel to footwear. Upon fulfilling that shopping need (not want, need) courtesy of Nike’s generosity, we began our Nike By You jersey customization experience. Our jerseys already had our names on the back, so this part was about making it a statement piece that represented you. We had options from the Nike Swoosh, to the Chicago skyline, as well as the logos from the court we had just arrived from. It made the moment super full circle to integrate meaning as we customized our jerseys. They had an entire lab set up where Nike Chicago employees were hands on with each of us, to make the process fun and easy. It showed us how Nike put design directly into the hands of consumers.
Sunday was a jam-packed finale to what was such a fulfilling and fun weekend. We started off our morning with a HIIT workout with Nike Trainer, David Carson, at BIÂN. He got us active, moving, and energized, as we did some individual and team activities, to set the tone for the day. After an amazing workout session, we showered and dressed for the delicious brunch that was awaiting us upstairs at BIÂN. It was a great time, as we enjoyed brunch, the tasty plates, and healthy juices, alongside whatever your request of caffeine was. It was the perfect prelude before we headed over to attend the big WNBA All-Star Game at Wintrust Arena, home of the Chicago Sky Champions.
Upon walking in, you can feel the arena’s vibrations of a full house, as we await what ends up being a great game between Team Wilson versus Team Stewart, with A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart being the team captains of course. Team Wilson won the game, with Kelsey Plum taking home MVP. What was a tear-jerking moment amidst the game is when both Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles were given their actual flowers, as the arena burst out in standing ovations for two of the WNBA greats, in what would be their last All-Star game of their careers. Sue Bird having played for 20 seasons and Sylvia Fowles having played for 14 seasons, it makes you emotional at the thought of two pillars leaving to make room for the great talent that follows. It also goes to show how Nike has been on this journey with their alignment of the WNBA, by way of Nike athletes that are All-Stars and members of Team USA, such as Sue Bird, DeWanna Bonner, Napheesa Collier, Sylvia Fowles, Brittney Griner, Dearica Hamby, Jonquel Jones, Jewell Loyd, Arike Ogunbowale, Satou Sabally, Diana Taurasi, Courtney Vandersloot and A’ja Wilson. So, as we sat there and took in the monumental moment for history of the game, it gave way to show Nike has been involved and invested from the beginning.
In addition to being the official league sponsor, Nike has made an equity investment in the WNBA. Through this partnership, Nike and the WNBA will work together to grow the league by deepening WNBA storytelling, creating more visibility for WNBA athletes and bringing more girls into basketball through additional grassroots opportunities. They’re redefining sport for a new generation. As Sonja Henning stated, “Nike has seen firsthand how powerful the platform of basketball can be. Together with the WNBA, and through initiatives such as this weekend’s Nike Nationals, as well as Game Growers, the Women in Nike (WIN) program and our investments in community partners like PeacePlayers, we are serving the next generation of athletes while working to break down barriers that women and girls face in sport.”
To bring our eventful weekend to a close, we were able to pull up to Nike Nationals, a youth basketball competition where more than 10,000 young girls compete and celebrate the sport they love. It felt empowering as you walked into this large tournament, with elite competition, at a Nike-hosted arena within the Tournament of Champions, dedicated to celebrating a new generation of ballers. With sleek black courts, they read “Her Game Started Here”. It felt fitting that this was also being hosted in Chicago, right down the street from the All-Star game, at McCormick Place. WNBA All-Star Weekend and Nike Nationals is an opportunity to find inspiration – from the greats of the past and present to the next generation of women who will demonstrate how basketball has the power to change lives for the better, and Nike showed how that translated, in real life and in real time.
Nike celebrates the culture of basketball in Chicago with community, court and cultural moments that we had the privilege of being able to experience. It is commendable that the largest brand that is invested in women in sport allows their actions to speak louder than any words ever could. You feel what it means when Nike is growing the game and fueling its culture, from the court, to the community. Because at Nike, basketball isn’t just a game — it’s a culture. A place to build connections and community. A place to break barriers and bring people together — across communities and generations. They did that for us this weekend and every time we have been in their presence. Yet, the imprint that Nike has left on what it means to be a woman in sport, and to know and feel that there is a brand that genuinely supports your elevation and excelling, is truly remarkable. Like Becca Kerr, Nike’s NA’s Vice President/General Manager stated, “Women and girls’ participation in sports has progressed over the last 50 years, but we are unwavering in our commitment to take action and create a more equitable future for sport for her. Today and into the next 50 years, Nike continues to invest in young girls and women to help build the future of sport for all.” And we at Made for the W are beyond grateful to be a part of this process that raises the bar and shares these stories.