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Evolution of WNBA Kicks: Who’s Next?

When it comes to women’s shoe endorsement deals today, the gender gap is wide compared to the late 1990s.

How did the WNBA go from having more than a handful of players with signature shoes to just one?

Candace Parker is currently the only WNBA player that rocks her own kicks.  In the Fall of 2018, Adidas came out with the Parker Pro Bounce basketball shoe that paid tribute to the late legendary Coach Pat Summit.  Recently, Parker and Adidas collaborated with Marvel and designed the Captain Marvel x Adidas Pro Vision ACE.  Utah Jazz Guard, Donovan Mitchell, was spotted wearing them this season against the Minnesota Timberwolves.  The Pro Vision ACE’s just dropped April 26, 2019.  Adidas also created three other signature shoes for Parker, the TS Ace Commander (2008), the Ace Versatility (2011) and the Ace 3’s (2012).

Looking Back at the Evolution of WNBA Kicks

The evolution of women’s basketball shoes began with Sheryl Swoopes in 1995 when Nike endorsed her.  Swoopes is the first female basketball player with a signature shoe.  She is the second basketball player with a Nike shoe deal, Michael Jordan was the first.  Prior to her Nike endorsement deal, she had not played a game in a pair of Nike’s.  Throughout her collegiate career, Swoopes wore “Pony’s” (People Of New York), which was founded in 1972 and had legendary ballers like Bob McAdoo and Spud Webb balling in them.  Most styles from the ‘80s had the super high-top look, thick soles, and holes in the upper toe area for ventilation. 

Swoopes Changes the Shoe Game

Swoopes envisioned a shoe that was different and could be worn by all, the Air Swoopes.  Marni Gerber designed the first pair of Air Swoopes and worked closely with Swoopes in Lubbock, Texas through the completion of the shoe.  When developing the Air Swoopes, Gerber envisioned a shoe made for women that wouldn’t be too girly and supported Swoopes’ style of play; featuring technology that focused on agility and stability.  Gerber nailed the shoe design on the head.  The Air Swoopes I’s came out in an Olympic color wave (red, white & blue), featuring a velcro support strap across the mid-area for stability, lightweight for agility and featured an “S” on the bottom of the shoe to represent Swoopes’ style and dominance on the court. 

Nike then came out with the Air Swoopes II’s, which Swoopes sported in the 1996 Summer Olympics in the Olympic color wave.  The Air Swoopes was most popular because of the bilateral lace design making them a must buy.  Nike re-released the Air Swoopes II’s in 2018 and WNBA player Elena Delle Donne was spotted rocking them. 

More Doors Opened for Women’s Kicks

After Swoopes debuted the Air Swoopes more opportunities arose for women’s kicks.  Once the NBA Board of Governors announced the formation of the WNBA at a press conference in April 1996 with the presence of Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, and Rebecca Lobo, Nike saw an opening to invest in the WNBA players.  Months later, the big three (Swoopes, Leslie, and Lobo) would play together in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and would capture the Gold medal on their home soil. USA Women’s Basketball teams have continued to win Gold ever since 1996.  Throughout the 1996 Olympic games, Swoopes sported her signature Air Swoopes I’s and II’s.

Nike then endorsed Lisa Leslie and created the Nike Air Max High Up that consisted of the visible Air Max technology.  Following the release of Leslie’s first shoe, Nike created the Nike Air Total 9 in 1998.  Nike was the first company to invest in women’s kicks, but not the last.  

That same year Rebecca Lobo became the first female athlete to have a signature shoe with Reebok.  Her signature kicks were called Lobo’s.  Nike continued to expand into women’s basketball.  In 1999 Nike endorsed Dawn Staley who played on the 1996 Olympic team with Swoopes, Leslie, and Lobo.  Nike worked with Staley and designed the Air Flight Deny and Air Zoom S5 as Staley’s signature shoes. 

The WNBA Kicks Culture Continued To Grow

Cynthia Cooper and Chamique Holdsclaw signed endorsement deals with Nike and Nikki McCray was endorsed by Fila.  Throughout the late ‘90s and into the early 2000s Nike created six pairs of Air Swoopes.  Swoopes is in a league of her own with six signature shoes in the Nike Vault.  

In the early years of the WNBA most of the players, we call legends today, had their own signature shoe:  Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, Dawn Staley, Nikki McCray, Cynthia Cooper, and Chamique Holdsclaw.  If you take a look at the WNBA right now Candace Parker is the only player with a signature shoe.  

But, in the last decade, the WNBA has only had two players with major endorsement deals.  Maya Moore became the first WNBA player to sign an endorsement deal with Jordan in 2011.  The Jordan brand has given Moore numerous customized Jordan’s and after eight straight seasons in the WNBA and four WNBA championships, Moore does not have a signature shoe.   In December 2018, Moore and fashion and Jordan brand sneaker designer, Aleali May, collaborated together and dropped the Air Jordan Court Lux 10’s.  

When it comes to women’s shoe endorsement deals today, the gender gap is wide compared to the late 1990s.  The WNBA players from the late ‘90s inspired a generation of girls who grew up watching their favorite players with signature shoes.  

What will it take to see WNBA players ballin today in their own signature shoes?

The start of the WNBA season is here.  There are many players that have changed the game and could have a signature shoe, such as:

  • 3x WNBA Champion and 2x Finals MVP – Diana Taurasi
  • 3x WNBA Champion and 11x All-Star – Sue Bird
  • 5x All-Star and 2015 MVP-  Elena Delle Donne
  • 2018 MVP and Finals MVP – Breanna Stewart
  • 2018 Rookie of the Year and WNBA All-Star – A’ja Wilson

Who’s on the radar for a shoe deal?




“If you build it, they will come” – Field of Dreams

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Creator of the Women’s Sports Report blog. Former “hooper” from the DMV and an outgoing advocate for women’s sports.

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    Ayuk

    June 12, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    Skylar Diggins & Brittany Griner

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