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New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu joins WNBA rare air with her first Nike signature sneaker — Andscape

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Make 2022 your best year yet and let this Moon Reading decode your destiny with precise wisdom you can’t find anywhere else!

New York Liberty All-Star Sabrina Ionescu will launch her signature shoe, the Nike Sabrina 1 this spring, marking the release of the 12th signature sneaker franchise in WNBA league history.

“I think it’s super important that it’s not just a shoe,” said Ionescu. “It’s about the story that it tells and what it’s going to do for everyone that sees it and buys into it.”

The Sabrina 1 will enter the marketplace alongside Breanna Stewart’s Puma Stewie series and Elena Delle Donne’s Nike Air Deldon signature model. Before those two models were released last summer, there had been a decade-long drought for namesake basketball sneakers headlined by women. Candace Parker’s Ace series with Adidas was the last true WNBA signature shoe in 2011.

The Nike Sabrina 1 is the first signature shoe for New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu.

Nike Basketball

Puma and Under Armour’s Curry Brand swung big to potentially sign the Oregon Ducks’ star point guard and No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft with dedicated marketing campaigns and plans to make her the face of each company. Nike founder Phil Knight, a prideful Oregon graduate, made it a personal priority to land her.

Ultimately, Ionescu stuck with the only brand she had ever known.

“Having the relationship with Phil always helps,” she said with a laugh. 

While other brands promised a pathway to a potential signature sneaker — a groundbreaking clause inclusion in a WNBA player’s endorsement offer at the time, it wasn’t a sure thing with Nike.

“Early on, that was floated in my conversations with Phil,” she said. “Until you hear that it’s something that is actually going to happen, you don’t get your hopes up too much.”

Now three years removed from her 2020 draft class, Ionescu is upfront about the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic that summer. She couldn’t lead her No. 1 seeded Ducks into the postseason in her final collegiate campaign because the NCAA tournament was suspended just before the annual March Madness kick-off.

When WNBA play began in the Florida-based “wubble” in July 2020, a left ankle injury in her third pro game sidelined Ionescu for the remainder of her rookie season.

Despite the rocky start, the brand still believed in her potential. In between her standard Zoom check-in meetings before her second season started, the team at Nike prepared a video for her.

“It was actually in the midst of when I was coming back from injury, not playing well and not in a great headspace,” she reflected.

As she pressed play on the video, each of the execs and employees she had seen in Zoom squares appeared in an admittedly low-production compilation of videos shot on their iPhones, repeating their congratulations.

“I was like, ‘What are they congratulating me on?’ ” she recalled. “It ends up with, ‘You are our new signature athlete.’ ”

Ionescu said she just stared at the video, overwhelmed by the emotion of what that meant. She would be the 30th basketball player in company history in the NBA or the WNBA to receive signature shoes and just the eighth woman.

“It was just one of those things, where in that time of my life, I was able to see the support from Nike and their belief in what I’m able to accomplish,” she said. “It kept me going that entire season.”

The design process of the Sabrina 1 started shortly afterward, with the typical 18- to 24-month window of sketch revisions, sampling and storytelling ahead.

The first big decision was that her shoe would be available in unisex sizing, with the connected signature apparel collection also styled to be versatile for all. 

“I think it’s just part of my story,” she said. “Growing up with brothers and being told that I can’t play basketball or play on the men’s team. So many things in my life have shaped who I am now.”

She’s looking to unlock the barriers she sometimes felt early on by launching a sneaker that all genders can wear.

“I don’t want to put anyone in that box,” she said. “I want kids and people of all age ranges, males and females, to be able to get this shoe and see themselves in it and the possibility of being who you want to be.”

The silhouette’s design has a “clean and sleek” approach, as she describes it. There’s some similarity to the sharpness and stance of one of Ionescu’s most beloved shoes to play in, the Kobe 5, along with midfoot fit and support cables that take cues from the shoe she wore throughout college, the Hyperdunk X Low.

“The look was kind of second to the comfort and what it was going to be able to do for me on the court,” she said. “Nike doesn’t create any shoe that doesn’t look cool, so I knew going in that what I was going to get out of the looks of the shoe was going to be elite. I wasn’t worried about that.”

Nike senior footwear designer Ben Nethongkome and the team of designers built a bullet point list of elements to focus on while working through the creation process.

“For the overall vision, we were trying to focus on making sure that we keep Sabrina fast on the court, increase speed and reduce fatigue,” said Nethongkome. “We focused on three things to achieve that goal: support, responsive ride, and keeping the shoe lightweight overall.” 


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