It’s no secret that the sneaker industry is male-dominant. The history of sneaker culture is rooted in sports, particularly basketball, and primarily its premier men’s league, the NBA. When you think of famous NBA players, a signature shoe or collab goes hand in hand. Air Jordan, ring a bell?
Nike leads the biggest sneaker deals of 2021 with names like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. We’re here to go against the wave and highlight WNBA players that have paved the way in basketball and the sneaker industry. Safe to say, women’s impact on the sneaker industry is on the rise, and we’re here for it.
Here are the 10 WNBA athletes that have received a signature sneaker deal with notable brands.
10. Breanna “Stewie” Stewart
Image via The Boardroom
The star of the Seattle Storm and one of the top players in the WNBA, Breanna Stewart, is the most recent athlete to sign with Puma Hoops. Not only that, she’ll have her own signature sneaker, which is set to debut next season.
The WNBA is gaining more recognition, and Stewie’s Puma deal will only help elevate the league’s status, as well as her own status. Currently, her growing list of accolades includes Rookie of the Year, ESPY Award for Best Female Athlete, 2x WNBA All-Star, WNBA MVP, 2x WNBA Champion, 2x WNBA Finals MVP, and Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year: The Activist Athlete.
9. Candace Parker
Images via ESPN
Earn your stripes — Candace Parker was a hoop star in high school, where she was named player of the year in Illinois and was the first female to announce her commitment to the NCAA on ESPN News. She went to the University of Tennessee and led the Lady Vols to two national titles. The Los Angeles Sparks selected Parker as the overall first draft pick in the WNBA and was the first player to win both the WNBA Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season.
Immediately after being drafted, Candace signed a multi-year endorsement deal with adidas Basketball and received her own signature shoe, the TS Ace Commander, which dropped in 2010 in various colorways. The following Summer, her second signature, the Ace Versatility, was released.
8. Diana Taurasi
Images (left to right) via eBay and Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The end of the Swoosh era — Diana Taurasi was the last woman to sign a signature shoe deal with Nike and is still considered one of the greatest hoopers of all time. Taurasi was drafted first in her class in 2004 and crowned Rookie of the Year. She is a three-time WNBA champ, 2009 WNBA MVP, two-time WNBA Finals MVP, four-time Olympic gold medalist, and still an active threat on the court nearly two decades later. In 2005, she wore the Air Max Taurasi, followed by the Nike Shox DT in 2006. The silhouette was created with Nike Shox technology and featured Zoom Air cushioning.
7. Chamique Holdsclaw
Images (left to right, clockwise) via Associated Press, Sole Collector, and Sole Finder
Going back to back — In the mid-90s, Chamique Holdsclaw quickly established herself as a rising star in women’s basketball, leading the University of Tennessee to its first three-peat in women’s college basketball history. She was dubbed Naismith Player of the Year and Naismith Player of the Century. In 1999, the Washington Mystics selected Holdsclaw as the first overall draft pick in the WNBA and was later awarded Rookie of the Year, followed by an Olympic gold medal the year after, and six WNBA All-Star appearances.
During her prime, Chamique signed a five-year deal with Nike in 1999. The deal reportedly surpassed $1 million, making her the highest-paid woman in the WNBA during that time. Chamique received two signature shoes, the Nike Shox BB4 Mique and then the Nike Shox Mique.
6. Nikki McCray
Image via Sole Collector
Defense wins championships — Nikki McCray is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the best defenders of all time. Before joining the W in 1998, she was a baller in college at the University of Tennessee, played internationally and in the American Basketball League. She was named an All-Star for three out of eight seasons in the WNBA.
In 1999, Nikki signed a $1 million sneaker deal with FILA and released her signature shoe: the FILA Delta, a unisex sneaker matching her Washington Mystics team colors.
5. Rebecca Lobo
Let the games begin — In the 90s, Lobo was one of the women that helped gain attention for women’s basketball and assisted with bringing the WNBA into fruition. She gained national attention while she was a star on the UCONN Lady Huskies and led her team to an undefeated season and championship in 1995.
When she was at her athletic peak, Lobo signed an endorsement deal with Reebok making history as the first woman athlete to sign a sneaker deal with the brand. She wore Reeboks during the 1998 season, including her signature shoe ‘The Lobo.”
4. Cynthia Cooper
Image via Icon Sportswire for Getty
The world’s gonna know your name — By the time the WNBA was established, Cynthia Cooper was 33 years old with a tremendous amount of accomplishments, such as Olympic medals and dominating the Italian league for ten years. She won the first four WNBA Championships on the Houston Comets and was named Finals MVP each season. She was also a two-time WNBA MVP and a high scorer in the league during 1997-2000. Cooper was inducted to the Hall of Fame in Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 with players such as Scottie Pippen.
After joining the WNBA in 1996, Cooper signed a two-year endorsement with Nike, and in 1997, she signed a three-year extension. Cooper was a face of the brand and various Nike silhouettes such as Air C14 and Air Flight C14 — the most notable was the Shake Em Ups.
3. Dawn Staley
Image via Jeff Gross / Allsport
It’s getting hot in here — Hall of Famer Dawn Staley brought the heat with an impressive shoe game. Staley was setting trends since the beginning of her WNBA days and continues to build her list of contributions to the game, both as a player and a coach (she was the first person to win the Naismith Award as both just last year in 2020). Her sig, the Nike Zoom S5, dropped in 1999, and sneakerheads flocked upon its arrival. The Zoom S5 is very rare and hard to come across these days.
2. Lisa Leslie
Images (left to right, clockwise) via SLAM, Nike, and Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images
Just Dunk It — Lisa Leslie was the first WNBA player to dunk during a game in 2002. Leslie was well-known amongst basketball fans and was one of the greatest — two-time champion, three MVP awards, eight all-star appearances, ten-time All-WNBA, two DPoY awards, and more.
Despite being the face of Nike Women’s division during her time, Leslie’s sneakers are very rare these days. Her top signature shoe, the Nike Total Air 9, was released in 1998.
1. Sheryl Swoopes
Image via Doug Pensinger/ Allsport
History is made — Sheryl Swoopes was the first woman to have her own signature shoe that debuted in 1996. The Air Swoopes was her first Nike silhouette, and the 2s and the Zooms are the most iconic. The attributes on the Air Swoopes 2s are astounding as it isn’t every day that you see curved laces and a mesh upper.
Read more about how performance basketball shoes are making a comeback thanks to the rise of PEs here.