The inspiration behind Elena Delle Donne’s latest shoe design

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Elena Delle Donne holds the "Together We Fly" version of her Nike Air Deldons.

Few people have accomplished more in a pair of basketball shoes than Elena Delle Donne. The two-time WNBA MVP will be remembered one day as one of the greatest to ever lace them up.

And after her latest venture, she’ll also be remembered for the shoes she designed.

This fall, Delle Donne released the Nike Air Deldon. On Friday, her latest colorway, “Together We Fly,” launched as part of the release. It’s the third of six colorways, each with a special significance to Delle Donne’s life and career.

“I hope people really look into the meaning behind each colorway,” says Monique Currie, the product line manager for the Nike design team behind the Air Deldon and Delle Donne’s former WNBA teammate. “They’re all unique, and they’re really powerful stories.”

The first colorway, the “Lyme,” dropped on Oct. 6, and the “Be True” followed five days later. Each represents Delle Donne in its own way, which Currie says was one of her favorite aspects of the process.

“That was probably one of the most exciting parts, was really trying to work with Elena and come up with stories that can speak through her shoe,” Currie says.

The “Lyme,” which appropriately features lime green accents throughout, is a nod to Delle Donne’s years-long battle with Lyme disease.

“Elena has been really open with bringing awareness to how [Lyme disease] affects her and her game and so many people around the world,” Currie says. “It’s telling an important story of how people are managing their physical health as well as performing at the top or the highest level possible. So that was really fun to come up with that story and [for] that to be the first colorway to come out, because that’s just such a huge part of who Elena is.”

Delle Donne’s coming out story was the inspiration behind the “Be True,” which celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community with a gradient pattern of colors and rainbow speckles on the laces.

“When I was younger I felt like something was wrong with me because I was different,” Delle Donne says. “So I feel like this shoe can inspire every single person, whatever your story is.”

While the first two colorways tell parts of Delle Donne’s own story, the next is dedicated to one of her closest loved ones. Delle Donne has a special relationship with her older sister, Lizzie, who has cerebral palsy and autism and is deaf and blind. After committing to UConn out of high school, Delle Donne transferred to the University of Delaware before her freshman season so she could be closer to Lizzie.

“The ‘Together We Fly’ colorway is very much the story of my sister with special needs who has never had a shoe for her,” Delle Donne says. “She’s had several disabilities, [she’s] had a lot of doctors say she would never walk, she would never do this. But because she has had the support of my family and a team around her, she’s been able to fly.”

The colorway pays homage to Lizzie with purple accents on the tongue and the heel.

“The color purple has always just been a color that looks really cute on my sister,” Delle Donne says. “We all have our colors – I think Lizzie looks great in everything, but purple and pink are her colors.”

For Lizzie, the process of putting on a standard basketball shoe has never come easily. The Air Deldon also comes with Nike’s FlyEase technology, which utilizes a collapsible heel and fold-down tongue for easy, hands-free entry.

“We wanted to make sure that they were accessible to all athletes, regardless of your mobility or physical stature or anything like that,” Currie says.

Delle Donne, Currie, and the Nike design team began working on the shoe in 2019, Currie’s first year with the company. They spent the next two years making sure every detail of the shoe was true to Delle Donne, from the colorways and stories to the performance and physical features.

“We really put a lot of thought into the way Elena plays, the areas that she likes to get to, what’s important in her movements,” Currie says. “We tried to include technology that really supports making those movements in those places as easy as possible for her.”

“I wanted it to be where once it’s on, I really don’t feel it or think of it,” Delle Donne adds. “It’s just kind of part of me.”

There’s also the style component, which Delle Donne says was as important to her as the performance.

“I needed it to work with me so I can do my job and play basketball, but I also wanted it to be a shoe that you don’t just wear on court— you wanna wear it and make a fashion statement with it,” Delle Donne says. “I wanted it to be one of those shoes that, you’re walking a red carpet, you wanna wear the Deldons.”

Both style and performance, Delle Donne says, are key factors in selling the shoe, and those sales will be critical to creating more opportunities for more women down the road.

“I know the importance of this moment, and for what it needs to do and how it needs to sell in order for this to be a catalyst for other women to get their own shoes,” Delle Donne says.

Delle Donne is a WNBA champion, two-timeMVP and six-time All-Star. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Delle Donne counts that as one of the many reasons why having Currie, her former Washington Mystics teammate, on board for the design process meant so much to her. Both of them remember shopping for basketball shoes as a kid and often not feeling represented in the options that were available to them.

“I do remember that there weren’t many female shoes that I could go get, and the time that there was a Sheryl Swoopes shoe on the shelf, I was elated,” Delle Donne says. “I didn’t even care how that thing fit. It was like, ‘If Sheryl has it and it’s her shoe, I’m getting it.’”

Currie believes Delle Donne can be to young hoopers what Swoopes was to a young Delle Donne.

“So many young girls love Elena, and this is like getting a little piece of her,” Currie says. “Girls need people that look like them to look up to, to have as role models, to see themselves in them, and to know, ‘Hey one day, I can have a shoe named after me.’”

Ultimately, Delle Donne hopes her shoe will be the most inclusive one on the market. No matter your abilities, gender, sexuality, or anything else that’s part of your story, Delle Donne says, this shoe is for you.

“If that shoe’s dope and I want it, it shouldn’t have a label,” Delle Donne says. “This shoe is for everyone.”

Calvin Wetzel is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering basketball and betting. He also contributes to Her Hoop Stats, CBS SportsLine and FiveThirtyEight. Follow him on Twitter at @cwetzel31.