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The inspiration behind Elena Delle Donne’s latest shoe design

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.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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