The first look at Sabrina Ionecu’s new shoe with Nike dropped Thursday. When the Sabrina 1 debuts in April, it will become the 12th signature sneaker in WNBA history.
“I think it’s super important that it’s not just a shoe,” the New York Liberty star told Andscape. “It’s about the story that it tells and what it’s going to do for everyone that sees it and buys into it.”
She joins Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne in releasing shoes in the last year. Before that, Candace Parker was the most recent player to have a shoe, which she released with Adidas in 2011.
Ionescu pointed to her personal relationship with Oregon graduate and Nike founder Phil Knight in helping her decide to sign with the brand, even though she also received big interest from brands like Puma and Under Armour.
While other brands promised her a clear roadmap to a signature sneaker, she said, with Nike such a deal wasn’t a given.
“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.”
Nike came through, making her one of its signature athletes in the midst of her comeback from a left ankle injury that sidelined her during her rookie season. Shortly after she signed with the brand, the design process for the shoe began.
The approach is meant to be “clean and sleek,” with some tie-ins to the Kobe 5 and cues from the Hyperdunk X Low, both shoes that she’s worn during her career.
LETS GO!!!! #Sabrina1 https://t.co/kSn2TUJHRx— Sabrina Ionescu (@sabrina_i20) March 16, 2023
LETS GO!!!! #Sabrina1 https://t.co/kSn2TUJHRx
“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 told Andscape. “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.”
There were three things that senior footwear designer Ben Nethongkome and his team focused on: support, responsive ride, and keeping the shoe lightweight.
“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,” Nethongkome said.
The shoe also features a geometric pattern inspired by Romanian art, a nod to where her family comes from.
“It was important to me [to incorporate] where I come from, how I got here and a lot of the sacrifices that my parents and my family have taken for me even to play the game of basketball and the game that I love,” she said. “I wanted to showcase that in the shoe.”
Nike is set to release the shoe this spring. It will be available in unisex sizing as well as kids’ sizes, and the apparel collection launched with it will also be versatile.
“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.”