Great things happen when you stay dedicated. Through the ups and downs, if you try your best, trust what you’re doing, and have a strong support system behind you, the results will start to show. The good days start to add up and next thing you know, you’re on the road to something special.
Sabrina Ionescu has been one of the faces of the WNBA since she was drafted by the New York Liberty in 2020. As one of the greatest players in NCAA history, she came into the league with a lot of pressure and expectations. Despite some early struggles, mainly related to an ankle injury in her third game as a pro, she stuck with it and continued to get better. The accolades have started to come in as she was an All Star, All WNBA, and won a Gold Medal in 2022. And now, she’s made a bit of history as well.
Breanna Stewart, Ionescu’s new teammate, and Elena Delle Donne were until this week the only active W players with signature sneaker lines. And on Thursday, Ionescu joined their ranks. Ionescu and Nike announced that Sabrina will be debuting her signature sneaker and apparel line this summer. Ionescu is the eighth woman and 30th athlete in Nike’s history to get their own signature line with the brand. For someone who’s been wearing Nike for as long as she can remember, reaching this status is a pretty big deal and a well deserved honor.
The journey to get to the “Sabrina 1” began way back in 2021. That was a particularly rough time for Ionescu as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from completing her college journey at the University of Oregon and an ankle injury caused her to miss most of her rookie season in 2020. She fought through the ankle injury in ‘21, but it sapped her effectiveness and caused her to not play as well as she hoped. Through it all, Nike’s support meant a lot to her:
“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. It kept me going that entire season.”
Ionescu has spoken extensively about her struggles during that time period, and having people around you that believe in you, will pour into you, and make sure that you’re OK goes an incredibly long way. No person is an island, and having a strong support system goes a long way in making it to where you want to be.
The key to any shoe is comfort, and when you’re an athlete, that takes on even more importance. And for basketball players in particular, comfort and durability are critical as they move up and down the court. She spoke about the design with Boardroom and said:
“The design of the shoe is clean, sleek, and super lightweight. We have so many games back to back playing a lot of minutes. The ability to wear the shoe for a whole game, feeling supportive, and being able to cut and move was what I wanted. That’s exactly what the shoe is. From the moment you put it on your foot, it’s comfortable, light, and you feel like you can do anything with it on.”
As the shoe was being developed, Ionescu had to play coy when the subject of her own shoe line was brought up to her in the media. Now that it’s here, she can bask in the personal victory and give us the nitty gritty behind the designs and technology used to put the 1s together. Ionescu regularly wore Kobes and now she can begin to rock her own apparel on the court. Gotta say, that’s a pretty big flex.
Every shoe tells a story, and the design of the “Sabrina 1” is inspired by her Romanian heritage and the support from her brothers as she made her way as a hooper. That support from such a young age helped break some of the gender norms around sports and it’s something that all of us should continue to promote. The shoe and clothing will be made available for all ages and genders so people can see themselves in Ionescu’s rise.
The story behind a sneaker is always fun to watch over time, and Ionescu noted that the story from her pal and Boardroom teammate, Kevin Durant, came to mind:
“Just watching a lot of these athletes and the stories that they’re able to tell with their shoe? Kevin especially. He’s had so many down the line, just seeing his progression from his first to now. It’s been inspiring and something that I look at and observe as I’m looking to put into my shoe as well.”
In a fun bit of business, Ionescu and Stewart will have their own sneakers on display this spring and summer on the Barclays Center court:
Ionescu spoke about that and said:
“That’s something that I’ve talked to my GM (Jonathan Kolb) about, that that could be a possibility before she was coming. Having the only two players on the same team rocking their signature shoes, being now projected to be one of the top two teams in the league and potentially winning a championship, while doing it in New York – you just can’t put that into words.”
That’s one of those fun coincidences that works out for fans, players, and stakeholders alike!
As players like Ionescu, Stewart, A’ja Wilson, and Skylar Diggins-Smith shine on and off the court, it’s helpful to what Didi Richards mentioned in a recent interview. Showcasing the players in various arenas and fashions goes a long way in growing the sport of basketball and making it accessible to every type of person. There’s so much joy, creativity, and uniqueness in the game, and it’s up to those in high powered positions to draw it out and open doors for even more women to break through.
The bigger picture
For as wonderful as this moment is for Ionescu, she’s focused on an even bigger goal. When the WNBA season tips off on May 19th in Washington DC, all eyes will be on the Liberty. The Liberty are hoping to get back to the Finals for the first time since 2002 and win the first title in franchise history. If they’re able to win it all, it will be the first basketball championship for the New York area since the 1970s. The excitement among the players is growing by the day, and as we get closer to training camp, it’ll start to reach a fever pitch. Throughout the offseason, Ionescu has been in touch with her teammates as they’ve started to train their eyes on the big prize:
“The time is now. We’re not waiting a couple of years down the line to build chemistry. We want to do that right now.”@sabrina_i20 and the Liberty have their eyes on the prize pic.twitter.com/wyGBzpWlS1— ESPN (@espn) March 17, 2023
Along with the star power, the Liberty roster is battle tested. Up and down the roster, you have plus defenders, talented youngsters, players who have taken the world by storm, and one of the most magical hoopers we’ve ever seen. The roster is a perfect mix of shot creation, versatility, defense, grit and toughness that can compete for championships and bring New York back to basketball glory.
- New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu joins WNBA rare air with her first Nike signature sneaker - Nick DePaula - Andscape