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Inside Access: Nike Women Propel Basketball

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Nike’s three-decade commitment to women’s basketball continues to grow in 2015 with new athletes and products. The legacy built on campaigns, product innovation, athlete partnerships and team championships, evolves with a new chapter.

The Future of Women's Basketball

2015 No. 1 WNBA Draft pick and new Nike athlete, Jewell Loyd.

As the WNBA season kickoff nears, Nike proudly announces the signing of Jewell Loyd, this year’s No. 1 draft pick selected by Seattle. The electrifying 21-year-old guard from Chicago joins Amanda Zahui Bazoukou (No. 2 pick to Tulsa), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (No. 3 pick to Seattle) and Elizabeth Williams (No. 4 pick to Connecticut) as part of the Nike Basketball family of 50 female athletes across the WNBA’s 12 teams.

“To represent Nike Basketball is a dream come true,” said Loyd.  “I’m looking forward to contributing product insight and teaming with the entire Nike family of athletes to inspire kids on and off the court.”

 

‘IF YOU LET ME PLAY’ INSPIRES GIRLS

Nike targeted girls’ sports and the need to establish a level playing field in 1995. That year it launched its thought-provoking television commercial, “If You Let Me Play.” The provocative ad featured young girls sharing the importance of being allowed to participate in sports with statistics such as “If you let me play, I will be 60 percent less likely to get breast cancer; I will suffer less depression, if you let me play sports. I will be more likely to leave a man who beats me.” 

The campaign was seen by 73 million viewers and triggered an outpouring of mail and phone calls to Nike’s headquarters. It also received praise from a variety of organizations, such as Girls, Inc. and the President’s Conference on Youth, Drugs and Violence. 

The ad’s theme resonated with then-teenager Diana Taurasi, who has become one of basketball’s most accomplished athletes. She’s earned three NCAA championships, three WNBA titles, three Olympic gold medals and five Euro League titles. Taurasi led the University of Connecticut Huskies to win 95 percent of their games (139) from 2000-2004, while closely informing the team’s product evolution in both uniforms and shoes.  

Diana Taurasi after winning a gold medal in London with USA.

“I’m proud to be a part of Nike’s strong legacy in women’s basketball,” says Taurasi. “Since my freshman year at UConn in 2000 until now, I take my partnership with Nike seriously. My hope is to see even more girls playing the game in the U.S. and abroad and I’m starting to see this in Russia.”

 

ATHLETE INSIGHT FUELS PRODUCT INNOVATION

In 1993, Nike signed several female athletes, including Mia Hamm, Jackie Joyner Kersee and basketball phenom Sheryl Swoopes. Nike used ads like this one to introduce her to the world.

Listening to the voice of the athlete and innovating new product helps Nike Basketball stay sharp. The best player of her generation, Sheryl Swoopes was the first female basketball player to receive a Nike Basketball signature shoe, the Nike Air Swoopes, in 1996. 

“The Air Swoopes was inspired by Sheryl's tenacity and her desire to be in the face of her competition. I went to Lubbock, Texas, to experience her life, her family and friends. She was a tough girl with a sweet side,” says Marni Gerber, designer of the shoe.

Nike Basketball's first women's signature shoe, the Air Swoopes, designed for Sheryl Swoopes.

The design included an uncompromising blend of support, performance and style: a rugged black Durabuck midfoot stability strap that cradled the foot, contrasting color-blocking for maximum visibility, and Nike Air in the heel and forefoot. When the inaugural WNBA season kicked off, men sought the Nike Air Swoopes in larger sizes — a glorious example of role reversal. As the Swoopes series evolved, implementing Zoom and Tuned Air along the way, gender became irrelevant as athletes gravitated towards the shoe despite being built for a female.

 

NEW APPAREL COLLECTION AUTHENTIC TO WOMEN

New women's basketball apparel obsesses freedom of movement with premium fabrics, an obsession for Nike Basketball as seen in the Hyper Elite uniforms that debuted in Feb. 2015.

This fall, Nike will introduce new basketball apparel designed by women for women.  The new silhouettes feature premium performance fabrics and deliver a superior fit and range of movement.

Nike draws on feedback from a variety of basketball players at all levels of the game, from amateur to professional. Female athletes provide insight to designers that directly informs product innovation with authentic inspiration. The UConn women’s basketball team directly informed the fit and feel of the new Nike women’s products debuting later this year.

Nike’s current roster of top women’s basketball athletes often engages in product concepting and testing, including Seimone Augustus, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Tina Charles, Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins, Candice Dupree, Brittney Griner, Angel McCoughtry, Nneka Ogwumike, Odyssey Sims and Lindsay Whalen.

 

WOMEN’S GAME EXPANDS INTERNATIONALLY

Women’s basketball participation and popularity has grown domestically and internationally, now with more than one-quarter of all players according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). Athletes serve as role models on and off the court around the world. In fact, many professionals play both in the WNBA and international leagues in Europe and China, with one season often rolling into the next. 

Tina Charles, Nike athlete for five years, uses her success on the court as an avenue to build awareness for an important cause. The 2012 gold medalist and WNBA MVP, who plays in New York and Turkey, educates others about the importance of heart health awareness following the death of her aunt, Maureen “Hopey” Vaz. Charles’s Hopey’s Heart Foundation began in the U.S. and is making inroads internationally with an educational platform and automated external defibrillator machine grant program that has placed over 140 units in schools, gyms and community centers. 

Tina Charles, three-time WNBA All-Star.

“Sometimes in life, you have to lose in order to gain,” says Charles. “I’m determined to use my voice and my late aunt’s memory to improve sports safety and raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest throughout the world.”

Ellena Delle Donne, WNBA star who serves as a global ambassador for Special Olympics.

Elena Delle Donne is extremely active in her community as the WNBA season concludes and she forgoes playing abroad. She works as a global ambassador for the Special Olympics, a cause with a personal connection since Delle Donne’s sister, Lizzie, has cerebral palsy and is autistic, blind and deaf. Delle Donne participates in several Special Olympic clinics and events including basketball clinics held in Chicago; she earned the 2014 Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award in recognition of her outstanding work in the community.   

Charles and Delle Donne are just two of many athletes in Nike Basketball’s family using their stature as female athletes to elevate important causes. 

 

BASKETBALL’S FUTURE IS NOW

A shining example of the past informing the future is the mentorship that has already begun between eight-time All-Star Sue Bird and rookie Jewell Loyd, now backcourt mates in Seattle and fellow Nike athletes. 

Sue Bird, eight-time WNBA All-Star, has won three gold medals.

Bird is guiding Loyd through the transition to the pros; a metaphoric torch passing to a future star whose career officially begins on June 6 in Los Angeles. 

“The future is bright for Jewell and we’re lucky to have her in Seattle and with the Nike family,” says Bird. 

Nike’s role in women’s basketball continues to evolve with new athletes, insight-driven products and experiences that evolve the game. 

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"Inside Access" is a series providing an inside look at Nike Basketball through the lens of innovation, key moments and athletes. Look for new features throughout the basketball season.