In the Era of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, Who Was the First WNBA Player to Pave the Way With Multi-Million Dollar Deal?

Published 09/06/2023, 8:58 AM EDT

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In the early 1900s, Nike was not the leader in the basketball shoe industry. Competing with popular brands such as Adidas and Converse, Nike had a reputation for being a brand for track and field athletes. However, Nike’s fortunes changed rapidly when Jordan signed a five-year contract worth $500,000 per year after college. Since then, Nike has made it its sole purpose to release shoes customized for celebrated NBA players.

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From Chuck to Kobe Bryant, male NBA athletes dominated the retail market of the company. But in the era of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant dominating the sneaker world, there emerged a woman fondly known as female MJ to break all the stereotypes and sign a multi-million-dollar shoe deal.

The first woman to rewrite the male-dominated NBA-sneaker nexus

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In 1995, Sheryl Swoopes made history by becoming the first woman to receive a signature basketball sneaker after signing with Nike. Only a handful of female athletes from the WNBA received this honor. But in contrast, over 40 different male athletes from the NBA have received their own signature sneaker during the same period.

Air Swoopes is the first shoe line launched by Nike honoring a female athlete. Nike have given only 12 women signature sneakers in the 27-year history of the WNBA. However, it’s been 10 years since a woman had received a signature sneaker until last year.

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Nike continues to invest in female basketball players with the release of signature sneakers for some of the most notable names in the sport.

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The company recently launched the Nike Air Zoom UNVRS, followed by the release of Elena Delle Donne’s Nike Air Deldon. Additionally, the Nike Sabrina 1, Sabrina Ionescu’s signature, is set to be released soon. It is encouraging to see sneaker brands investing in female players and showcasing that girls and women belong at every level of the game.

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Nike’s signature edition of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant

Michael Jordan, a legendary basketball player for the Chicago Bulls, has been associated with Nike Air Jordan shoes, which have been the most popular basketball shoe brand globally for a very long time. However, when the shoes were first introduced in 1985, the brand’s success was anything but certain. In fact, the brand surpassed its initial profit projections quite significantly.

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The same goes for Kobe Bryant since the launch of Kobe’s signature shoes in 2005. Nike’s profit saw a whooping inclination as the brand launched 22 shoes in his name and recently, it re-launched the posthumous edition of Kobe Bryant’s shoes. Vanessa Bryant with Nike designed the ‘Halo’ edition, and it was a massive success.

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Written by:

Nima Murugan

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Nima Murugan is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. With a Master's in English Literature, she provides detailed analysis of the games. Nima developed an interest in the NBA after witnessing the greatness of LeBron James and she continues to support the Los Angeles Lakers with passion.
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Edited by:

Aayush Kapoor

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