In a September 2021 episode of Sneaker Shopping, host Joe La Puma asked WNBA superstar Sabrina Ionescu about the prospect of receiving her own Nike signature shoe.
“It’d be awesome...Hopefully that will kind of take care of itself as long as I take care of my business on the court,” she responded. Around a year and a half later, that hypothetical is becoming a reality.
Ionescu’s Nike Sabrina 1 was revealed today, making the New York Liberty guard the third active WNBA player to have her own shoe, following new teammate Breanna Stewart and fellow Swoosh endorsee Elena Delle Donne. For Nike, the Sabrina 1 joins Delle Donne’s Air Deldon from 2022 as the brand’s second women’s signature basketball shoe after a lengthy period away from the category. Its last official WNBA signature model before that was Diana Taurasi’s Shox DT all the way back in 2006.
Ahead of today’s unveiling, Complex caught up with Ionescu, as well as Nike footwear product director of basketball Deepa Ramprasad and senior designer of performance basketball footwear Ben Nethongkome, to find out more about how the sneaker came to fruition.
Ramprasad and Nethongkome describe Ionescu as a “dream collaborator,” one with an acute attention to detail who came into the process already having a good idea of what she wanted in a shoe.
“I think it was in December, we were meeting and we had last met in November, so we were only meeting a month apart, but things happen in a month,” Ramprasad said. “Everyone has a lot that’s going on in their lives outside of when we get to meet and collaborate. I was so impressed by all of the details that [Ionescu] remembered us discussing in November, and then asked us to see the updates and see the progress. I was trying to do this really specific reveal and unveil the product. She was just like, ‘Where’s this? Where’s this?” in the best way possible. She just is so sharp and so laser-focused.”
The result of these attentive sessions is the Nike Sabrina 1, which retails for a starting price of $125 and will be available in three debut colorways later this summer. The gender-neutral sneaker was designed with data insight from both male and female athletes, landing on a middle ground of performance needs that Nike says is suited for all players. But, of course, Ionescu herself is the focus here, and the Sabrina 1 is intended to help her excel for the full 40 minutes of a game.
Nethongkome and the Nike design team took into consideration her versatile, “do everything” play style—Ionescu has a knack for racking up triple-doubles and has the most in NCAA women’s Division I history from her time at Oregon—to create a shoe that would play to her strengths. It uses a low-top synthetic upper cushioned by full-length React foam and adds a Zoom Air bag in the forefoot for increased responsiveness. As is often a focus in modern basketball footwear, keeping the shoe lightweight without sacrificing performance was also important and was partially achieved by carving out sections of the foam on the medial side.
Personal details connecting the shoe back to Ionescu’s journey are abound. Her heritage is highlighted by way of embroidered patterns inspired by Romanian art and architecture. The shoe is wrapped by a lowercase “i” that spans its full length and is capped off on the heel and tongue, an on-the-nose nod to her name while doubling as a more nuanced “eye of the storm” reference. Furthering the double meanings, the aforementioned cored-out medial midsole includes “anyone, anywhere” text championing Ionescu’s competitiveness while also aiming to inspire those with big dreams. The medial Swoosh logo has been altered, flipping from the usual vertical placement to a horizontal alignment that juts through the React midsole, which Nike says represents her ability to break barriers. A closer look at that Swoosh reveals it’s textured with “ions,” yet another allusion to her last name.
Along with the Sabrina 1, Nike created a signature apparel collection for Ionescu made up of T-shirts, hoodies, shorts, a crossbody bag, and the brand’s first sock to use Dri-Fit ADV material, the Unicorn Sock.
Our interview with Ionescu, edited and condensed for clarity, appears below.
Only a small handful of Nike athletes have their own signature shoes. How does it feel to get that rare honor, and hopefully break more ground for women to get signature sneakers in the future?
I mean, I think you nailed it. It is an honor to just be able to represent Nike as being a signature athlete and being able to just tell my story through Nike’s brand and what they stand for. I’m obviously honored, very excited for what this is going to continue to do and the doors that it’s going to continue to open for a lot of other athletes to come. It’s an honor. It’s a blessing to be amongst other great signature athletes that are representing our game.
What about the shoe are you most excited about—whether it be a design detail, the technology, or just the whole thing?
The technology, for sure. Obviously Nike creates the best-looking shoes, always, so I knew that I was going to get that in the shoe. I think it is one of the cleanest shoes that I’ve been able to see. But I think just how comfortable it is, the support that I get putting it on my foot is what I don’t take for granted playing this game and what I really need to excel at my sport. So I’m very happy that this shoe has everything that I need.
Can you elaborate on your involvement in the design process? Were there maybe any elements from previous shoes that you liked that you kind of tried to channel into this?
Yeah I think, obviously I’ve worn a lot of basketball shoes just from when I was younger to now playing. I do have a little bit of insight of what feels good on my foot and what doesn’t feel good and how we can continue to work together to do that. It’s been really nice to talk. I think we’ve been talking for the last two years. Actually, probably since college at Oregon, just about what I like on my foot. What feels good. So really being able to collaborate and bring that to life, and this shoe has everything that I need to excel.
Obviously, the look of the shoe, all the little details that it has, like we talked about with the Swoosh going up, the ions that are embedded in the Nike Swoosh for my last name. The eye that goes all the way around, the colorways that we have that tell different stories. It’s all just part of what we’re trying to do with the shoe and not only creating the best basketball shoe, but also telling our story.
That full-length React with the Zoom Air, was that a preference of yours, or how did you land on that?
[The designers] obviously have done their research in understanding what’s going to be the best for us to do what we have to do on the court. When they brought it to my attention, you know, putting the Zoom bag, putting the plate, I was very excited to try it and see what I thought. Obviously, they have testers that know everything that works and doesn’t work. Nike’s obviously the best at doing that, so I was super excited. It’s so soft, it’s so comfortable, and it works great for all foot types, not only mine.
I have a Complex-related question. We just ranked our top 50 Nikes of all time, just kind of going over the history. I was wondering what your top five might be.
That’s a hard one, but I love Dunks. I love Air Forces. Air Maxes. I love running shoes. Yeah, I love every single Nike shoe. There’s not a shoe that I don’t love. I wear a lot of Dunks though, I’m wearing some now. Any Off-White collaboration is a top favorite of mine as well. The Travis Scotts I love. I can’t give you a top five, but I have nothing bad to say about any of the shoes.
One basketball shoe I would say are the Kobe 5s, those are absolutely my favorite. The Hyperdunks are up there for me. I’m a big Hyperdunk person, but [holds up the Sabrina 1] these are going to be one for me coming soon.
Little bit of a WNBA-related question. What changes do you think the Liberty can make this season to make a deeper playoff run?
Well, I think we made a lot of those changes in the free agency, picking up a lot of players that are going to help us get to where we need to go. But it’s going to come down to, can we build chemistry? Can we continue to build on what we accomplished last year? And continue to get better every single day, every single practice, and control what we can. Everything else is up to the basketball gods.