Nike shoe queen Sheryl Swoopes at an event in Mechanicville

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Twenty-five years ago, Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes and Nike formed an enduring partnership that both produced a signature shoe and provided much-needed support for the rise of women’s basketball and the WNBA.

And Swoopes continues to give back to the game and the league as it grows and sees its marketability skyrocket.

“It’s just who I am and what I do,” Swoopes said in a phone interview. She will come to the Capital Region on Saturday to speak to young basketball players at “The Show,” a Girls Elite 100 Saturday showcase at Mechanicville High School. “I watch the WNBA like it’s my baby, just like I watched my son. I feel a great sense of responsibility and I’m very proud of where the league is right now.

Will Harris, a former University of Albany basketball player, organized the event. Harris coaches an AAU team called Team Takeoff, which includes his daughter, Amaya. Swoopes will also be signing autographs. She is due to speak at 11 a.m.

The Air Swoopes sneaker debuted just before the 1996 Olympics. The following year, Swoopes was the first player drafted by the Houston Comets in the 1997 WNBA inaugural draft.

Swoopes became a household name known as the “Female Michael Jordan,” but did something for basketball that no male athlete could ever accomplish. She missed part of the 1997 inaugural season after giving birth to her son and returned to help lead the Comets to the 1997 WNBA Championship.

His career was so important.

She was the first player to be named WNBA Most Valuable Player three times (2000, 2002, 2005) and the six-time all-star is a four-time WNBA champion, NCAA champion and three-time Olympic medalist. Olympic gold.

Just 20 years after debuting her signature sneaker, Swoopes was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. And his Air Swoopes shoe is still the reigning signature shoe. It was re-released in 2018 during the holiday season.

Journalist Erica Ayala wrote a cover story about the Air Swoopes legend for Sports Illustrated:

“A quarter of a century later, no sneaker has had a more direct impact on women’s basketball culture than the Air Swoopes, because there has been no real successor. Undeniably, the women’s game has reached such heights fantastic at college and professional levels, but in terms of women’s shoes, the Air Swoopes are the most successful in history Hoopers like Candace Parker, Maya Moore and Elena Delle Donne have had exclusives for players over the years Legends Rebecca Lobo, Dawn Staley and Chamique Holdsclaw wore iconic shoes, but none of those shoes had seven strokes, like the Air Swoopes.

I asked Swoopes why she thought her sneaker was so successful and continued to fetch high prices on the resale market.

“I think it has a lot to do with it being the first. I’m just saying God put me in the right place at the right time and it just so happened that a company, a big shoe brand like Nike, saw something. But it was not only my talent and my ability to dominate on the pitch, but that was it. And it didn’t hurt that my name was Swoopes which rhymes with hoops. A lot of people thought it was a nickname,” she said with a laugh.

“But I also think it’s so important to have a personality and to be likeable. And there’s so much more to it than just looking at someone and their talent and saying, oh my God, she should have her own shoe. It’s about the dollar, isn’t it?” Swoopes said.

People often ask her who should be the next female player to have her own basketball shoe. We discussed the impact of the league’s best player: A’ja Wilson. The Las Vegas Aces are on the verge of a WNBA championship thanks to Wilson, the WNBA Most Valuable Player and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. His picture is now featured on the front of Ruffles potato chips.

“I’m a huge fan of A’ja Wilson. She’s a great kid. To my knowledge, A’ja Wilson is the first female athlete to be on a pack of Ruffles. And not just the first athlete, the first African American woman and I’m a big believer in issues of representation. And when you have all these little girls there and especially a little black girl who can look at someone like A’ja Wilson and see that, it immediately changes the this girl’s mindset about life…and maybe her current situation or circumstances…and she can look at A’ja Wilson and say, why can’t I be next?

From Swoopes to Wilson, the WNBA continues to rise. And young girls can see what they can be.

Joyce Bassett’s All In column appears weekly on Mondays. Look for part two of his interview with Swoopes on Monday. Contact her at [email protected] • @joyceb10bassett • timesunion.com/author/joyce-bassett

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