words & interview // Nick DePaula:
For girls that grew up playing the sport, the 1996 Women’s Olympic team was every bit as impactful as the Men’s Dream Team was for a generation of boys just four years prior. Headlined by legendary stars like Sheryl Swoopes, Teresa Edwards, Jennifer Azzi and Lisa Leslie, the team played the game at a different gear, and introduced the world to a new era of women’s basketball just as the WNBA was launching its inaugural season.
As the current 2016 Women’s Olympic team of modern stars looks to capture a sixth consecutive Gold Medal this month in Rio De Janeiro, they’ll be doing so in a new red-based colorway of the Hyperdunk 2016 that pays tribute to the women that paved the way before them. Styled by graphic artist “Hueman,” the shoe takes on red and soft blue hues, drafting off of the ’96 team’s iconic star-laden uniforms with a detailed graphic throughout the tongue and heel.
For Hueman, a hoops fan that has also worked on projects for Nike’s Kobe series, the Hyperdunk brief was exciting from the start. “I was floored!” she beams. “Not only would I be designing a shoe, which has been a bucket list item of mine, but it would be an Olympic shoe inspired by our incredible 1996 USA Women’s Basketball team. It’s such a special opportunity that I’m proud to have a part in.”
Known for her flowing and bold artwork, Hueman outlines that “freedom, color, and movement are the core tenets” of her work. To hear all about the details and inspiration that helped to influence the new tribute-laden Hyperdunk 2016, Nice Kicks caught up with Cecily O’Rielly, Nike Basketball’s Global Footwear Product Line Manager and the lead on the shoe.
Read ahead for a detailed interview about the shoe’s inspiration, the impact of the ’96 US Women’s team on a generation that’d follow, and how Nike will look to bring energy to the WNBA next summer when they take over to outfit the entire league’s uniforms and apparel.
The commemorative Hyperdunk 2016 Low is out now at Nike.com and select Nike retailers, and launches on the Nike SNKRS app on August 20th.
Nick DePaula: When did the idea first come about to look at celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1996 Women’s Olympic team?
Cecily O’Rielly: In looking ahead at the Rio Games, and knowing that they’ll be going for their sixth Gold Medal and it could be Tamika Catchings’ last Olympics, we wanted to do something special. With it being the 20th anniversary of the 1996 team, and the legendary status of how there’s a direct and clear link between that team and the 2016 team, we really wanted to infuse some inspiration.
Knowing that this is a monumental time as they’re going for their sixth Gold, we felt like there needed to be a footwear story for this time. It wasn’t initially in the plan, and when you look at how the men have a bunch of USA drops, we really wanted to do something for women. This is a really strong story here, to talk about the connection with the ’96 team as well as the 20th anniversary of the WNBA.
Tamika Catchings is such a legend in the sport, and we felt like we needed to do something special with this being her last year. This year’s team really wants to honor and celebrate that ’96 team, and also live up to the expectations that they set before them. That’s really when women’s basketball came to the main stage, and it set the bar for what they’re doing today.
NDP: In the modern era, the Hyperdunk has really been the statement level team shoe for Nike, and it launched at the Olympics in 2008. How was that model chosen for this project, and what has it meant to the category through the years?
CO: It’s Nike’s signature shoe. We of course have signature athletes with their own shoe, and this is also really the Nike Basketball signature franchise shoe. It stands for innovation and if Nike was to create a signature shoe for the category, it would be the Hyperdunk. It’s a very versatile shoe and very positionless, and we can cover from the point guard on up to a center.
It’s a catch-all shoe, and it stands for innovation and greatness. If we were going to pick one shoe, we were going to take our franchise shoe. Knowing that it’s been worn in the Olympics a ton, it just made perfect sense to have it be our Olympic shoe this year. It’s what Nike Basketball stands for, and when you think of the category, you think of the Hyperdunk.
NDP: What were some of the early starting points of inspiration that the artist Hueman was working with?
CO: Myself and Erick Goto, our Senior Energy Designer and graphic lead at the time, we were looking for an artist that could work for this project, and more specifically, what women’s artist? We thought of Hueman initially, because she does have a link with Nike already with doing some Kobe work and also projects for Women’s Training, but we also really liked that she’s a notable female artist in a male dominated street art industry.
We loved the fact that she exemplified power and being a notable woman in a men’s industry. She just brought some grit, similar to how women bring that to the game of basketball. She has that energy and we felt like she was the perfect artist, based on her style and the type of work that she does. She starts by putting a little bit of paint on the canvas, and then she makes an amazing creation from there. She offered that really interesting artist inspiration that we thought would be a cool element of the shoe.
NDP: I actually still have a red Rebecca Lobo USA jersey from that ’96 team, and the stars along the sides and then the wave pattern through the collar were so unique and distinct parts of the design. How did that help to influence the graphic that she came up with here?
CO: The stars on the jersey were definitely a huge point of inspiration, and we felt like that was a really dominant factor of the uniform. The stars really resembled sharp, multifaceted cuts of a diamond, signifying that every player has a role in the unit.
We really liked the multifaceted style that she brought into her graphic and that diamond juxtaposition was really unique. Then, she added that freestyle and flowing look to the star, and we loved it.
NDP: Going back to that ’96 team — you played basketball growing up and later on in college, and that team was so impactful at the time for young girls playing. Who were some of your favorite players as you were looking up to that team?
CO: I loved Jennifer Azzi. She was the point guard and the floor general of the team. She wasn’t necessarily the star, but I just really liked her grit. She was always super in shape and a leader on the court that was setting up all of these amazing players like Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie.
I just really liked that Azzi was the player that didn’t get the shine, but she was so critical to who they were as a team. Of course, I also loved Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes, but I was just really drawn to Jennifer and her importance to the team.
NDP: I like that pick, and I was always a big Dawn Staley fan too. I’ve always just loved creative point guards that were a little flashy, and I’ve been trying to find a pair of the Zoom S5 in a women’s 14.5 for like fifteen years now. [laughs] Cynthia [Cooper] wasn’t on that team, but her, along with Sheryl, Lisa and Dawn all had their own Nike signature shoe in the 90s. Which one of the women’s signatures do you remember liking the most at the time?
CO: The first Swoopes for sure, with the velcro strap. That one stuck out for me, and I definitely had that shoe. I remember going to watch them at the University of Washington for an exhibition, and it was probably one of my first women’s games I ever went to as a child. I just remember seeing Sheryl in her shoe, and going, “Oh my god, that’s amazing! She’s like the women’s Jordan, she has her own shoe.”
I just thought that was so cool, and I had to go get them. I just remember the effect that that team had, and waiting after the game to get their signatures. It was amazing, and I loved her shoe, because she was like the women’s Jordan. I wore #23 as a kid and always wanted to be like Jordan, but as soon as I went to that game, I wanted to be like Sheryl from then on.
NDP: What kind of an impact do you think that ’96 team had on this 2016 squad?
CO: They all have watched that ’96 team play, and they all have been super inspired by them. They wanted to play, and they also knew that they could go to college and then go beyond college to a professional rank, because of them. They definitely want to honor this team, and that’s why we added the stars to the back of the tongue on this Hyperdunk.
That’ll be the last thing they see before they pop the shoe on and lace up, and it’ll help to inspire the idea that, “We’re doing it for them and want to continue their legendary status.” The girls have a special place in their heart for the 1996 team, and this shoe honors that. They love that tie to honor such an amazing team, and now they’re looking forward to hopefully winning that sixth Gold.
NDP: Nike has had such an imprint on the US team in recent years, and next summer in 2017, the brand will also begin to outfit the entire WNBA. How much will that allow the category to tell more stories and really celebrate moments from the league’s history and so many of the great women’s players that’ve worn Nike through the years?
CO: Nike overall wants to start celebrating women’s stories more, and a point of emphasis within Nike Basketball is really the idea of telling authentic stories “for her.”
We’ll continue to build on the great storytelling around women, and a lot of those stories can also appeal to men too. We really want to highlight and empower women, and with the WNBA partnership, we’ll have a chance to kind of script a little more, from the uniforms to the socks to the shoes.
Below, check out a commemorative video featuring the 1996 Women’s Olympic team, reminiscing on their summer together in Atlanta. The ’96 honoring Hyperdunk Low is out now in stores at Nike retailers.