Olympic Diaries (2004): Sheryl Swoopes Explains Origin & Crossover Success of Nike Air Swoopes Line

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Sheryl Swoopes can ball with the best of them – men and women – and undoubtedly hold her own.

Referred to as the “female Michael Jordan” throughout her career, Swoopes broke women’s basketball barriers by becoming the first woman ever drafted to the WNBA and ultimately becoming a three-time Olympic gold medalists. Yet, one extremely important achievement people tend to forget about is her inking a deal with Nike – this is not just any deal we’re talking about. Swoopes became the first woman to receive a signature line with Nike, let alone any sneaker brand.

As the 2004 installment of our Olympic Diaries series, Sheryl Swoopes details the origin and design process of the Nike Air Swoopes line, its acceptance from both genders, memorable Olympic moments and what it meant for her to become the first woman with a signature shoe.

**Update** The “Swoopes” #NineforIX premieres tonight on ESPN. Revisit our interview with Sheryl Swoopes before you tune in tonight.

Sheryl Swoopes wearing the Nike Air Flight One in an Olympic shot

Nice Kicks: So, I heard Nike approached a bank teller instead of a basketball player when they came to you with a contract. Is that correct?

Sheryl Swoopes: [Laughs] After we won the national championship at Texas Tech in ’93, I left the U.S. to go play in Italy. At the time, I was young and had never been anywhere, so I got homesick after being in Italy for a little bit. Being overseas was not for me at the time. I still had a semester of school left, so I went back to Lubbock to finish out school. I had to make money some kind of way while doing that, so I went to work for a bank. I kind of felt like God put me in the right place at the right time with that move because, once I came back to Texas, that was around the same time USA basketball was in the midst of putting the ’96 Olympic Basketball team together. It gave me the opportunity to play without going overseas, and the rest is history. The bank gave me the opportunity to finish school, so that I could make a living. I was approached by Nike around that time, and we got together and finalized a contract.

Nice Kicks: What was your initial reaction to becoming the first woman with a signature sneaker?

Sheryl Swoopes: Obviously, I was honored when they first approached me with the idea of developing a signature basketball shoe for me. For me to be the first female basketball player to have my own signature shoe was, and still is, crazy. Every child probably dreams of having a shoe named after them, or that might be something you don’t dream about because you don’t think it’s going to happen to you. So, for that to happen, I was just overwhelmed.

Nice Kicks: With your signature line being new to all parties involved, how hands-on were you in the development of your line throughout the years, especially the first one?

Sheryl Swoopes: I was very involved in the design of each and every one of my shoes, and I had say-so in all of them; but if I had to pick one that I had the most involvement in, it would have to be my first one.?I say that one because we did the most with it. We had to get the mold of my foot, and I spent a lot of time in Oregon with the designers during that process. Even when I wasn’t in Oregon, they called me every step of the way in the design process and sent me a ton of prototypes. We talked about what I looked for in a shoe, what was important to me in a shoe, and everything else in regards to the feel, the look, the color and the support. All of those things were very important to me. So yeah, I was very involved in the design process of the very first shoe they did for me from the beginning to the end. It wasn’t as much involvement after the first one because, by then, they knew what I liked and how I wanted it moving forward. They basically continued to incorporate all those things in my other shoes.

Nike Air Swoopes

Nice Kicks: So, was that the shoe you enjoyed playing in the most?

Sheryl Swoopes: It would have to be my first shoe only because it was the beginning. It was scary because I didn’t know what the response and reaction was going to be to it, so of course the first one will always be special to me. But as the shoe line went on, I looked at the first one like, ‘Oh, my gosh. We could’ve done much better.’ That one is always going to be special to me though, but as far as the look, the comfort and the design, it would have to be the Nike Zoom Air Swoopes – the one that had the claw design on the outside of it. That was the third shoe in my line. I loved the color schemes it came in, and I remember there being a few patent leather makeups of it – black patent, red patent, white patent and white/red patent. That shoe was really nice.

Nike Air Zoom Swoopes

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