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

Nice Kicks: In addition to breaking barriers with Nike, you were selected as a poster child for the WNBA when it began, seeing that you appeared in a number of promotional ads. One that many remember is the commercial with you, your son and a young Kyla Pratt. Explain the significance of that experience.

Sheryl Swoopes: It was really fun to film a commercial with her. At the time, I didn’t really know who she was because she hadn’t been in a lot of movies and commercials before then. I think she blew up after that commercial. It was just a fun time for me because my son was involved in it, and he had on my shoes in the commercial too – a little baby version. I also had a little bit of say-so in the commercial as far as what I wanted, what I wanted to say, what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to be in the commercial. It was a great commercial – not just for Nike or me – for female athletes.

Nice Kicks: In regards to female athletes, what do you think the signing of your Nike contract did for women’s opportunities in sports?

Sheryl Swoopes: I feel like the opportunities that I have been afforded through basketball were given to me because of those doors that were opened by basketball players that came before me, such as Nancy Liberman-Cline, Cheryl Miller, Lynette Woodard and Ann Meyers. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the type of platform that we have. Today, some people don’t even know who they are, what they did and how great they were, but because of them, I received the opportunities that were given to me. I think because of me, Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie, players like Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird will have bigger opportunities than we had. I believe in giving back and leaving something for others to learn from. I think what Nike did for me opened people’s eyes and made people say, ‘Hey, women can really play this game, too.’ So, Maya being the first woman to sign with Jordan Brand is huge. It really says a lot about Jordan Brand in regards to their respect for the woman’s game. It’s a testament to who she is as a person and who she is as an athlete. The scary thought is, she hasn’t even come close to reaching her potential. In my opinion, she could be one of the best to ever play this game. Hopefully, that will open more doors for other women coming out and little girls growing up can say, ‘Sheryl Swoopes was the first with Nike’ or ‘Maya Moore was the first with Jordan Brand.’ Hopefully, the cycle will continue.

Nice Kicks: Fill in the blank. The biggest benefit from being the first woman with a signature sneaker is ________.

Sheryl Swoopes: Being considered a part of the [Nike] family was good enough for me. I don’t play anymore, but I still have a relationship with Nike and that is special to me. Even though I didn’t have them and couldn’t afford them as a child, I think everybody grew up wanting Nike shoes. To be associated with a company like Nike and a person like Phil Knight was huge. I met Phil Knight when I first signed with Nike. It was similar to the Michael Jordan moment because I was in awe. I mean, it was Mr. Nike right in front of me – the man that’s responsible for Nike. Even though I didn’t talk to him much directly, it was the fact that I feel like he has to give his stamp of approval for anything that happens with the brand. For him to want to give me my signature line was huge. I’m very grateful for it, and I feel like I owe him a lot. I got the chance to meet a lot of different people, participate in a lot of different events and travel the world since I was a part of the Nike team. Just being a part of the family was a great experience for me.

2004 Women’s Olympic Basketball Team

Throughout the Olympic Diaries series, follow author George Kiel III on Twitter at @geokthree for updates.

Special thanks to Ryan Totka and Athlete Promotions.

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