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words & images // Nick DePaula:

Truthfully, the Nike Zoom S5 is one of my all-time favorite signature sneakers in footwear history — regardless of which gender it was specifically designed for. The fact that they were indeed designed specifically for women, though, made them that much more awesome. To this day, I’m still on the hunt for a size 14.5 pair in Black/Purple/White, making it easy to sympathize with the countless female sneakerheads that have long had to rely on 1.5 size conversions through the years.

The latter half of the 1990s was an amazing time for the growth of women’s basketball, spearheaded by the 1996 launch of the ABL and subsequent ’97 launch of the WNBA, along with Team USA’s dominant Olympic roster of iconic female players that went on to earn a Gold Model at the ’96 Atlanta Summer Games.

One early icon of the sport was Dawn Staley, whose shifty and flashy game at the point guard position was tailor made for the coming revolution of streetball’s added flair and style across courts nationwide.

A national Player of the Year during her final year of high school hoops, Staley’s emergence on the scene during the 90s was actually through the ABL, an alternate league to the NBA’s own W Association.

As Dawn entered the WNBA officially for the start of the 1999 season, she did so in her first signature shoe, the Nike Zoom S5 — merging her second initial and her #5 jersey number together. The bendy and flowing design of the upper perfectly captured the wrap-around passes, crossovers and speed that Staley had become known for on the court.

While NBA counterparts like Gary Payton and Scottie Pippen had their own Alpha Project-certified signatures during the late 90s, Staley’s shoe also featured the five dot marker, reserved for only Nike Basketball’s most pinnacle performance products of the era.

Equipped with an integrated support strap system, molded carbon fiber midfoot stability shanks and Zoom Air units for benchmark-setting cushioning, the S5 was never designed to be a takedown model of a Men’s higher priced, more fully loaded bells and whistles sneaker.

It was an iconic signature sneaker in its own right — and could go toe-to-toe with any other signature model at the time.

While the S5 might be my favorite of the bunch, it’s worth noting that several other female stars also had great signature shoes, both during the 1990s and in more modern times. There was the groundbreaking Air Swoopes franchise, headlined by Her Airness Sheryl, along with awesome namesake designs for the likes of Cynthia Cooper and Lisa Leslie, and more recently, Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi. Of the rest, the fingery first Zoom Swoopes model is particularly amazing. I specifically remember my friends and I being initially upset it was a women’s shoe, though that still didn’t stop some guys from simply going up a size and a half anyway.

Now 46 years-old, Staley’s love for the game has never wavered, as she’s found just as much success after retiring from her playing career and hanging up her #5 jersey. Since 2000, she’s been holding down the sidelines as Head Coach, first at Temple University in her hometown, and now at South Carolina. She’s so far been named conference Coach of the Year, fittingly, five times.

Enjoy a detailed look at an original pair of Dawn Staley’s Nike Zoom S5 as we celebrate International Women’s Day, photographed in Beaverton, Oregon at the Nike Archives. What’s your favorite women’s signature sneaker?

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