When Nike’s Air Swoopes dropped in 1995, Sheryl Swoopes became the first woman to get a signature Nike basketball shoe and the second athlete behind Michael Jordan to have an eponymous model.
The shoe’s beginnings can actually be traced back to the 1970s, when Nike took a serious interest in collegiate women’s basketball programs (the WNBA wouldn’t exist for another 20 years). In 1983, the brand sponsored some 30 collegiate women’s teams.
By the time the WNBA was born in 1996, eight teams played in the league’s inaugural season, and it was clear no player was more deserving of a signature shoe than Sheryl Swoopes. The star forward was the first player signed to the WNBA, and the only one to have a triple-double in a playoff game. She helped lead the Houston Comets, Seattle Storm, Tulsa Shock and three U.S. gold-medal teams (she wore her Nike Air Swoopes II in the 1996 Atlanta games). Between 1993 and 2011, Swoopes received numerous accolades, including the ESPY’s Best Female College Basketball Player, WNBA Defensive Player of the Year and the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time.
In the late ’90s, Swoopes and Nike also lead the charge in women’s sports advocacy. Through TV spots and print ads, Swoopes encouraged young girls to be proud of their strength and athleticism.