Wilson has star power, but the only WNBA players with signature shoes are white

Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson during the game against the Dallas Wings during Game 1 of the second round of the 2023 WNBA playoffs on Sept. 24, 2023, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images

Let’s get this out of the way first:

Caitlin Clark should absolutely get her own signature shoe.

The Athletic reported Wednesday night that Clark was set to sign an eight-figure endorsement deal with Nike that would include the release of her own signature sneaker. Clark, Division I college basketball’s career leading scorer who has been with Nike since 2022 when she signed an name, image and likeness deal with the apparel giant, will join Elena Delle Donne (who won’t be playing this season), Sabrina Ionescu (New York Liberty) and Breanna Stewart (New York Liberty) as active WNBA players with their own signature shoes.

Following the report, while Clark was celebrated, questions were also raised about the prolonged silence surrounding a signature shoe for her WNBA peer, A’ja Wilson, who is also a Nike athlete. Despite Wilson’s accomplishments on and off the court, Nike has yet to announce a shoe for the reigning WNBA champion.

The question for basketball fans, many of whom have been calling on Nike for a Wilson shoe for years, is: What’s the holdup?
Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray (left) and forward A’ja Wilson (right) play in the third quarter of Game 2 of the 2023 WNBA Finals at Michelob Ultra Arena on Oct. 11, 2023, in Las Vegas.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Each of the players with signature shoes in the league has had them announced since Wilson entered the league in 2018. In 2022, Puma released Stewart’s Stewie 1 and Nike released Delle Donne’s Nike Air Deldon. Nike released the Sabrina 1 in 2023. Stewart and Ionescu are the two active signature shoe headliners. Delle Donne is taking a hiatus.

To be clear, this isn’t a debate about Wilson getting a signature shoe instead of Clark and it’s not meant to minimize her star potential. There has never been this much hype and attention about a WNBA rookie like Clark. We can look directly at the WNBA’s recent draft viewership numbers to confirm that. If the response to Clark’s impending release is anything like it has been with any other game, event or product Clark has been associated with, the shoes will fly off the shelves. It’ll be another benchmark in the growth of women’s sports. This is a smart business decision by Nike.

But it’s an equally poor business decision to not have announced a shoe for Wilson by now. Wilson is the current face of the WNBA, a two-time champion and league MVP. She’s an Olympic gold medalist and will help lead USA Basketball in the upcoming Paris Games in July.

There are implications that are made, whether intentional or not, when the only players in the league with signature shoes are white women. That becomes compounded when the league they play in is 70% Black and not short of Black superstars.

A Black woman hasn’t had a signature shoe since Candace Parker’s two signature shoes with Adidas in 2010-11. The last time a Black woman had a Nike signature shoe was more than 20 years ago when Sheryl Swoopes’ Nike Air Swoopes Premier dropped in October 2002. Maya Moore was signed to Jordan Brand, but never had a signature shoe.

Is it a question of Wilson not being viewed as being able to connect with broader demographics? Is it an assumption of potential Black spending power? With the sport where it is, with its visibility, it feels like a no-brainer to amplify Wilson in this light. The moment feels akin to a musical artist ready to deliver new music to fans but who is at the mercy of the record label sitting on the album. A signature shoe is the pinnacle of basketball superstardom. For Wilson to not yet have that, when clearly a market for WNBA shoes has been reestablished, is baffling.
Team USA forward A’ja Wilson poses with her sign on the Sunset Strip during the Team USA Road to Paris Bus Tour on Nov. 16, 2023 in Los Angeles.

Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images for NBC

This is also not an issue of marketability.

The on-court accolades Wilson has collected at age 27 are remarkable. Off the court, she was named to Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2024. Her recently released memoir Dear Black Girls was named a New York Times best seller. She was featured in a Saweetie music video that has more than 35 million views and was the first female athlete to sign with Ruffles as the face of a new product. For anyone who follows the WNBA, Wilson is also known to have one of the most infectious personalities in the league.

The material has been there in plain sight.

Shoe companies, however, continue to send the message that white women are considered more marketable. As women’s basketball continues its upward trajectory and reaches newer and larger audiences, that message will only be amplified.

Wilson’s signature shoe announcement is likely coming. But instead of invoking the feeling of being right on time like it does with Clark, for Wilson, it will be viewed as long overdue.