Former SLAM Ed. Russ Bengtson is aware of his stuff relating to basketball footwear. On this excerpt from his upcoming guide, A History of Basketball in Fifteen Sneakers, he tells the story of the primary ladies’s signature sneaker, the Nike Air Swoopes.
Order your copy of A History of Basketball in Fifteen Sneaker right here.
The summer time Nike signed Swoopes, MJ himself invited “the feminine Jordan” to work at his camp and challenged her to a sport of one-on-one. Swoopes airballed her first three photographs however went up 4–3, then down 7–4. He gained the sport; she bought his UNC shirt. She felt ok afterward to speak trash to his face on digicam: “He was drained. Outdated, out of form . . .” Jordan interjected with a smile, “I didn’t see any problem. I simply wished to chop it quick earlier than somebody bought damage.”
Extra was coming. Nike designer Marni Gerber went to Lubbock to study what made Swoopes tick and discover out what she preferred in a sneaker. The consequence was 1995’s Air Swoopes, the first-ever signature ladies’s basketball shoe—and one crafted to suit Swoopes’s slender size-10 foot completely. Nike’s listing of signature athletes in basketball that 12 months was a brief one: Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Penny Hardaway, Chris Webber. Swoopes was simply the fifth.
The mid-cut Air Swoopes featured a mid-foot strap, a pull tab on the heel that was long-fingernail appropriate, and Swoopes’s personal brand, a stylized “S” on the tongue. It even bought considered one of Nike’s minimalistic print advertisements that includes a shoe and a 1-800 telephone quantity that folks may name to listen to Sheryl speak about her personal sneaker. The Air Swoopes was a severe hoop shoe designed by ladies, marketed by ladies, and marketed to ladies, with sneakers solely in ladies’s sizing. It was one thing utterly totally different.
“That [shoe] made everyone arise and take discover,” mentioned former AND1 and Nike exec Jeffrey Smith. “You imply the woman’s model doesn’t have to be simply pink and light-weight blue?” Fairly on the contrary: The $85 launch model was primary black with a white strap, and Swoopes bought her personal crimson, white, and blue make-up to debut as a member of the US Nationwide Staff. And it wasn’t simply any US Nationwide Staff, however one with vengeance on its thoughts.
After third-place finishes within the ’92 Olympics and the ’94 World Championships, nothing lower than gold can be acceptable on the ’96 Video games in Atlanta. Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer stayed on as coach, and the week-long Olympic Trials started in Colorado Springs with 24 gamers in Could 1995. By the point practices began, that 24 had been whittled right down to 11, together with Swoopes, former Virginia level guard Daybreak Staley, and former USC middle Lisa Leslie. UConn middle Rebecca Lobo was the youngest participant at 22, and the 2 oldest—31-year-old Teresa Edwards and 30-year-old Katrina McClain—had been each from close by in Atlanta. Swoopes was capable of lace up her personal shoe for the primary observe—“That’s cute,” VanDerveer remarked concerning the signature sneakers.
Beginning on Halloween, the squad launched into a grueling, globe-spanning 52-game exhibition schedule. The first objective was for the gamers to coalesce into a real staff. However alongside the best way, as they racked up win after win (after win after win after win), they completed one thing extra. For starters, they confirmed simply how a lot better they had been than even the very best faculty groups. Louisiana Tech misplaced 85–74, the closest that any NCAA squad would get. The following closest was Tennessee, who misplaced by 34. The Olympians beat Stanford 100–63, Kansas 101–47, George Washington 110–37, and Ohio State 118–49, ending that preliminary leg of their tour with a 107–24 drubbing of Colorado.
From there they went to Russia, Ukraine, China, and Australia, with some extra home sellouts in between. Followers stored coming and Staff USA stored successful. There have been a couple of shut calls: a three-point win over Cuba in Ningbo, China, then a one-point squeaker towards Russia in Chicago of their second-to-last sport. However after they closed out the ultimate sport, an 86–46 victory over Italy earlier than a crowd of 10,643 in Indianapolis, the People had been 52-0. Slightly over per week out from the Olympics, they had been greater than prepared.
In any case that dominance, the Atlanta Video games had been nearly an anticlimax— apart from the crowds. That they had drawn nicely on their world tour, however this was one thing else completely. Staff USA averaged 25,000 followers per sport, with practically 33,000 packing the Georgia Dome to observe them dismantle Brazil within the gold medal matchup. Swoopes completed because the staff’s third-leading scorer, averaging 13.0 factors per sport, taking pictures 55 p.c from the ground, and rating second in assists.
She had already transitioned into her second shoe, the Swoopes II, by the beginning of the Video games in 1996. The brand new sneaker featured off-to-the-sides lacing, a giant Swoosh up entrance and a tiny one on the ankle, and a distinguished shank plate in the midst of a thick midsole that was far forward of its time. Possibly, like the primary Air Jordan, Nike ought to have given the primary Air Swoopes extra time to breathe and let the legend construct earlier than releasing a subsequent sneaker. Then once more, Sheryl by no means even misplaced a sport in her first shoe. Even Mike couldn’t say that.
Discuss had begun early on the planet tour of forming a brand new ladies’s skilled league known as the American Basketball League (ABL), whose founders hoped to enroll as many Olympians as they might. Many tentatively agreed to hitch; with the brand new chance of incomes an actual wage to play at dwelling in the US fairly than discovering a scarce spot abroad, the choice was a no brainer. However earlier than the pre-Olympics tour concluded, the NBA had introduced a second skilled possibility, one with much more stable backing. The very best ladies gamers would have a alternative of American professional leagues, one thing their predecessors had by no means loved.
Excerpted from “A Historical past of Basketball in Fifteen Sneakers.” (Workman) by Russ Bengtson. Copyright © 2023