For any basketball player or anyone who loves the game in general, sneakers have always been a huge part of the culture. For the better part of 30 years, the popularity of the kicks that our favorite players take the court in has become an important part of the game as the thrill of the watching the best athletes in the world compete against one another. Generally speaking, this entire phenomenon has been driven by the men’s game. But now, as women’s basketball has grown in popularity, it’s only natural that their passion for sneakers be given its own shine in the spotlight.
If you’re a hardcore sneakerhead, then you know that some of the freshest kicks that basketball players wear—outside of their own signature shoe—is the PE or “player edition.” This is usually a current style of shoe made up in an exclusive colorway that matches the colors of the team the athlete plays for. For a long time, PE’s were only available to athlete. But over the past few years, fans, collectors and everyone in between, have been able to get their hands on a pair of identical shoes worn by their favorite player.
In the WNBA, Sheryl Swoopes was the first athlete to have her own signature sneaker—the Nike Air Swoopes is one of the nicest looking sigs, male or female, to ever be released—and a handful of WNBA players after her were also given sigs as well. But over time, many of the best, brightest and most popular WNBA stars were given special PE’s to promote themselves, their team and the sneaker brand itself.
Chicago Sky superstar Elena Delle Donne is the latest WNBA to have her own PE. Her Nike Hyperdunk 2016 PE dropped on December 19 and includes a number of touches that speak to both her personal and basketball journey. Delle Donne is the third professional basketball player representing a Chicago-based team—and the first woman—to win both Rookie of the Year and MVP, placing her in exclusive company with Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose.
She sat down with HOOP to discuss her upcoming PE release and the excitement and pride she feels to be given such an honor.
In addition to basketball, you also played volleyball, but are you a sneakerhead like a lot of men players and basketball fans?
I’m definitely a sneakerhead and it started at a young age for me. I remember being crazy about different Jordan’s that were coming out—I was a huge Michael Jordan fan—so that’s when it started and it continued as I got older. Being a sneakerhead is fun. It’s a cool community of people that you can talk about shoes with and compare who has what and what they’re planning on getting when the shoes do come out, so I’m very into [sneakers].
When you first saw your own Nike Hyperdunk 2016 PE with all of the many personal touches included in it, what was that like for you?
It was unreal. I was pretty emotional about it because it was so cool just to see the whole process come together. I met with some of the shoe geniuses at Nike and I told them a few stories about my life, the things I like and what I’m into, and for it to come together like this was absolutely crazy and it was amazing what they were able to come up with in terms of the designs that you’ll see on the shoe.
One of the things that stands out on the shoe is you have a lot of call-outs to your sister Lizzie. We all know how important she is to you in your life and she’s one of your biggest motivations, and that really stands out in the shoe.
Definitely. There’s the “I Love You” symbol in sign language on the shoe and the tattoo that I have of her, but the biggest thing for me is that since Lizzie is blind—which is why the sign language symbol is there—everything I do with her is about touch and feel. So there’s parts of the shoe that is raised and you can feel the details in them. That’s definitely my favorite part because it was truly designed for Lizzie so that she could feel them.
Was that one of the emotional things you mentioned when you first got a chance to look at the shoe and hold it?
Yeah, that was amazing. I told my mom about it and she cried. It was a really special moment to share with my family and a nice shout out to Liz.
Another thing that stands out is your Rookie of the Year and MVP honors featured on the shoe. You’re a team-first person, but when you won those individual awards, what was that like for you?
They were both crazy, humbling moments for me. There’s some pretty amazing players in the WNBA and for me to win those awards was the culmination of a lot of hard work paying off. They both really mean a lot to me.
There’s a mention of the shoe that says “The Path Less Traveled” because we all know that you took some time off from basketball in college to play volleyball. Was that a hard decision for you and did you make it because you felt you needed some time away from the game for a little while?
It was a hard decision because it’s tough to do something that a lot of people didn’t understand and probably weren’t fans of. But I just had to follow my heart and it was a huge part of my journey in finding my way back to the game if basketball and finding the passion and love for it again. So it was another big thing I wanted to display on the shoe.
Is your eyeliner pencil one of those must-have accessories you can’t do without?
[laughs] Yes. I call it my war paint because whenever I play, I always have eyeliner on. It’s a big part of my game.
Courtesy of Nike
A lot of WNBA players today wear PEs, but with you being the player that you are and the status in the game that you have, how do you think your shoe can continue to help increase the popularity of the WNBA in particular, but also women’s basketball in general?
I think a big part of being a fan is being able to support the players that you like to see play. Whether that be buying a jersey, a t-shirt or a shoe, I think it’s crucial for fans of the WNBA and women’s basketball moving forward is to try and make it easier for fans to hop on board and get merchandise to show their support for different players. I think [my PE] is huge step in that direction. I’ve been getting a lot of tweets from young boys, girls and even adults asking when my shoe is coming out because they want to get them. So I’m excited about their excitement.
Have you thought about what it’ll be like if you’re out somewhere and you see someone wearing your shoes?
That’ll for sure be a surreal moment and I plan to take pictures with anyone I see who has them on. I’ll definitely be on the lookout and for sure. I’ll be calling people over to come take a picture with me whenever I see them wearing my shoe.
Elena Delle Donne’s Nike Hyperdunk 2016 PE is available beginning today at nike.com.