BREAKING #WNBA sneaker news from last night prompted me to finally put together my article of the Top 5 Sneaker Free Agents of the 2020 #WNBA season! Sabrina Ionescu is currently in discussion with Nike, Under Armour and Puma regarding a shoe endorsement contract. Before we dive DEEP into this and the list, let me share some previous top Sneaker Free Agents in 2018-2019 that I had on my list (and in my head since I never made it into an article, lol)
PRIOR Top #WNBA Sneaker Free Agents:
- Liz Cambage – after a return to the W in 2017 and a playoff stint with the Dallas Wings, Cambage became the prized legit free agent after requesting a trade. Liz started sporting the 3-stripes signaling her move from the Nike defaults into one of Adidas’ top endorsers when a Las Vegas deal finally happened
- Diamond DeShields – her first ever #WNBAAllStar selection in her second year in the league, DeShields became one of the budding stars in the playoff-bound Chicago Sky. With drip off the court and swag on the court in the iconic FOG 1s, Diamond was bound to finally sign a contract and ended up with Nike over the 2020 #WNBAOffseason. Here’s hoping that contract and endorsement can also lead this rising Sky onto the Olympic team.
- Natasha Cloud – #WNBAFinals champion in 2019 and an electric personality with the media and on social media, Cloud became an obvious new gen face of the league. A unique and wavy sneaker deal arrived with Converse (owned by Nike but same diff) becoming the first and only #WNBA athlete signed with that specific brand. Only two from the NBA have that honor as well (Kelly Oubre, Jr. and Draymond Green)
- Erica Wheeler – the most heartwarming story of the 2019 #WNBAAllStar game and entire season was Wheeler’s #WNBAAllStar MVP run and a fantastic story of strength, perseverance and never giving up. After that came outcries of a sneaker deal which final happened during this #WNBAOffseason with Wheeler signing with Adidas
Now onto this year’s TOP #WNBA SNEAKER FREE AGENTS. And #1 is the likely #1 pick:
1. Sabrina Ionescu – Her influence is unmatched currently in the #WNBADraft and her marketability is at an all time high. Let us go through each option: Nike is the easy and obvious choice coming from Nike University (aka Oregon) having had a plethora of Oregon jersey options, various shoe models and shoe colorways, and a close relationship with former brand ambassador Kobe Bryant. A few slight problems emerged in the relationship with a lacking Ionescu jersey and a lacking Ionescu jersey restock, but all of that should’ve proved to Nike of Ionescu’s popularity and demand. Nike may have always been the plan… UNTIL Under Armour comes in with Ionescu’s friend/mentor Stephen Curry in tow. I’ve got to imagine a signature shoe is in talks with the various instances of Under Armour promoting women’s basketball. It started with Riley Morrison and her letter to UA to have women’s and girls sizes. It branched off to Azzi Fudd and the number of women basketball focused basketball camps Curry and UA held throughout the offseason. Even look at the UA Instagram page, you’ll see Fudd front and center! And now the ideal culmination would be the signing of Sabrina Ionescu and having the brand re-live the Steph Curry/UA marketing heydays. One note with UA is it’s prior endorsements in the WNBA up until 2018 included Maryland alums Alyssa Thomas and Crystal Langhorne. The VERY few that rocked UA then season showed up in 2019 with Nike’s (one signed, one default?). UA seemed to of abandoned all endorsements in 2019 maybe just so they had the money to make SI this offer. The personal worry here is if they don’t get Ionescu, do they just wait for Fudd… IN 4+ years?! Puma reinserted themselves into the #WNBA signing #1 pick Jackie Young and #4 pick Katie Lou Samuelson in the 2019 #WNBADraft. Already with Skylar Diggins-Smith in tow the brand would try to make its impact with an Ionescu signing which I would assume would be a high dollar amount offer and signature shoe. If Ionescu is a Wasserman client (Young and KLS are) it could be likely, but I’m doubting it. In the end I believe the money, creative control, potential signature shoe, religion and friendship with Curry win out and we see Ionescu 1s at some point in the eventual (hopefully) 2020 #WNBA season. (Or you can find this video of Curry & Ionescu hanging out 9 days before the draft with the UA Sr. Director Global Sports Marketing of UA while rocking UA shoes and a Steph Curry logo hoodie and make your own prediction…)
2. Satou Sabally – Interestingly I believe Ionescu’s decision directly impacts Sabally’s with sneaker endorsement options. Sabally included in her #WNBA draft declaration how becoming a professional and earning a professional’s salary to help support her family was a huge influence in her decision to declare. With a chance to become the #2 pick in the draft I believe Sabally will get the 2nd highest shoe endorsement deal. If Sabrina declines Nike, maybe Nike moves to Plan B and signs another Nike University (Oregon) alum immediately to ensure they don’t miss out in their endorsement and continue to support everything Oregon. This might also be Puma’s move (again likely if Sabally additionally signs with Wasserman). Another interesting note was Adidas not included in Ionescu’s list. Did Adidas already plan a shoe contract with Sabally to show their #1 preference toward her while other companies went to Ionescu first? While we’re here, I’ll also include the fact that Adidas was founded in Germany where Sabally plays for the German National Team (although Peak Sports is the current outfitter of that team). In the end, I’ll go with my hope and prayer that Adidas adds Sabally to its team of Cambage, Parker, Ogwumikes, McCoughtry, etc.
3. Teaira McCowan – the 1st non-draftee in this list due to the fact that I don’t believe McCowan signed a sneaker deal last year as the #3 pick in the 2019 #WNBADraft! Teaira solely rocked seemingly default, team navy Kobe ADs through the entire season (an odditiy if she were in fact a Nike sponsor). Conspiracy hat on: I don’t think McCowan got lucrative offers for the impact she planned to have in the game/on the court compared to the offers most draftees received (in 2019 draft order, deals were received from Puma, Jordan, McCowan, Puma, Nike, Nike, Nike, Alanna Smith, Nike). With a new coach, full time Catching GM and my personal belief that she becomes the centerpiece of the Indiana Fever, I think McCowan can get a non-Nike deal done. Joining teammate Erica Wheeler with Adidas is my inital prediction. But in fact I think McCowan’s deal could tie together with #4…
4. Lauren Cox/Chennedy Carter – I’m cheating here putting two #WNBADraft picks in one slot but oh well. Both are mocked to round out the Top 4 picks in the 2020 #WNBADraft falling to Indiana and Atlanta or flip flop or add in Dallas somewhere there. Like I mentioned above maybe McCowan joins the #3 pick in a sort of dual sneaker contract. How about the future Towers of Indy, McCowan and Cox both rocking the retro Nikes of GM Tamika Catchings? What about Carter’s electric personality + McCowan’s interior strength rolling in Adidas shoes, the same brand of shoes both wore in their fantastic collegiate careers? I’m predicting having recently signed with Octagon Family, Cox will end up with Nike. Carter on the other hand could tie together with #5…
5. Courtney Williams/Shekinna Stricklen – I could’ve easily just said “Top 7 Sneaker Free Agents” but I didn’t. The two new Dreamies with shiny new #WNBA contracts may also be in line for new shoe endorsements as well. Courtney and dad, the viral stars of the #WNBAFinals could set them up with a shoe deal with personality whether it be Converse or Puma or even a 3rd left field brand casual basketball fans have never heard of. ATL to me has always been associated with Adidas with Angel McCoughtry but with Angel gone to Las Vegas do the three stripes stay to inhabit all 3 of Williams, Stricklen and even potential #4 pick Carter?? I predict Adidas still wants an influence in ATL and sign the trio to retain some influence in the W and prevent a Nike takeover.
Honorable Mentions: My list says five and includes seven people and now I’m just adding more people to the list smh. Don’t allow me to do lists anymore. Some quick hits!
- Like I mentioned with Adidas trying to take over a majority of players from the rosters in Indiana and Atlanta, I could see the same happening with McCoughtry joining Cambage in Las Vegas (watch your back Dearica Hamby of “Hamby Heave” fame) and in Los Angeles (watch your back new signees Brittney Sykes and *checks notes* Seimone Augustus?? Crazier things did just happen).
- We’ve seen previously Skylar Diggins-Smith Puma influence infecting Dallas (is Kayla Thornton confirmed as a Puma athlete?) and I can see it now infecting her new home Phoenix with Bria Hartley, Nia Coffey and the #10 draft pick newly on the squad.
- As a Sky fan one of the fun small subplots to see was Dwyane Wade becoming a bigger fan of the Chicago Sky and its team, attending a game, having the Sky join his Chicago Sports Basketball Camp and inviting Cheyenne Parker, Stefanie Dolson and Diamond DeShields to his #NBAAllStar Spades Tournament in February. Cheyenne Parker ended up wearing Way of Wade 7s throughout the 2nd half of the season (with a fine I believe!). I think it might be due time that Way of Wade x Li-Ning official enter the #WNBA sneaker space and sign Cheyenne Parker (and maybe even free agent Tamera Young)
- We’ve seen from WNBA Legend and SIG Sports agent Ticha Penicheiro mentioning that she doesn’t expect shoe and apparel companies to offer much endorsements so my article could be all for naught, but at the very least I think these 4 lottery picks have a shot as the new generational wave of prominent #WNBAKicks trendsetters.