Boardroom explores the story behind the hoop legend’s unique, enduring deal with Adidas and the birth of her iconic “ACE” branding.
An inevitable No. 1 pick in the 2008 Draft after her touted time at the Three Stripes-sponsored University of Tennessee, Parker checked the boxes across the corporate landscape, welcoming brands from all corners of the industry to line up to offer her endorsement deals.
For their grand sneaker deal presentation that spring, Adidas was prepared to offer Parker her own signature shoe, a rare distinction over the course of the WNBA’s first 25-year chapter. Just before, the company tapped UNDR CRWN founder and longtime revered graphic designer Dustin O. Canalin to work up potential logo options as a consulting designer.
“They came to me to create an identity for her shoe,” said Canalin. “They planned on revealing it at her pitch meeting.”
On the NBA side, ironically, Adidas was actually moving away from creating signature shoes at the time, folding the fledgling lines of Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Chauncey Billups all at once for the upcoming season and instead lacing them in the same “Team Signature” statement shoe. (Gilbert Arenas also hated the concept, and was able to continue wearing his next “Gil Zero” signature model after putting up a fight.)
While Parker’s true signature shoe wouldn’t launch until her third season due to an 18-month design process, the brand still wanted her to start out in custom pairs with her own logo.
“Candace was a phenomenon and they intended to create something exclusive with her name on it,” continued Canalin. “Candace’s only notes were that she wanted the logo to include ‘Ace’ and her No. 3.”
Around the same time, her eventual fellow 2008 Olympian representing Team USA in Beijing on the men’s side, Chris Paul, was on the rise and increasingly making a name for himself as “CP3.” Parker didn’t want there to be any confusion between the two, so she opted for “ACE” instead, joking that people often misspelled the end of her first name at the time anyways.
Nearly 15 years later, Parker is still proud of the added meaning that the logo has taken on.
“In terms of the ‘ACE’ logo and what it represents – it’s not a king, it’s not a queen, and there’s no gender with an Ace. It’s about the person and the human being,” she said. “We didn’t make it for girls or boys, men or women; we made it for humans.”
While Nike dominated the footwear worn across the W as she was making her decision ahead of her rookie season – Parker was the only non-Nike player on the 2008 Olympic roster – eventually getting her own sneaker helped seal the deal with the Three Stripes.
“My goal was to have a signature shoe,” she said. “Adidas made that promise and Adidas followed through.”
“I remember being at the prep meeting with Adidas execs and drawing my initial concepts on a notepad from the hotel,” said Canalin. “I felt the logo needed to be smooth like her game, and aesthetically, I wanted it to appear like a single brush stroke. The idea was to make it look as close as possible to her handwriting, as if she’d signed her name in calligraphy.”
On April 9, 2008, Parker was selected No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Sparks; a hand-drawn draft of Canalin’s logo sketch is dated April 20. The WNBA season kicked off on May 17, and Parker laced up a player exclusive edition of the Pilrahna 2 in Sparks colors throughout the summer, each featuring the “ACE” logo along the collar.
She went on to win Rookie of the Year and league MVP, a first in WNBA history.
During the summer of 2010, she debuted her Ace Commander signature shoe, and later followed that up with the Ace Versatility signature model, which incorporated stitch lines along the leather upper based on the waviness of the “ACE” logo.
And while her signature shoe series may have ended a decade ago, Parker continued to don the logo atop a variety of statement sneakers from the brand, like the Crazy Light and Crazy Explosive models that defined the 2010s for Adidas Basketball.
In recent years, Adidas has once again returned to the “ACE” logo for retail releases headlined by Parker. Last year — one in which she won her second WNBA title — a full collection of apparel and three colorways of the Exhibit A team shoe all launched with special “ACE” branding. This weekend, Parker is set to reveal her follow-up collection of co-designed footwear and apparel during WNBA All-Star Weekend in her hometown of Chicago.
For Canalin, who had since gone on to lead the Nike uniform design team that overhauled the look of the NBA in 2017 and now helms his own brand again – Trophy Hunting, a Stephen Curry favorite – seeing the “ACE” logo still pop up on product at the highest level has only added to the excitement he had when he first worked up the design.
Last fall, Parker rocked her Exhibit A PEs throughout the Chicago Sky’s title run. This year, there’s every intention of doing it all again — her team enters All-Star Weekend in their home base with the single best record in the league.
“It’s always been my goal to design things that are timeless. It’s amazing that Candace has maintained her greatness throughout her entire career and has become even more relevant today,” he said. “I’m proud to have played a part in creating something that represents her and will be worn by athletes around the world – even after Candace decides she’s done playing.”