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Sabrina Ionescu: What Having My Own Signature Shoe Has Meant To Me

Last Updated: December 30, 2023
The Liberty star joined rare company when she launched her signature shoe with Nike earlier this year. In her own words, Ionescu lets us in on how life has been since.

I will never forget this moment. It was the first week of September. I was at the Whole Foods in Williamsburg, per usual, waiting in line to get my morning coffee. 

And that’s when I spotted her. 

She was in line, checking out. A woman just minding her business — but right away, I noticed the black shorts with the swooping ‘x’ design lines on the side. The Swoosh on the left. And the “S” logo — my “S” logo — on the right. 

I didn’t say anything, and I just watched. But I was just in awe that, here was this woman at the grocery store, and she was wearing my signature Nike shorts, the first week that they dropped.

I wanted to know her story. I was wondering, “Who are you?” I almost wanted a picture with her. I just couldn’t stop staring. 

It was the first time I saw someone outside my team or my family repping Sabrina gear. The feeling was just surreal. It made this whole journey toward getting a signature line that people all over could get their hands on feel … real.

Earlier in the summer, in May, I had another surreal moment.

I was walking through the tunnel at Barclays, but clearly, this wasn’t just another game. It was our first Liberty home game of the season, and the first game where I debuted my Sabrina 1 signature shoe. There was just a buzz that’s hard to describe from the moment we first announced my shoe in March and all throughout the summer. 

(Catalina Fragoso / NBAE via Getty Images)

That buzz followed me right into the arena that day. If you look at the pics of me walking in, I was stopping to pose, and it was probably the biggest smile I’ve ever had in the tunnel. Walking in, holding the shoes, I could just sense the excitement from everyone, for me. 

There was just this hype and smile from everyone ’cause we all knew what this moment really meant — not just for myself — but for the sport. 

Getting your own signature shoe in the WNBA is a big deal, and I understood the magnitude of all of this from the start.

I know the numbers — only 11 players in 27 years have come before me. It’s one of the highest honors in our game and something beyond humbling to be a part of.

There will be more women that follow, and there’s going to be more W signature shoes. Soon. 

I really feel like the shoes are creating this space of equality within basketball. As I was lacing up my shoe in the locker room for the first time, I could feel the emotions and the pride all really sink in. 

Once I ran out to the court, I felt like I was flying.

The grey “Ionic” colorway just looked so clean on the dark hardwood at Barclays. I couldn’t stop looking down at my feet during the layup lines.

All the feels hit me at once. From the rebounders to the attendants to the fans on the sideline going crazy, being able to see everyone and share that moment together was just amazing. 

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That day, and every day since, there’s just this feeling of awe, to be honest, of being able to play a game in my own sneaker. I felt rooted in the shoe, knowing what it stood for and the story I wanted to tell.

Trust me: Keeping a signature shoe — one of your biggest dreams — a secret from your family for an entire year was hard. 

Even after the shoe was officially announced, I don’t think my family really knew what a signature shoe was. They probably thought it was just another shoe I got from Nike, like the PEs that I had before with the GT Cuts. 

I remember handing out the shoes to my family for the first time. They had this look on their faces, like, “Wait, this is different.

My name is on the shoe and my name is on the box. Our name is on the shoe and on the box. 

I showed them how the toe texture is inspired by Romanian art patterns. How the bar from the “S” logo on the tongue wraps around the shoe and ends as a dotted “i” on the heel.

How the upward Swoosh on the inside means you can break through any barriers. There are so many details that we poured into these. They could just feel the pride and purpose that went into this whole process.

Being able to tell my parents the names of the other WNBA players who have been signature athletes and how my name is up there now was an amazing moment for our family. We’re talking elite company — the legends of the game. 

My parents go into stores now and take pictures at Dick’s Sporting Goods and Nike and text me the photos right away. For them, I can’t imagine what they’re feeling, just knowing what they came to the United States to try and accomplish as a family here. Being able to see the fruits of their labor come to life, has probably been beyond what they ever dreamed of. 

The Ionescu family celebrates Sabrina’s 3-Point Contest win.

I have two brothers, and I knew how excited they were to wear the shoes. My fiancé Hroniss is a football player, and he’s in his size 15s all the time. He has the entire Raiders team in them, too.

Having that intersection with sports has been super important for me. I wanted to tap into having a shoe that can make everyone feel alive.

It’s been funny these last couple of months ‘cause there is nobody from my family or my fiancé’s family that is not in Sabrina gear or Sabrina shoes … to everything that we go to.

It’s like a 30-person Romanian mob that walks around, all reppin’! 

They weren’t there for the opening of the Nike Soho store takeover in New York, though, and I wasn’t supposed to be either. There was an official appearance scheduled for the following week, but I just couldn’t wait any longer.

I was told they were making the whole first floor of the store “a Sabrina floor,” and I’m telling you, it was unbelievable.

I went the first day.

I tried to go undercover, though, with my hair down, rockin’ a simple fit. Not in basketball shorts, which helps sometimes.

I walked through there, and was recording it all and felt like a kid in a candy store. I was checking out the mannequin hoopers that had all of the Sabrina pieces on. The No. 20 Liberty jerseys were on display, and fans were waiting in line to buy a pair of MY shoes. I just sat back, soaked it all in, and watched how amazing that moment was.

Nike being able to create that atmosphere and that environment for one shoe was something that I’d never seen before. The way they showcased the shoe, had different design sketches, and had the technology within it like the Zoom Air highlighted, was amazing.

Having that whole floor dedicated to me was something that I’ll never forget.

And yup, as you probably guessed, my cover got blown pretty quickly.

I guess that’s what happens when your face was on just about every store sign in there. It didn’t take long for people in the store to be like, “Hey, wait a minute. I’ve seen this face before.”

It didn’t last very long, but I tried my best to be in the moment. And I’m not even kidding, I tried to recreate that feeling as much as I could, going back to the store whenever I was nearby to check it out again. I just couldn’t help it.

Obviously, my first game in the Sabrina 1s was a day I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. But there was another date on the calendar I couldn’t wait for — my kids’ basketball camp back in Eugene.

On the first day of camp, a little boy that I’ve known since he was a baby ran right up to me. His dad works at Oregon’s Academic Center, and he came to all of my games during my four years there.

Here he was, running my way at The SI20 camp in Eugene, screaming out…

“I’m getting your shoes for my new basketball season!” 

The smile and excitement on his face was crazy. Here’s this kid, waiting for his opportunity to get my shoes for his new season. I remember like it was yesterday — that would be me. And now, I’m on the other side, which is an indescribable feeling.

There’s a connection that you have with your shoes as you go through your school season. You’re not changing in and out of shoes like we do as pros; you’re in that shoe for the whole season. You always want to pick right.

There were some young girls at the camp in the t-shirt, the shorts, and the shoes. They were trying to look like me and trying to dress like me, while also representing themselves.

Just having that full-circle moment was everything. These young kids grew up watching me at Oregon, and now I’m able to come back and have them in one of my camps. It just gave me chills.

To see them playing in the shoes that I play in is more important than anything else.

To go from my camp and seeing young boys and girls in the Sabrina 1s, to now watching NBA games every night has been another one of those all-time moments.

I’m not gonna lie – every NBA game that’s on, that’s all I’m watching for. Who’s wearing my shoes? Who’s got ’em on? Every game, I just look for the vertical Swoosh that’s on the inside of the shoe.

It stands out, and so far, I’ve been seeing tons of heat out there. I’ve heard great things from so many people, and knowing that they like them and want to get even more colorways is super cool.

One NBA player who I’ve loved to see wear his own Sabrina 1 PEs is Jrue Holiday. Every time the Celtics play, I’m tuned in and trying to figure out what pair he’s wearing because I like some of his colorways and want some of them in my size, too. I know his wife Lauren’s story and where his heart is at in supporting women’s sports. He was one of the first from the NBA that wanted to wear Sabrina 1s for the entire year.

I’ve also seen a lot of Brooklyn Nets wearing them, like my guy Mikal Bridges. Jalen Brunson from the Knicks and Jordan Clarkson from the Jazz, too. For the whole last month, it’s been nice to see the popularity of the shoe grow organically, where men just want to wear the shoes and are requesting them.

It’s crazy to think about now, but the vision that Nike and I had together has really come to life. The fact that the Sabrina 1 is existent now in the NBA, in college basketball, and in high school is what we were going for all along.

The whole point was to have anyone be able to wear them. On the inside of the shoe, it’s subtle, and it says, ‘Anyone. Anywhere.’

I wanted that from the beginning, before we even started on the design and getting into the technology of the shoe. I remember saying how important it was to me that this shoe would be for any hooper.

I know what some people might think: “It’s just a shoe.”

But really, I think signature shoes like this can help continue to push the game forward, for all.

I’m already seeing what it can mean for the young girl who is growing up and can see that there is representation. They can know their dreams are possible because of that. Being able to show that, and create that dream and desire in everyone who is able to hear my story, has become one of my biggest drivers.

(Evan Yu / NBAE via Getty Images)

We’re continuing to push for equality and trying to bridge the gap. Being able to see how many men are in the shoe and wanting to wear it, it’s going to create this world where young boys don’t really see a difference in a women’s shoe or a men’s shoe.

It’s just basketball. It’s just sports.

Whatever you want to accomplish out there, you can. I hope we can continue to break down those barriers with this shoe and that when people look at what I’m building together with Nike Basketball in the years to come, we can hopefully continue to push the game forward — for anyone, anywhere.

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