Nike recently debuted a unisex basketball shoe for star Sabrina Ionescu, who is playing in the league’s championship. Some say shoes not made specifically for women are linked to higher injury rates.
(Bloomberg) — The Las Vegas Aces beat the New York Liberty in game two of the WNBA Finals Wednesday night to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. While the Liberty have yet to put up much of a fight, the heavyweight matchup is a dream scenario for the league, pitting a potential dynasty against a superteam playing in the country’s biggest market. The Aces won last year’s title and had the league’s best record. The Liberty added three stars to their roster this past offseason and finished second. Game one drew 729,000 viewers, the most for a WNBA game in more than two decades.
The Finals, which move to Brooklyn on Sunday, are also a showcase for Nike, which recently added Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, a Steph Curry-esque sharpshooter, to the short list of WNBA athletes with a signature shoe. The Sabrina 1 went on sale in September with a major push from the brand, including national TV ads and prominent displays at Dick’s Sporting Goods and Foot Locker. Nike took a unisex approach with the shoe, marketing it as “built to serve all hoopers” and pairing it with a line of gender-neutral lifestyle wear.
It’s a controversial move in a time of a growing consensus that women’s athletic shoes need to be designed to fit women’s feet, which are generally shaped differently than men’s. Injury rates, especially for knees, are higher among female athletes than men and some have suggested that poorly fit shoes could be part of the problem. “Women are several times more likely to have a knee injury than male athletes,” says Matt Powell, a senior adviser at consulting firm Spurwink River, “and the vast majority of shoes that are sold as women’s performance shoes are made for a man’s foot.” In a recent LinkedIn post, Powell called the Sabrina 1 a “big step backwards” for the industry.
In an emailed statement from an unnamed spokesperson, Nike said that its design team “leveraged women’s-specific research — and insights from Sabrina herself—to hone in on the anatomical needs of women including ankle support, midfoot fit, underfoot cushioning and shoe weight.” The company said it also tested the Sabrina 1 with male athletes.
On the plus side, by aiming for the broadest possible market, Nike is acknowledging that female athletes can be heroes for men — and helping to push women’s sports further into mainstream culture. On the day the Sabrina 1 went on sale, a handful of young men were in the women’s section at the Nike flagship store in midtown Manhattan, where the shoes were displayed, asking to try them on.
“I’ve been looking for a few months leading up to the drop, and I’ve been liking the pictures and colorways,” said Akeem Thomas, a 29-year-old Brooklynite who was looking for a pair in men’s size 12. “To be honest, I don’t follow the WNBA closely.”
Thomas, like many others in his shoe size, couldn’t find a pair that day. On the online resale market StockX, larger sizes of the Sabrina 1 were going for double their retail price of $130 — a sign that demand among men was exceeding supply. Thomas bought a pair a couple weeks later when resale prices came down to within $30 of retail. “Figured that was about as good as it would get,” he wrote in a text.
“We are excited about how the shoe is being received in the U.S. and internationally with both female and male consumers,” Nike said in its email.
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