Few people have accomplished more in a pair of basketball shoes than Elena Delle Donne. The two-time WNBA MVP will one day be remembered as one of the greatest to ever put them on.
And after her latest adventure, she will also be remembered for the shoes she designed.
This fall, Delle Donne released the Nike Air Deldon. On Friday, her latest colorway, “Together We Fly,” dropped as part of the release. It’s the third of six colorways, each with special meaning to Delle Donne’s life and career.
“I hope people really look at what each colorway means,” says Monique Currie, product line manager for the Nike design team behind former WNBA teammate Air Deldon and Delle Donne. “They’re all unique and they’re really powerful stories.”
The first colorway, the “Lyme,” dropped on October 6, and the “Be True” followed five days later. Each represents Delle Donne in their own unique way, which Currie says was one of his favorite aspects of the process.
“That was probably one of the most exciting parts, I was really trying to work with Elena and come up with stories that could speak through her shoe,” Currie said.
The “Lyme,” which appropriately features lime-green accents throughout, is a nod to Delle Donne’s years-long battle with Lyme disease.
“Elena has been very open in raising awareness of how [Lyme disease] affects her and her game and so many people around the world,” Currie says. “It tells an important story about how people manage their physical health and perform at the top or the highest possible level. So it was really fun to make up this story and [for] let it be the first colorway to release, because it’s such a big part of who Elena is.
Delle Donne’s coming-out story was the inspiration behind ‘Be True’, which celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community with a color gradient design and rainbow speckles on the laces.
“When I was younger, I felt like something was wrong with me because I was different,” Delle Donne says. “So I feel like this shoe can inspire every person, regardless of your story.”
While the first two colorways tell parts of Delle Donne’s own story, the next one is dedicated to one of his closest relatives. Delle Donne has a special relationship with her older sister, Lizzie, who has cerebral palsy and autism and is deaf and blind. After committing to UConn after high school, Delle Donne transferred to the University of Delaware before her freshman season so she could be closer to Lizzie.
“The ‘Together We Fly’ colorway is very much the story of my sister with special needs who never had a shoe for her,” says Delle Donne. “She had several disabilities, [she’s] if a lot of doctors said she would never walk, she would never do this. But because she had the support of my family and a team around her, she was able to fly.
The colorway pays homage to Lizzie with purple accents on the tongue and heel.
“The color purple has always been a color that looks really cute on my sister,” Delle Donne says. “We all have our colors – I think Lizzie looks great in everything, but purple and pink are her colors.”
For Lizzie, the process of putting on a standard basketball shoe was never easy. The Air Deldon also comes with Nike’s FlyEase technology, which uses a collapsible heel and fold-over tongue for easy, hands-free entry.
“We wanted to make sure they were accessible to all athletes, regardless of your mobility or physical stature or something like that,” Currie says.
Delle Donne, Currie and the Nike design team began work on the shoe in 2019, Currie’s first year with the company. They spent the next two years making sure every detail of the shoe was true to Delle Donne, from colorways and stories to performance and physical features.
“We really thought about how Elena plays, what areas she likes to hit, what’s important in her movements,” Currie said. “We’ve tried to include technology that really helps make those movements in those places as easy as possible for her.”
“I wanted it to be where once it’s on, I really don’t feel it or think about it,” adds Delle Donne. “It’s just kind of a part of me.”
There’s also the styling component, which Delle Donne says was as important to her as performance.
“I needed it to work with me so I could do my job and play basketball, but I also wanted it to be a shoe that you don’t just wear on the court – you want to wear it and make a statement of fashion with her,” says Delle Donne. “I wanted it to be one of those shoes that, you walk down a red carpet, you want to wear the Deldons.”
Style and performance, says Delle Donne, are key factors in selling the shoe, and those sales will be key to creating more opportunities for more women in the future.
“I know the importance of this moment, and for what it needs to do and how it needs to sell for it to be a catalyst for other women to get their own shoes,” says Delle Donne.
Delle Donne credits this as one of the many reasons why having Currie, her former Washington Mystics teammate, on board the design process meant so much to her. Both remember buying basketball shoes as kids and often not feeling represented in the options available to them.
“I remember there weren’t many women’s shoes I could buy, and the one time there was a Sheryl Swoopes shoe on the shelf, I was thrilled,” Delle Donne says. “I didn’t even care how this thing was going. It was like, ‘If Sheryl has it and it’s her shoe, I get it.'”
Currie thinks Delle Donne can be to young hoops what Swoopes was to a young Delle Donne.
“So many young girls love Elena, and it’s like having a little piece of her,” Currie says. “Girls need people who look like them, to have role models, to see themselves in them and to know, ‘Hey one day, I can have a shoe with my name on it.'”
Ultimately, Delle Donne hopes its shoe will be the most inclusive on the market. No matter your abilities, gender, sexuality or whatever else is part of your story, says Delle Donne, this shoe is for you.
“If this shoe is dope and I want it, it shouldn’t have a tag,” Delle Donne says. “This shoe is for everyone.”
Calvin Wetzel is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports, covering basketball and betting. He also contributes to Her Hoop Stats, CBS SportsLine and FiveThirtyEight. Follow him on Twitter at @cwetzel31.