Dominance at the Olympics has become tradition for the women's USA Basketball team over the past two decades, with every team assembled since the 1996 Games in Atlanta taking home the gold. At the 2016 Games in Rio, the women's team will look to extend that run with a sixth-consecutive finish at the top of the field. Nike celebrates the history of the women's USA Basketball program on the global stage with this, a patriotic Hyperdunk 2016 Low that draws a line from the 1996 squad to this year's.
The shoe takes its colorway beyond the requisite red, white, and blue to tell the story of Olympic glory. The backs of the tongues feature star icons, which reference the 1996 team's uniforms, reading "96" and "16." Decorating the top of the tongue and the heel is a star graphic designed by artist Allison Torneros (who has worked with Nike before on the Kobe line) that again nods to the '96 uniforms.
It's not hard to see the shoe as emblematic of a future where Nike creates more sneakers catering specifically to women. It's a women's shoe with a graphic designed by a woman artist that talks about women's dominance in sport. Even the 1996 reference has a double meaning, pointing to both the Olympic team that year and the inaugural year of the WNBA. Nike execs spoke to a goal to better serve women at their 2015 investor day meeting, pledging to nearly double the brand's women's business from $5.7 billion in 2015 to over $11 billion in 2020.
One of the women involved in this push is Cecily O'Rielly, a global product line manager at Nike who had a hand in bringing the women's Olympic Hyperdunks shown to the market. O'Rielly has a personal connection to the '96 women's USA Basketball team, having been inspired by seeing them play in-person at a young age.
"When I saw the team play I was like, 'Oh my gosh, women can do this too. I want Sheryl Swoopes' shoe.' She was like my Jordan after I saw them play," O'Rielly told Sole Collector. "I was just mesmerized that they were so amazing and so dominant. I had their poster up in my room, I waited for autographs."
Similarly, the '96 team serves as an inspiration for the women representing USA Basketball this year in Rio. In the below clip from Nike Basketball, that team is reunited to talk about their legacy while current team members reflect on the accomplishments of the '96 squad.
Nike made sure the '96 team was aware of the Hyperdunk honoring their Olympic achievements, sending the sneakers to every woman who played on the team in addition to outfitting this year's team with the shoes.
It's clear that Nike is dedicated to making its footprint in women's basketball bigger beyond any plans around Olympic activations this summer. O'Rielly confirms this, saying, "It's definitely something Nike is committed to as a whole, telling women's stories." They'll have much more of a platform to leverage their visibility in the category soon enough too, with the brand set to take over the WNBA apparel contract in 2017.
It's also clear that the brand is focused on involving women in every step of this process, bringing more balance to the male-dominated realm of sportswear. "It makes it more authentic because I have a personal experience with it," O'Rielly explains. "Obviously with Allison she wants to continue to show her creative side, but also show the side of, 'Hey, we're not just on the sidelines. We're here to play.'"
The women's USA Basketball team will show up to play in these sneakers, with their first game in Rio tipping off on Sunday, Aug. 7, at 11 a.m. EST. After that, Nike will make this Hyperdunk Low ($130) available to the public with a limited release on Aug. 20.