Elena Delle Donne’s ‘shoe for everybody’, celebrates LGBTQIA+ community

By Tyler Byrum

Every hooper has nearly the same identical memory implanted in their brain. The day in their youth when they opened up a box of a basketball player’s signature shoes and ran out into the backyard or local court to take them for a spin.

That memory is no different for two-time WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne.

For her, the monumental shoe that she put on was from the OG of the women’s signature shoe game, Sheryl Swoopes. The Texas Tech guard became the first women’s basketball player to have her own line even before the WNBA tipped off as a league. Delle Donne put on those shoes, ran into the backyard and started running Swoopes’ plays to break them in. It made her fall in love with the sport and gave her the imagination to aspire for greatness.

“Putting on someone else’s shoe almost like- it made me feel like I was that player,” Delle Donne told NBC Sports Washington. “I don’t know, it just kind of does something to your imagination and puts you into that player’s mind frame. Obviously, it’s you but it gives you that moment to dream of something big.”

Flash forward nearly two decades and Delle Donne is now the one with her own signature shoe. Called the ‘ Nike Air Deldon,’ which was released to the public in late 2022, the shoes are meant to put that inspiration into anyone that wears them and there’s a special version to inspire those in the LGBTQIA+ community.

The Air Deldons are not only a reflection of everything she has accomplished on the court but an encapsulation of who Delle Donne is as a person. She has six different ‘colorways’ as a part of the collection, featuring ‘Lyme,’ ‘Together We Fly,’ ‘Deldon Designs,’ ‘Legacy,’ and ‘Hoodie.’

The sixth is her ‘Be True’ shoe, which celebrates her sexuality and the LGBTQIA+ community.

Getting her own shoe was a long process – and one that was made easier than most others due to her being a Nike athlete. Delle Donne said that Nike had their own hesitancies for why they didn’t want to do one right away. A timeline of signature sneakers in the WNBA shows a near-decade-long break in women’s signature shoes from Candace Parker’s second in 2012 with Adidas and Breanna Stewart’s Puma shoe in 2021.

Throughout her partnership with Nike, Delle Donne kept pushing them to work out a signature shoe. She was a part of the Player Edition line that was unique to her in 2016 but it wasn’t her own. Her persistence led her to work it into her latest contract where she had it in writing that both parties would make their “best efforts” to do one.

And when Nike unveiled their FlyEase shoes, Delle Donne saw the opportunity and vision coming together.

“I wanted it to be the most universal shoe for everybody. I wanted it to be for people of all abilities, all ages, all genders, all races, whatever you are, I wanted you to put this shoe on and feel like it was made for you,” Delle Donne said. “So that was my biggest goal. It was a shoe for all. I never loved, especially growing up too, that there’s men’s and women’s shoes, why not just shoes for everyone? So that was a big key for me and obviously, the accessibility part where my sister never had great shoes growing up.”

The FlyEase shoes have a collapsible heel that opens wide for easy entry. Instead of tying the shoe, it comes with a velcro strap to secure the laces. They are shoes that Delle Donne’s sister, Lizzie, who has cerebral palsy and autism, can wear comfortably.

Of the Air Deldons, the ‘Be True’ shoes were an instant hit. Nike couldn’t keep them on the shelves. They would sellout, re-order, repeat.

Some of the success likely came as a result of changes to the design that Delle Donne made herself. She sent them back with the rainbow gradient colors brighter and more vibrant. She added the ‘Be True’ phrase to the inside sole of the shoe and on the velcro strap – a campaign coined by Nike a few years back to celebrate Pride month. There’s also orange and blue on the bottom of the shoe which is her and her wife Amanda’s favorite colors.

She also featured the gray tones throughout to represent the moments where she was “closeted” and not able to be herself, which she described as “some dark, cloudy, tough moments.”

“It means so much to me,” Delle Donne said. “It’s a shoe that celebrates everyone. It’s a shoe that if you’re wearing it, it doesn’t just mean you’re gay or whatever, it means you’re an ally, it means you love people. You want people to be their truest self. So that’s what I love about the shoe and I feel like hopefully when people wear it, they feel that.”

But the Air Deldons aren’t just shoes that paved the way for the LGBTQIA+ community, nor shoes that are universally wearable for everyone, nor shoes meant for those battling Lyme disease. They represent so much of Delle Donne’s identity and the elements of her life that make her unique. Each colorway has an impact for those who wear them and just add to Elena Delle Donne’s legacy as a basketball player.

“I think for me, obviously I’ve gone through a lot in this sport. There was a moment where I lost the passion for it and quit and gave it up. And I realized in all of it like if there’s passion behind it and there’s that story and that grit and ups and downs, it’ll be successful and that’s been my life on the basketball court and I felt like in my shoes, if I could have passion and storytelling through each colorway, that the shoes would end up being successful as well,” Delle Donne said.

On Friday the Mystics will celebrate their annual Pride Night when they play the Phoenix Mercury at 8 p.m. ET.