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UConn x Shoe Brands: A collab you may not have expected

The Huskies’ hardwood stars have landed major shoe deals.

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Ray Allen looks to crossover Daniel Hamilton.
Ray Allen looks to crossover Daniel Hamilton at the Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic Charity All-Star Game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. Allen was one of the first Jordan Brand athletes signed to the Nike subsidiary. (Ian Bethune - The UConn Blog)
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn is deeply entrenched in the history of basketball shoes. There were a number of Huskies to be the first to do something in the shoe world, or the first to do something in a long time, at the very least.

This is UConn’s history in shoes.

Jordan Brand

Players: Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Maya Moore, Andre Drummond, Kemba Walker (2015-now) and Kia Nurse (2019-now)

During an episode of “The Last Dance,” ESPN aired a clip of Michael Jordan saying “UConn has a great women’s team.” UConn and Jordan’s connection does not stop there, as Jordan’s shoe brand – Nike’s shoe superpower – has signed a bundle of Huskies in the past.

Jordan Brand and UConn have been intertwined since the beginning of the shoe brand’s expansion into sponsorship of athletes not named Michael Jordan. In 1996, Ray Allen, the No. 5 pick in the NBA Draft, signed on with Jordan Brand to be one of the first company sponsored athletes. In a draft full of future Hall of Famers – Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash – Jordan handpicked Allen to be among the first to wear a non-Air Jordan signature shoe line shoe made by the company.

After the rest of the Jordan Brand’s starting five – Allen, Derek Anderson, Vin Baker, Michael Finley and Eddie Jones – was set in stone, Jordan Brand was born in 1997, with the Jumpman Pro Quicks and the Jumpman Pro Strongs released at launch.

Then a handful of years later, when Jordan was on the Washington Wizards in the twilight of his career, he was teammates with a young man out of UConn named Richard Hamilton. Back in 2016, Hamilton was on ESPN’s The Jump and revealed that during his first couple of years in the league, he and a group of young players asked Jordan to add them to Jordan Brand. Jordan’s response, “hey, Rip, my sneakers are for All-Stars.”

Hamilton would later secure his first All-Star appearance in 2006-07, his first of three straight, so he went up to Jordan and asked again. Jordan Brand added him to their roster. Back in April, the brand came out with a 20-year anniversary edition of the Jordan 14 PE’s for Hamilton commemorating UConn’s 1999 win over Duke in the NCAA Tournament.

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#holdat

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Maya Moore has forever been a trailblazer. When it comes to her shoe game, things were no different. Moore became the first WNBA player to get signed by Jordan Brand in 2011, and got her own custom shoe in 2015. Jordan came out with her own colorway of the Air Jordan 1 Retro High and Air Jordan 10 Retro. Both of her shoes are adorned with 3:23 on the pull tab, a nod to her favorite bible verse, Colossians 3:23.

Moore is a part of an incredibly small group of women’s basketball players to ever get their colorway or signature shoe, including Elena Delle Donne most recently and Sheryl Swoops in the late-1990s.

I will say the fact that so few WNBA players have gotten their own shoe is incredibly disappointing and I hope it changes the second we get basketball back. In order for women’s sports to grow, they need their fair shake. As the movie “Field of Dreams” once said, “build it and they will come.” Make the shoe, give them a shot and you’ll be surprised, shoe companies. Okay I’ll get off my soap box.

Kemba Walker signed with Under Armour out of the draft in 2011, after leading the Huskies to a NCAA Tournament win. He switched brands to Jordan in 2015 since he played under Jordan when he was with the Charlotte Hornets, where Jordan is the team’s owner. His time with Jordan may have even contributed to his free agent signing with the Boston Celtics last offseason, after he spent time with Jayson Tatum at a Jordan event in Paris last summer.

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Pushing the game to new heights in Paris.

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Walker does not have a signature shoe, but he’s been rocking the Air Jordan 34’s quite a bit since they came out last September.

Kia Nurse also signed with Jordan in 2019 after spending the bulk of her career with Nike. Andre Drummond has been with the brand since he signed with them in 2014.

Nike

Players: Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, Gabby Williams, Rudy Gay (pre-2018) and Kia Nurse (pre-2019)

Despite UConn’s rich history with Nike subsidiary Jordan Brand, they have had even more players sign with the main company.

Both of UConn’s early Nike signings, Caron Butler and Ben Gordon, had player editions of the Air Huarache Zoom 2k5’s. Another notable player to get a version of the shoe was the late Kobe Bryant, who had direct ties to the university in the years before his death earlier this year.

Butler later got his own pair of Air Force 25’s in 2007 as well.

Gordon got signed by Nike out of the 2004 NBA draft where he went No. 3 overall to the Chicago Bulls. He broke in with a bunch of player exclusive shoes, including a rare Hyper Cobalt version of the popular Nike Air Foamposite Pro’s, which were released to the public for the first time in 2016.

Diana Taurasi, the GOAT herself, is one of the few women’s basketball players to have her own shoe. In 2006 she was given the Nike Shox DT, but they didn’t last long as she played them in for just one season. Since then she has rocked Lebrons on the court. She is the last WNBA player to get a Nike signature shoe.

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fly

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As longtime fan of Lebron James’ shoe line with Nike, she was given a player exclusive of his LEBRON XVI PE in July 2019. She debuted the shoe in a game against the Connecticut Sun last year.

Sue Bird has never gotten her own shoe, but she is a storied fan of Lebron’s former teammate Kyrie Irving’s shoes and his game. So much so that she got her own colorway of the Kyrie 5s last year.

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11•2•19 #KeepSueFresh #FirstGameBack

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Breanna Stewart signed with Phil Knight’s corporate creation in 2016 after getting drafted No. 1 overall in the WNBA draft. The four-time NCAA champ got a player exclusive of the KD8’s out of college. She wore the shoe’s Elite edition in her last year at UConn.

Draymond Green also posted a video of Kevin Durant on his Instagram story in 2018 saying KD had the “Breanna 11’s” on.

Stewart, Taurasi and Bird are all a part of Nike’s new Swoosh Fly line of women’s basketball specific clothing that’s dropping on July 10. However, it does not appear that will include shoes.

Again, someone please give WNBA players signature shoes.

Puma

Players: Rudy Gay (since 2018), Katie Lou Samuelson

Both Katie Lou Samuelson and Rudy Gay have been a part of the Puma’s re-entrance into the basketball landscape. The brand has signed a ton of young stars in both the NBA and WNBA in recent years, picking up Deandre Ayton and R.J. Barrett on the men’s side and Samuelson and Jackie Young on the women’s, among others.

Samuelson said a part of her decision to join the brand was centered around their focus on growing the game, specifically on the women’s side, according to ESPN.

Gay, who is a noted fan of fashion, jumped ship from Nike in 2018 to join the re-start at Puma. He told Hypebeast.com in March that he joined the company because of the opportunity to help build and have his voice heard there.

Adidas

Players: Morgan Tuck, Moriah Jefferson

Of the brands on this list, UConn has the least in common with the German brand that makes James Harden’s shoes, Adidas. They do have Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson, who signed alongside three other WNBA athletes in 2017, though.

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#threestripelife #adidas #adidaswomen #wnba

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Neither Tuck nor Jefferson have been given a custom colorway or player exclusive yet in their time with the brand.

Under Armour

Players Kemba Walker (2011-2015)

Another piece of shoe history incoming. Kemba Walker was just the third NBA player to sign with Under Armour back in 2011. At the time, he was joining an Under Armour team filled with stars like then-New England quarterback Tom Brady and new-New England Quarterback Cam Newton. They also had Jose Reyes, for my New York Mets fans out there.

He of course jumped over to the Jumpman in 2015, but he was with the brand famous for producing Steph Curry’s shoes before Curry got there.