Reigning WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart has signed a multiyear shoe deal with Puma that guarantees the Seattle Storm star the creation and release of her own signature sneaker.
"Anytime you hear signature, I think that's jaw-dropping, eye-opening, especially on the women's side," Stewart told ESPN. "There haven't been many. ... For Puma to be able to put the signature element out there, [and] respect me enough where they think that I deserve a signature shoe, is something that's super exciting."
While 18 NBA players have their own signature shoe this season, only nine WNBA players in the league's 25-year history have had their own signature shoe. Early on, the list included pioneering league icons such as Sheryl Swoopes, Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie and Cynthia Cooper with Nike, Rebecca Lobo with Reebok and Nikki McCray with Fila.
The game's most exciting up-and-comers soon followed at the turn of the 2000s, including Nike signature shoes for both Chamique Holdsclaw and Diana Taurasi. But a decade has passed since the last woman, Candace Parker, laced up her namesake Adidas sneaker.
Puma said it is just beginning to create Stewart's signature shoe, a process that typically entails a 12- to 18-month design and development timeline.
"Obviously, I was honored that they would offer that, and now I'm just excited for what's to come," Stewart added. "Hopefully, we can make a really dope shoe that a lot of people will like -- male, female, young, old, basketball, non-basketball type of thing."
Puma hopes its endorsement contract with Stewart sets the bar for modern brand deals for women. Landing a player of Stewart's caliber and accolade-laden résumé while she is still just 26 helps to further establish the Puma Hoops category that relaunched in 2018, after nearly two decades away from the sport.
After sweeping the 2018 WNBA MVP and Finals MVP awards, Stewart missed the 2019 WNBA season with a ruptured Achilles. Her bounce-back season last summer reestablished her dominance, as she led Seattle to its second title in three seasons and dropped 28.3 PPG and 7.7 RPG during the Storm's 2020 WNBA Finals sweep. She later went on to win both EuroLeague Final Four MVP and Russian Premier League MVP during her overseas season with UMMC Ekaterinburg.
"Best women's basketball player in the world," a Puma brand exec said.
While the "Stewie 1s" -- official name still TBD -- might not release for at least another WNBA season, Stewart is already mulling ideas and early concepts.
"[It is] definitely going to be a low top," she outlined. "Going to have cushion for the Achilles, and all the people in the Achilles family. Then, I was thinking, 'Oh, maybe I can make it eco-friendly.' ... It's going to be exciting. I think that cool colorways are definitely going to come. Something where you can rock it on and off the court."
Stewart has worn Nike throughout her career, including at UConn and during her professional career in the WNBA and overseas. The official WNBA uniform outfitter since 2017, Nike Inc. footwear is also worn by around 80% of the league. Prior to signing Stewart, Puma's WNBA roster of athletes included just Skylar Diggins-Smith, Jackie Young and Katie Lou Samuelson.
"They had the utmost respect for me. If you could roll out a red carpet on a Zoom, I felt like they did that," Stewart said of Puma's detailed virtual pitch meeting. "Making me feel really, really comfortable, and realizing that they want to take the next step. They know where they are as a brand, and how they can continue to be better.
"Having me on their team was a big priority for them, and for me to be a part of the family, I'm just really excited. I'm excited to get the respect that women's basketball deserves and bring that to a whole other level and ballgame."
The WNBA's 25th anniversary season tips off Friday, and when the Storm open their season against the Las Vegas Aces in a WNBA Finals rematch on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ABC), Stewart will wear either the RS Dreamer or the Court Rider, two of Puma's newest statement-level team shoes.
The Dreamer, released last summer and designed in collaboration with rapper J. Cole, was inspired by his dream of playing professional basketball. This week, he is in Rwanda, where he is expected to play in the inaugural Basketball Africa League.
"The J. Cole album is coming out, so maybe I'll have to wear the Dreamers for opening day," Stewart teased of the rapper syncing his May 14 launch date for "The Off-Season."
In addition to the current colorways of the Dreamer, Stewart will also look to continue wearing custom sneakers this season. Last year, the trend took off in the WNBA, as players made their shoes a canvas to display social justice messages and highlight causes.
"The customs are kind of a way to evolve the game, as far as what we wear on the court," Stewart said. "The thing that's really the main focus this summer is getting awareness out there as far as the COVID vaccine and making sure that people are represented equally in the health care system. Just fighting for equality, continuing to support the message that Black Lives Matter, continuing to honor Breonna Taylor and all the other lives that have been lost to police brutality."
Over the next year behind the scenes, Stewart will go from creating custom concepts of Puma team shoes to helping design her own true signature shoe from the ground up. Perhaps the industry will follow, with even more WNBA signature shoes to come.
"It's crazy that it's been a decade, but hopefully I can make up for lost time," Stewart said. "I hope it becomes a little bit of a competitive thing and then turns into a domino effect."