Candace Parker didn’t choose the three-striped life of Adidas. It chose her and drew her in.
Adidas has been part of Candace Parker’s basketball life way before both the 2016 title and WNBA Finals MVP she won with the Los Angeles Sparks. Way before the league MVPs in 2008-her rookie season nonetheless and 2013 respectfully. Before all of the accolades that made her one of the most decorated players in the 25-year history of the WNBA.
As a standout at Naperville Central high school, she wore Adidas. The sports company sponsored her team. Adidas has also been a long time sponsor with the Tennessee Lady Vols.
Before the ink dried on Candace’s rookie contract with the Sparks, Candace signed a multi-year deal with Adidas. Thirteen years later, Candace is still living that three-striped life. The history that they share can not be ignored.
“I’ve been actually unofficially with Adidas since 2003, which is when my high school team got sponsored by Adidas. I don’t know whether it was fate. But I went to an Adidas college at Tennessee. And then when I came out of college , it was just natural to sign with Adidas just because I’d been with them.” Candace shared with ESPN’s the Undefeated, “It had become more like a family. I knew everybody within the company. They wanted to grow with me and have that type of partnership.”
So far, the partnership between Candace and Adidas is one that’s been predicated on progression and evolution. What really stood out to Candace was how Adidas managed to change the aesthetics of their shoes.
“Just me falling in love with the design. Obviously, it’s great to see the product go into a more functional direction. Kobe’s were a little clunky playing in them,” Candace recalled.
“They look fly now wearing them. But on the court, they were a little heavy. So now, to see the Crazy Light shoes they blew my mind. For somebody that’s kinda versatile like myself, who plays all positions. I couldn’t just wear a big man’s shoe. I needed a shoe that served all purposes.”
Candace got her shoe. Her shoes are versatile and solid in style. But it was a process. Not only in developing her shoe, but also in marketing it. The process in progression does not only drive Candace’s partnership with Adidas, but also it drives relationships with other WNBA players and their shoe partnerships. Candace’s experience and journey is one that’s relatable and resonates with many in the WNBA.
When Candace signed with Adidas in 2008, she, just like many WNBA athletes wore men’s basketball shoes for a while, before getting her first player editions (PEs). While having a PE for a few years now (she released her third PEs in 2018), it took her longer to embrace input in the creative process.
“I used to not really care,” Candace said to Uproxx in 2018 about the creative process, “They used to send me gear and I’d wear it and not really know what was going on. I think for them to be able to take the things that are important to me and represent them in a shoe. In a women’s shoe at that. I’ve been with Adidas for 11 years. It’s just fitting to be with Adidas because they really care about me as an athletes and what I care about and to see that on a shoe is really special to me.”
The most creative and captivating element of designing a shoe is telling a story. Stories on shoes are told in various ways. It could be what’s embedded or written on them. It could be the colors or the unique variations in form. As a professional basketball player, you share your story on sneakers, and if the consumer loves your story, they buy that certain chapter of the story. In short, players use their shoes to give a glimpse of insight to who they are on and off the court.
In 2018, Candace used the opportunity to tell the sneaker aficionado and basketball fan how much her days at the University of Tennessee – playing for and learning from the legendary coach Pat Summitt impacted her life.
Candace Parker’s third PE, the Candace Parker Pro Bounce PE paid tribute to Pat Summitt, who passed away in 2016. The shoe featured an orange and white color way as an ode to the Lady Vol’s colors. The outsole featured Candace’s favorite Summitt quote: “Left foot, right foot, breathe.” At the time, Candace applauded the brand for letting her create a shoe and color way that was so personal to her.
“Everybody loves a story, and to be able to kind of wear your story on your foot and look down and have inspiration, that’s a lot and that’s what this shoe is.” she said.
In 2020, before the Covid pandemic forced sports to postpone, Candace, Adidas Hoops, and Marvel collaborated on a shoe that coincided with the release of Avengers:Endgame. When promotion was hot for the film, and it was known that Brie Larson’s role as Captain Marvel would be the focal point of the film, Adidas wasted no time on capitalizing .
Candace, with all that she has accomplished to that point, just seemed to be a natural fit to create such a color way and story.
The Captain Marvel x Adidas pro vision “ACE”, had all of the elements of a great shoe. It had a popular silhouette that’s versatile to wear on the court or on the street. And had a mid-foot cage that looks the foot in to make sharp cuts. Not to mention a red, yellow, and blue color way that accentuates the superhero vibe of the shoe.
After Candace announced and unboxed the shoe on her Instagram account, Utah Jazz guard and Adidas teammate Donovan Mitchell wore the shoe during warmups against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Adidas included the shoe for its “Heroes Among Us” Campaign. Joining Candace’s Captain Marvel design, Adidas also released an Iron man colorway for James Harden for the Harden vol.3, a Black Panther colorway for Damian Lillard’s Dame 5, and a Captain America color way for the Adidas N3XT L3VEL design.
In the game of basketball, it’s pretty impossible to escape the clutches of Nike. Most players regardless of level, rock them on the court and off of it. They are also the official outfitters of both the NBA and WNBA. If that isn’t enough, Nike also sponsors an array of tournaments and camps, such as the Game Growers. Because of the swoosh’s universally accepted impact on the game, a player going against that sticks out as an anomaly.
Candace was left off Team USA for the 2016 Olympics, despite being fully healthy and putting up impressive numbers with the Sparks. Going in to the Olympic games, Candace had been averaging 19.4 points and a career high of 6.3 assists and 10.1 rebounds per game. Those stats would be tough to refuse – until they were.
2016 was sort of a redemption year for Candace. Which she expressed in the shoes she wore in that season. While Candace was left off off the 1st and 2nd All-WNBA teams, she ended the regular season the only player in the league to finish in the top 10 in points, rebounds, and assists. Most importantly, Candace also ended the season as a WNBA Champion.
In game five of the WNBA Finals, Candace’s 28 points and 12 rebounds helped secure the Sparks’ third title in franchise history. And she also walked away with the Finals MVP.
She did all of this wearing Crazy explosives. For the playoffs, she wore an orange color way to honor Pat Summitt. To commemorate Candace’s accomplishments, Adidas released the Crazy Explosives in the black, purple and gold color way of the Sparks for the Finals. Featuring a prime knit upper and full-length boost cushioning, the pairs were accented in purple and gold and featured Parker’s ACE3 logo.
After 13 years with the Sparks, Candace decided that she wanted to take her talents back to where it all began. The Naperville, IL native signed a two-year deal with her “hometown” Chicago Sky during 2021 free agency. The addition of Candace catapults the Sky into one of the WNBA’s title favorites.
Candace Parker will join a stacked starting lineup that includes Diamond DeShields, Courtney Vandersloot, and Allie Quigley. While Candace brings extra scoring to an offense that was fourth in the league last season, the defense is where she is expected to make a difference and impact.
On the sneaker front, what will be interesting are the type of color ways Candace will model. Aesthetically, the Sky has a solid palette to work with. For example, Adidas could develop blue Crazy Explosives with yellow highlights. They could go grey and implement the Sky’s colors. If not Crazy Explosives, they could go low like the Captain Marvel or Harden line and implement the team colors. The possibilities for designs for Candace’s new chapter with the Sky are endless and should be explored. Whether Adidas will explore these opportunities or not, will be the issue moving forward.
When Adidas signed Candace in 2008, it was said that she had the ingredients to be the most marketable women’s basketball player of all time. In a 2008 article by then CNBC reporter Darren Rovell, sports marketers cited location (Los Angeles), her ability to dunk, and more privately implied, her appearance and the fact that she was engaged to former Duke player and Sacramento Kings guard Sheldon Williams, at the time as the factors for the claim.
Adidas and Gatorade took their chances and signed Candace to deals. Thirteen years later, there’s been progress. Candace has shoes and she’s been part of some marketing campaigns. However, is that enough?
When you think about the time she’s spent with Adidas, with only released PEs and a couple of campaigns to show for it, it’s really not.
Adidas’ webpage is a clear example of Candace being under promoted. Under Candace’s link, none of her signature shoes are featured, and neither is any sports wear with her logo or her likenesses. The only items featured on her page are generic branded hoodies, yoga pants, sweatpants, and sports bras – nothing exclusive to Candace or her brand.
The only shoes under Candace’s link are the classic Superstar lows and the more contemporary NMDs. Candace’s signature shoes are mostly player editions. Shoes that are player editions are not for sale.
Granted, the WNBA and its players have always had an uphill battle in getting people to watch, and this trickles down to sneakers and marketing. The intentions are there. But as far as action when it comes to promoting is concerned, Adidas could stand to do much better. However, luckily for them, the opportunities for improvement are plentiful.
When it comes to women’s basketball, Adidas, like Nike and other brands, struggles to promote the players, because the WNBA seemingly struggles with promotion as well. Sneakers are an essential element of basketball culture – to a point where they are intertwined.
While the WNBA has made strides in visibility, they still struggle a bit in marketability. Like Candace and Adidas, there are other WNBA players signed to sneaker brands also lacking in promotion and marketing. It also doesn’t help that many players are still wearing men’s basketball shoes.
What Adidas can do to help Candace – and this is true for other players with other brands as well – is to invest the same amount of time and energy they do in their men. They can really delve into what makes Candace Parker the player she is and the woman she is. Learn what makes her go on the court and what drives her off the court in terms of style.
Once they do that, the creative process in its entirety can begin. First off, Adidas can develop a shoe that is available for the public to buy. Candace Parker can still have some player editions, but she should have shoes and colorways available for retail. For apparel, shirts and hoodies with her logo on them would be a simple solution. To take it a step further, including her likeness and branding that focus on her achievements wouldn’t hurt either.
Adidas missed an opportunity to really capitalize during the Candace’s 2016 title run. While they did have her shoes in the Sparks’ colors, the awareness marketing fell short.
Now that Candace is with the Sky, Adidas has another chance to capitalize on another strong marketing opportunity. They can develop a campaign about returning “home”; give her shoes the technology that’s in the Dames and the Hardens; and give her color ways that are meaningful to her.
Imagine a pair of Candace Parkers in the red and white colors of Naperville High, featuring insoles adorned with her accomplishments at the school. Lean into the fact that Candace was named Ms. Basketball three times there. Not to mention an array of other achievements!
Adidas can also create a color way around the fact that she and her siblings were Chicago Bulls fans growing up, by featuring the iconic red, white, and black scheme on her shoe. Adidas can take anything, any element that makes Candace the fascinating, multi-faceted woman she is, and her roots in Naperville and Chicago, and market it. All it takes is communication, imagination, and innovation.
In the fall of 2021, Adidas took a positive step forward, releasing The Candace Parker Collection on September 23rd, including three colors of her Exhibit ACE PE sneaker, ACE logo apparel, and an UltraBoost running shoe. The new landing page features a cool basketball-and-life highlights video, and explains, through her career, motherhood, and as a role model for future generations, the mark Candace wants to leave on the world will go far beyond basketball.
Candace Parker is one of the greatest players in the WNBA’s history. Adidas has been a big part of that journey. While that partnership has progressed, there’s another level that has yet to be unlocked. And for an athlete like Candace, it will behoove the brand to reach new heights.
Up next, learn all about the WNBA’s top scorers.
Written by Jannelle Moore, a sportswriter from North Carolina. Her work has been featured in Complex, The Shadow League, and Basketball News.
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