Sabrina Ionescu always has considered Steph Curry to be her “big brother.” So, is there about to be a rift in the family?
In the days leading up to the 2020 WNBA Draft, Ionescu finds herself in a new reality. Expected to be the No. 1 overall pick by the New York Liberty, she potentially could sign a lucrative sneaker deal, with Under Armour, Nike and Puma all in the mix.
As she mulls a decision, the influence of Curry, her NBA superstar mentor and the face of Under Armour, is obvious.
"I think he texts me almost every day," Ionescu revealed this week on NBC Sports Bay Area's Runnin' Plays Podcast. "He's working hard."
While small sneaker and apparel deals aren't uncommon for women, only a select few have had signature sneakers. Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley, Cynthia Cooper, Nicki McCray, Rebecca Lobo and Chamique Holdsclaw had signature lines with Nike, Adidas, Reebok and FILA during the WNBA's early days, but sneaker analysts have pointed to low sales for the demise of the trend. Even Maya Moore, who signed a historic deal with Jordan Brand in 2011, has been relegated to wearing player exclusive models of male shoes.
But as she decides on a deal, Ionescu says she hopes a signature sneaker is in the works.
"I think before this all happened, I never thought about it because I didn't think it was even a possibility because women don't usually have signature shoes," Ionescu said. "And then I think listening to a lot of these companies and the goals and visions that they had to have a signature shoe down the line, I was like, 'Oh, actually that would be pretty cool.'
"And I feel like a lot of individuals would want to buy that shoe and wear that shoe. And so I think now taking kind of two weeks, fast forward what I had thought before starting this, I do think a shoe would be really cool or like a clothing line or something, which would be awesome, and would be kind of beyond belief just because I'm so used to buying other people's shoes, and kind of looking up to them. And so kind of having that reciprocated would be awesome."
The pursuit of Ionescu comes with a set of conundrums. Ionescu has worn Nike dating to high school, and she went to Oregon, a college whose athletic program is backed by Nike's founder, Phil Knight, an alum of the school.
Puma recently made a return to basketball, as the brand has signed high-profile players, including Skylar Diggins-Smith. Ionescu's relationship with Curry and Nike, and the appeal of Puma gives her a lot to consider.
"I have a great relationship with Steph and so that part's kind of hard," Ionescu said. "Because I've been Nike for 10 years. And then Puma's also kind of on the up-and-coming. So there's a lot of pros and cons to all of them. And so it's kind of been hard trying to figure out who I want to go with and what the best fit would be."
Her relationship with Curry is noteworthy. Last month, he attended both of Oregon's games in the Bay Area, including a 74-66 victory against Stanford, where she became the first Division I player, man or woman, to amass 2,000 points, 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. One year earlier, Ionescu, a Walnut Creek native, attended Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals between the Warriors and Trail Blazers at the Moda Center in Portland, clad in Curry's No. 30 jersey, deepening her love for his game.
"The way he shoots the ball, the way he's transformed the game of basketball with how far he shoots it from, there's kids in gyms that are now trying to shoot from half court because he does," Ionescu said. "And so kind of just being able to watch how effortlessly he perfects his craft, whether it's around the rim or shooting, it makes me want to be a better person, but just kind of makes me watch in awe at him and how well he plays."
Last week, when Ionescu showed up at Up Training in Burlingame to work out with prominent Bay Area trainer Patrick Turner, Curry joined the session.
"He just stopped by. He doesn't live too far from there," Ionescu said. "And so I was there working out with Packie. And so then he just stopped by and said, 'Hi.' We kind of played HORSE, shot around. It wasn't really too much of a hard workout. He hadn't left the house in a long time, so we stayed within six feet just to make sure."
Now, as she preps for the WNBA draft, Ionescu knows Curry's influence won't be far behind, and the mutual respect isn't expected to wane anytime soon.
[RELATED: Ionescu's WNBA debut pushed back]
"He really is the babyface assassin," Ionescu said. "He's so happy and he's so, like he enjoys what he does. And so I think that kind of, everyone thinks that I'm so serious and so intense, and I am, but I do find joy in the game. And so I think it's kind of a breath of fresh air watching someone that is loving every second of what he's doing, but also just killing while he's out there."
With Ionescu's shoe decision looming, we'll soon find out if Curry's influence was enough to bring her to Under Armour.