Sep 29, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson (22) is interviewed after the Aces victory over the Dallas Wings during game three of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs at College Park Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A’ja Wilson seemingly has it all. She’s a back-to-back WNBA Champion with the Las Vegas Aces, Finals MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time MVP, Rookie of the Year, and five-time All-Star. And that’s just her professional basketball accolades.

Off the court, Wilson has thrived just as equally. She’s a New York Times Bestselling author, penning the February debut, Dear Black Girls. She has a statue dedicated to her outside of Colonial Life Arena, where she led her alma mater South Carolina to an NCAA Title. In 2021, she made the Forbes 30 under 30 list. And this week, Time Magazine featured Wilson on its annual 100 Most Influential People List, with none-other-than Tom Brady (a minority owner of the Aces) writing the dedication blurb.

The one thing Wilson doesn’t have? A signature shoe.

As this point in her career and as decorated as an athlete as she is, it’s puzzling. Wilson’s portfolio of endorsements is multifaceted. She has deals with Ruffles (the first woman athlete to do so), Mountain Dew, and Nike. But the massive footwear company has dragged its feet (no pun intended) when it comes to giving the WNBA star her own shoe. And the issue was brought back to the forefront of the conversation when The Athletic’s Shams Charania announced on Twitter that Caitlin Clark is close to inking an eight-figure signature shoe deal with, yep — you guessed it — Nike.

Clark now joins Sabrina Ionescu, Candace Parker (Adidas) and Breanna Stewart as the only WNBA players to have signature shoes.

As someone who has covered the WNBA regularly for the past eight years, I can say with full confidence that Wilson is the current face of the league. Which begs the question: Why, with her resume, affable personality and talent, is Nike so reluctant to give her a shoe deal?

The answer I’m told is marketability. At least, that’s what social media responses have said. Yes, the masses on X have stated their case. Clark is far more marketable. More people watch her. More people know who she is. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I’d like to offer up a different answer and one that doesn’t pin Clark against Wilson, because it’s not about them. And it shouldn’t be about them. It’s about decision makers and those in charge deciding who is marketable and who isn’t. It’s about a narrow view of women’s basketball and a misguided perception about who’s watching, who’s paying attention. There are new fans, yes. More people paying attention, sure. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t fans before and an already dedicated audience, many of whom adore Wilson.

There’s a reason why Wilson titled her book, Dear Black Girls. It was written as a “testament to their histories, a tribute to their triumphs and a celebration of their potential.” Her influence and impact maybe doesn’t appeal to Joe Shmoe in middle America, but it sure as hell does to millions of young Black girls who want to grow up and be just like her someday, winning a WNBA championship and being one of the best women’s basketball players of all time. If you can’t see the value of that impact but can see Clark’s clearly, it isn’t about marketability.

Considering the fact that A’ja Wilson sold enough books to become a bestselling author within the span of one week, the idea that she wouldn’t have a signature shoe flying off the shelves just as fast is laughable. It’s being purposefully obtuse. After all, Ruffles believed Wilson was marketable enough to put her on a bag of chips. And if you’re paying attention, it’s being perpetuated largely by people who haven’t been watching the WNBA or women’s basketball until recently. Some of the very same people who have dogged the league for various nonsensical reasons before.

What it comes down to is this: The growth in viewers and rise in popularity for women’s basketball is a golden opportunity for Nike and other companies to go all in on the WNBA’s established lineup of stars as well as those entering the league.

Wilson has earned a signature shoe. She deserves it. And if Nike doesn’t have the foresight to create one, Wilson should consider other options. There’s not only a market for it, there’s a demand. There’s been a demand. But those of us who’ve been around the WNBA for more than minute already know that.

Like A’ja Wilson, we’re just patiently waiting for everyone else to catch up.

About Lyndsey D'Arcangelo

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a seasoned sports writer, author and women’s sports advocate. She previously wrote about women’s basketball for The Athletic and is the co-author of Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.