“Like Deion Sanders said, ‘You look good, feel good, you play good, they pay good.’”
That’s been WNBA veteran Ty Young’s guiding philosophy when it came to her kicks game ever since she stepped onto the court. The league’s certified Sneaker Queen has always seen her style as an extension of her athletic skill, a way to separate herself from the pack, to bring more attention to the game, and, above all else, a guarantee she’d deliver come game time. That “look good, feel good, play good” mentality saw her rise through the ranks, as a first-ever draft pick for the Atlanta Dream and then as a disrupting defensive force for teams like the Chicago Sky and the Las Vegas Aces.
She’s spent 12 years watching the WNBA grow, evolve, and experiment, and she’s led plenty of that change herself, especially when it comes to the league’s style. While some of her contemporaries are just now rocking designer kicks and choice fits that land them on sports fashion blogs, Young’s been running the game for much longer, polishing her look and defining her brand – often by what she’s wearing on her feet.
But, before she was crowned the WNBA’s “sultan of swag,” Young was just a kid trying to keep up with her older siblings. She hails from the same North Carolina town as Michael Jordan and played ball at the Laney High School, where both of their jerseys hang in the rafters. Jordan supplies the school’s team with gear every season, but for Young, her love of sneakers was inspired by some good-natured sibling rivalry.
“It was almost like a family thing,” she tells Dime. “I was the baby, but seeing my oldest siblings getting these dope sneakers … back then they were wearing Air Force 1, Jordans, Air Max — that just became the norm for me, because I wanted to be like my brother and sister.”
Young’s always favored a classic shoe. She gravitates towards retro and vintage designs in cream colorways. She got flack for it back in the day.
“I’ve never been into the kicks that everyone is talking about, I started off wanting kicks that were different,” she says. “I would get picked on at times because I would wear some kicks that I thought was fly, but maybe everyone else didn’t.”
But that same originality and confidence in her style are what elevated her game and her brand when she graduated, first to college, then the WNBA. Young needed to navigate some tricky waters as a sneakerhead in the league when she first broke through — back then, players were regulated to black or white kicks, though they could also rock their team colors if they could find a court shoe in them. As the men’s side began experimenting with fashion more – transforming tunnel walks into catwalks and dropping serious cash on the latest designer kicks – Young saw the women’s side evolve.
“It became a part of the fashion, a part of the game, a part of the attention that we were getting,” she recalls. “Even now, people are looking forward to seeing what kind of kicks players are wearing.”
She took full advantage of that shift.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a blog or social media account dedicated to covering the league’s best looks that doesn’t have at least one, if not half a dozen, pics of Young’s impressive shoe game. She’s invited fans and journalists into her closet, a dedicated room in her Georgia home that houses seemingly endless pairs of Jordans, Kamikazes, Nikes, and more, all resting on custom-built shelves. She likes to dip into that space on her days off, rearranging her 600+ pairs of kicks whenever the mood strikes. For now, they’re color coordinated and organized by style. There are Iversons on one wall, designer wear on another. And, because she recently signed for a shoe deal with Reebok, you’ll find plenty of the brand’s more retro selects on her shelves.
“It has changed my sneaker game,” Young tells us of the new partnership. “People are hitting me up on social media like, ‘Hey, you just made me go cop on Reeboks. I haven’t worn them in years.’ It’s almost the same for me. I haven’t worn them in years either, but now it’s a thing.”
She’s got her favorites, ones that signal where her shoe game is at right now. When Young was fresh out of school, she wore “anything” — LeBrons, Jordans, those heavy Charles Barkleys. When she started playing league ball, she realized she had to make some fundamental changes to her shoe game too.
“I had become this defensive player. I couldn’t wear those heavy sneakers chasing people like Deanna Nolan and Diana Taurasi around the court,” she says with a laugh. “So it became a point where I was still looking for fly kicks, but kicks that weren’t as heavy in the weight, so it would be more comfortable, and I could move a little bit better.”
That emphasis on utility and comfort is what drives her shoe choices now, too.
“So it’s this Club C model that Reebok has,” Young answers when I ask which sneaker is her go-to right now. “I have double pairs in a lot of them because I love that shoe. It’s an OG style, and I can dress it up or dress it down.”
Young recently retired from the league, in part, to focus on her fashion endeavors. She’s got an apparel line, TY1 Gear, that she launched during her time with the Chicago Sky after fans complained it was impossible to get cool merch with her name and number on it.
“It started with just t-shirts with my logo, where fans could have something that would support me and represent me,” she explains.
Now the brand has grown to include everything from hoodies and hats to socks and, yes, eventually shoes. As for her Reebok deal, Young’s shifting away from the expected course once again, forgoing athletic kicks for more everyday wear.
“There hasn’t been a basketball shoe because I just feel like that’s what a lot of athletes are getting, especially ones that are signed with sneaker deals,” she says. “For my brand, I like to do a casual shoe because it’s something different, but it’s still something that resonates with me, and who I am. I’m into fashion. I’m into style. So if I can get a PE made with Reebok, and then have a lifestyle shoe made for my brand, I think that’s just awesome.”
And she’s proud that her legacy might be reaching beyond the court as well. For Young, earning that Sneaker Queen title just means there’s a better chance that more women in the WNBA will get some much-needed respect thrown their way when it comes to their own shoe collections.
“I still think there’s a long way to go,” she says. “There are a lot of women sneakerheads out here. And some, you may not know because they don’t post their sneakers all the time, or they don’t wear them all the time, but they still have love for them and still have a nice collection. I think now though we’re starting to give women the love and the notoriety of being sneakerheads.”