In late December 2019, Eb Jones was in her hotel room in Sydney when her cell phone began to ring incessantly. Jones, then the WNBA’s head of content and influencer strategy, was on vacation. He thought someone in his family had died.
But more than 7,000 miles away, Kobe Bryant was giving new life to one of his ideas. On December 29, Bryant appeared at a Mavericks-Lakers game in Los Angeles in an orange sweatshirt with the WNBA white silhouette logo printed on it. Gianna Bryant, the 13-year-old daughter of the retired NBA star, was by his side.
Friends of Jones began texting and tagging her on Instagram in photos of Bryant and his daughter. “I couldn’t go back to sleep,” says Jones. “And the rest of that day I was literally on top. I kept thinking Kobe wore the hoodie. “
That 50% cotton 50% polyester hoodie has become so much more than just a carefree garter-branded piece of clothing. Last December, the Sports business journal named it the “Best Fashion Statement of the Year”. It is the best-selling WNBA article in history and coincides with a period of digital growth for the W. Since the start of the 2020 season, the league has seen an increase in its digital footprint, gaining more than 275,000 followers on its networks. social. media platforms and an increase in average shares per post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Qualifications for the WNBA Finals also increased 15% from 2019.
“It came at a time when people wanted, and needed, merchandising and wanted something better for the league,” says Jones. “If you’re wearing the WNBA orange hoodie, it’s because you believe in what the league stands for. Is it because you want to support these women or you just want to keep Kobe’s legacy. Whatever it is, it’s pure intention. “
“I think it became a symbol of support for women and girls basketball and working women in professional sports and the determination and dedication of the W players,” says WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.
Heading into its 25th season, the league hopes to build on the renown that a simple sweatshirt helped create.
Jones had come to the WNBA in February 2019, tasked with trying to grow the league’s brand recognition. She sought to have photographers on every field in the WNBA capture the players entering the games, documenting the same minifashion shows that are common in the NBA. I wanted to showcase personalities and help players create more prominent platforms on the ground. That May, Lorelei Wall, then the WNBA’s chief marketing officer, also told her to find a new exclusive item and head up an influence campaign.
That June, Jones toured the WNBA store to try to find an item to deposit money. I wanted something that was inclusive and that everyone could buy and use. Three items, including the fiery orange hoodie, caught her eye. “It was a simple design that looks good on everyone and was gender neutral,” says Jones. Still, he had reservations. “The orange hoodie was calling my name, but I was like, ‘It’s a hoodie and we’re a summer sport. No one will wear a hoodie in the summer. ‘ ”
Until they did.
Las Vegas in the summer isn’t exactly the place to be to debut in a sweatshirt. With July’s average high temperatures easily clearing 100 ° F, being outdoors is largely similar to baking in an oven. So before the 2019 WNBA All-Star Game, Jones tried to “fool” herself, in her words, into believing that the hoodie would be a perfect gift item. “I was thinking about all these scenarios in my head to try to justify why the orange hoodie was the one,” he says.
In the run-up to the show, he had sent it as part of a gift package to teams across the league, noting that he wanted the hoodie to be his signature item. She gave it to celebrities like Gabrielle Union, Robin Roberts, Charlamagne tha God, and Vivica A. Fox, all of her contacts who were already W sympathizers, and she gave it away to fans at events.
But it wasn’t until Aces star A’ja Wilson wore it while injured and watching the court in a game against the Sun later in August that league players saw it prominently. “And that’s what started the frenzy,” says Jones.
Throughout her year and a half in the WNBA, Jones became the league’s “bag lady”, a term she uses affectionately. She brought merchandise to the All-Star Game in Las Vegas and 100 hoodies to the NBA All-Star Game weekend in Chicago, leaving the city empty-handed. In October 2019, Bryant met at the WNBA office in New York City, where Jones handed over three bags of loot for him; her newborn, Capri; and the rest of his family. She never thought he would wear the league’s flagship garment.
When Bryant donned the hoodie at the Lakers-Mavericks game, sales of the jersey soared. After his and Gianna’s sudden death in January 2020, he flared again. The image of Bryant wearing the WNBA hoodie with Gianna on the court was embodied in the stories about the relationship between the two and their passion for women’s basketball.
“It was just a fan thing before he put it on,” says Jones. “But when Kobe wore it, it became a fashion statement.”
Interest in the hoodie rose again last summer when ESPN worked with the W to seed the NBA bubble with more than 140 jerseys. Players like LeBron James and CJ McCollum, two long-time public supporters of the W, wore it, and NBA teams used their social media accounts to help promote the start of the league season.. Other sports stars like four-time top tennis champion Naomi Osaka wore it, as did Saints All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas.
This spring, the league unveiled a distinctive season 25 logo, featuring an orange silhouette next to the Roman numerals 20 and four tally marks with a line through them. It also brought out a new hoodie, this time in black, with the anniversary logo on it, as well as new t-shirts, to commemorate the occasion. Amid all these initiatives, Engelbert still sees room to grow individual player and team profiles.
“It also highlights [that] we need to elevate these rivalries and make people know who our teams are, which cities we are in, ”he says. “For me it is an indication that we have to work harder to raise the recognition of our team and I think they will see real progress on that in season 25.”
Jones, who left the WNBA last August and is now self-employed as a marketing and social media consultant, also hopes to see continued development from the players.
“That was one of my goals,” he says. “Creating opportunities for players to be talked about outside of the WNBA bubble, in the lifestyle space, in the fashion space, in the shoe space, in the entrepreneur space. And I feel like I was able to do that in a year and a half. “
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.