When Sabrina Ionescu was in middle school, she wanted to join an after-school basketball program. But there weren’t enough girls to form a team and she wasn’t allowed to play with the boys. That didn’t stop her from crafting a solution – recruiting peers to form a new team.
“I got a bunch of girls who were willing to play. It was a very pivotal moment and definitely motivated me to inspire young girls to break boundaries,” says the No. 1 WNBA draft pick of 2020, who joined the New York Liberty.
Moved by her hustle (made famous by a Slurpee story she shared on Instagram), Xbox recently teamed up with Ionescu to surprise her former youth basketball club, The Cal Stars, with custom Nike Blazers, Xbox Series S consoles and custom Xbox Wireless Controllers. (Cal Stars is one of 32 Nike Girls’ Elite Youth Basketball Programs in the nation.)
Ionescu and Kelly Sopak, Ionescu’s former club and high school basketball coach, chose players who had shown longevity and tenure in the club – which spans fourth to twelfth grades – for the gifts.
Xbox’s choice to make Ionescu the bearer of this goodness came from the impact she’s made in her young life.
“She’s the present and future of Women’s basketball,” says Elliott Hsu, Xbox principal designer, who was involved with designing the controller, shoe and console. “She’s a true gamer and Series X user. She’s someone who powers the dreams of young girls and boys alike. And for all those reasons we were thrilled to power her dreams and bring her Xbox visions to life.”
“I wake up every day grateful for the platform I’ve been given and I strive to lead by example and serve as a role model for young people and especially girls to pursue sports – a platform Kobe and Gigi were passionate about,” says Ionescu, 23, who considered Kobe Bryant a mentor and his daughter Gigi a friend and was greatly affected by their loss last year. “I know I have the ability to influence and inspire the next generation of athletes and I actively try to lead as a good example.”
Ionescu has a lot to impart in the next generation. At the University of Oregon, she was the all-time NCAA leader in triple-doubles with 26, and was the first collegiate player to score 2,000 career points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds.
On her WNBA team, she played in three games before a severe ankle sprain ended her season, but she’s expected to be a key leader of the franchise moving forward.
Ionescu fell in love with basketball at a young age, playing pick-up games with her brothers. She remembers wanting to keep up and challenge them on the court.
“My drive to compete and refine my game has become a part of who I am, and the more I competed on the court, the more I wanted to continue playing for as long as possible – so I’m fortunate to make it my career,” she says.
Off the court, she and her brothers played video games – Halo and NBA2K (when they were younger, although the latter remains a favorite), and now Call of Duty.
They grew up as the children of Romanian immigrants who moved to America before she was born. And while she honed her craft in the Bay Area, Ionescu has a deep appreciation for her family’s journey. Her parents fled Romania during the 1989 revolution and sought political asylum in the U.S., raising Ionescu, her twin brother and older brother in Walnut Creek, California.
“My Romanian heritage influences my life on a daily basis and is something that I find pride in,” she says. “We celebrate our roots, and much of my hustle is influenced by the immigrant mentality. While, of course, I want to continue to have a successful basketball career, I aspire to achieve an even larger success – to be a good role model, live a happy and healthy life and be good to others. Through telling my story, I hope to inspire the next generation to push through the obstacles to achieve their dreams.”
Lead photo: Sabrina Ionescu (Photos courtesy of Sabrina Ionescu)