For the majority of us sports fans, who couldn’t care less about who or what is the fashion latest trends coming out of Milan and/or Paris, the National Basketball Association is our version seeing the latest trends from a very different type of runway—especially when it comes to basketball shoes.
Inspired by ESPN.com’s ranking of the top 74 sneakers in NBA history, we wanted to provide our own thoughts – and additional insight – on the top 25 selected by ESPN, in appreciation for all the hard work and research they put in to making this list a reality.
25. Nike Penny 1
Designed to match the uniform of his NBA team, Nike created the Nike Penny 1 as the signature shoe for Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, selected by the Orlando Magic in the 1993 NBA Draft.
Though Nike would create an additional four permutations of the shoes, including the Air Penny V released as late as 2012, the original “Penny 1” is still considered to be the crown jewel of the series.
Released: 1995 | Worn by: Anfernee Hardaway
24. Air Jordan 12
It’s hard to see because of the black-and-white color scheme of the shoe, but the Air Jordan 12 had a “rising sun” theme — the areas stemming from the center of the shoe, where the arch of your foot would start, are supposed to mimic the rays of the sun.
Designer Tinker Hatfield reportedly drew inspiration from the Rising Sun flag of Japan when designing this shoe.
Released: 1996 | Worn by: Michael Jordan
23. Adidas Crazy Light
While these shoes admittedly look like someone spilled a bottle of light blue Gatorade on all-white high tops, what really stands out about these shoes is that they weighed less than 10 ounces (for shoe sizes 9 and under).
That was a groundbreaking achievement, in terms of enabling athletes to move more freely without having bigger and bulkier equipment tied tied to their feet.
Released: 2011 | Worn by: Derrick Rose
22. Nike LeBron 7
These retro-is high-tops, with the aqua and teal elements, were worn by LeBron James during his final season with the Cleveland Cavaliers (the post-Miami stint).
The 10th Anniversary model in James’ shoe line, the shoes often earned the nickname “the red carpet” because of James’ penchant to tie bright-red laces on the top of the shoe, to match the red logo on the top of the tongue.
Released: 2009 | Worn by: LeBron James
21. Fila Grant Hill 2
True millennial basketball fans remember three things about the mid-1990’s: the brilliance of pre-injury Grant Hill, the rise of Fila athletic wear, and the golden age of basketball apparel being front-and-center in hip hop culture.
The fledgling company created this shoe for Hill, and it gained immense popularity when they were worn by Tupac Shakur in his “All Eyez On Me” album insert.
Released: 1996 | Worn by: Grant Hill
20. Nike Zoom Flight 95
Upon first glance at the Nike Zoom Flight 95, nothing sticks out more prevalently than the boombox-looking “bug eyes” that run along the bottom of the shoes.
Though the shoes are most often associated with Jason Kidd, who would win the NBA Co-Rookie of the Year award in 1995, they were actually worn by several NBA stars, including Tim Hardaway and Juwan Howard.
Released: 1995 | Worn by: Jason Kidd
19. Air Jordan 6
The story goes that Michael Jordan, ever the luxury-car aficionado, was so taken by the build of the Porsche 911 that he reached out to designer Tinker Hatfield and had him pattern the sixth edition of his Air Jordan shoe line with elements of said automobile.
The subsequent black-and-red product would be Jordan’s footwear of choice in 1991, when he would go on to win his first NBA championship.
Released: 1991 | Worn by: Michael Jordan
18. Nike Penny 2
In retrospect, it’s possible that the Nike Penny 2 did even more for the career of up-and-coming comedian Chris Rock, than it did for Anfernee Hardaway.
The beautiful design of the shoe, coupled with the brilliant marketing campaign in which Rock voices the “Li’l Penny” doll that accompanies Hardaway in various exploits (and makes amorous advances on supermodel Tyra Banks), made the shoe one of the big-ticket items during the 1996 holiday season.
Released: 1996 | Worn by: Anfernee Hardaway
17. Nike Kobe 5
If it weren’t for the reverence that so many in the NBA world held for Kobe Bryant, we might otherwise acknowledge the fact that this is a pretty unspectacular-looking shoe.
But the low-top design of these shoes were inspired by soccer boots, with the goal of making them as light but simultaneously as durable as possible, for optimum performance.
Released: 2010 | Worn by: Kobe Bryant
16. Adidas KB8
This strappy, marshmallowy-looking classical high-top sneaker was made most famous by Kobe Bryant when he wore them in the famed 1998 NBA All-Star game, which would be the first time he crossed paths with Michael Jordan in such a contest.
Bryant apparently liked the shoe enough that they became a regular in his rotation for the next year or so, often being spotted in the 1999 NBA Playoffs.
Released: 1998 | Worn by: Kobe Bryant
15. Nike Dunk
As if the North Carolina “powder blue,” combined with the retro-looking classical design of the high-top sneakers didn’t give it away, these Nike Dunk shoes are not only hallowed basketball apparel, but a collector’s item as well.
The blue color of these shoes was swapped for a myriad of colors from other colleges, as part of Nike’s “Be True To Your School” campaign.
Released: 1985 | Worn by: Multiple
14. AND1 Tai Chi
Despite what the name of the shoe would tell you, we’ll go ahead and speculate there’s no point in time over the past two decades when you would’ve seen Vince Carter performing slow-motion martial arts moves in the park while wearing these kicks.
But, if they do look familiar to you, it’s with good reason; Carter donned these shoes in the legendary 2000 dunk contest, when the myth of “half man, half amazing” was officially born.
Released: 2000 | Worn by: Vince Carter
13. Nike Air More Uptempo
Lest anyone forgets about the “Air” in these “Air More Uptempo” shoes, the ostentatious “A-I-R” that is somehow both subtly and overtly written across the side of the shoe, serves as ample reminder.
A favorite of Scottie Pippen during the 1995-1996 championship season with the Chicago Bulls, the shoe has also become very popular in the all-white version — if not more popular than the original version.
Released: 1996 | Worn by: Scottie Pippen
12. Puma Clyde
It’s crazy how a low-cut shoe once donned by one of the greatest players in the history of the New York Knicks’ franchise now looks like a pair of kicks you’d wear to a summer cookout. But, the Puma Clyde, awarded to the great Walt Frazier, was a trailblazer in the concept of NBA footwear making its mainstream crossover.
Released: 1973 | Worn by: Walt Frazier
11. Air Jordan 4
As Mars Blackmon, the character portrayed by famed moviemaker Spike Lee, reminds us: you can wear the Air Jordan 4. But, that doesn’t mean that donning the shoes will allow you to make the same gravity-defying, highlight-reel producing mid-air theatrics that Jordan did.
No bother; the black-and-red shoe is such an icon that we’ll allow the fact that it won’t make us that much better of a basketball player.
Released: 1989 | Worn by: Michael Jordan
10. Nike Hyperdunk
Another piece of apparel that received an enormous marketing boost from the “Redeem Team” in the 2008 Summer Olympics, the Nike Hyperdunk basketball shoes were donned by Kobe Bryant and many members of said gold medal-winning squad.
If you need any further evidence of the fact that Bryant was beloved by so many, it’s the fact that he could make high-tops that look like they got thrown into the wrong laundry look popular.
Released: 2008 | Worn by: Kobe Bryant
9. Adidas Superstar
Who knows of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who first wore the now iconic Adidas Superstar shoes as early as the late 1960’s, had the foresight to know he was wearing one of the sneakers to really endure the test of time.
Of course, Abdul-Jabbar has to give a big tip of the cap to hip hop group Run DMC, who truly made the shoes a staple of urban footwear.
Released: 1969 | Worn by: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
8. Reebok Question
Dropping a rookie record 40+ points in five-straight games, and famously crossing up even Michael Jordan in an NBA game weren’t the only accomplishments in the rookie year debut of Allen Iverson.
He also came into the league with his own signature shoe: the Reebok Question, named in juxtaposition with Iverson’s “The Answer” nickname. To this day, it remains one of Reebok’s most recognized shoes.
Released: 1996 | Worn by: Allen Iverson
7. Nike Kobe 4
The techie-looking Nike Kobe 4 admittedly resembles something between a Los Angeles Lakers-inspired low-top sneaker, and a shoe worn by someone competing in a digital athletic event in a Matrix-like movie.
But, these were the shoes donned by Kobe Bryant in 2009, when he would go on to the fourth of his five NBA championships. So, who are we to criticize?
Released: 2009 | Worn by: Kobe Bryant
6. Air Jordan 3
Literally a shoe that changed the course of athletic apparel history, the Air Jordan 3 is one of the biggest reasons why Michael Jordan remained with Nike.
Highly unsatisfied with the immediate predecessor of this shoe to the point where he was considering switching to Adidas, designer Tinker Hatfield worked with Jordan to come up with a major upgrade to the design and the aesthetics of the shoe, thereby locking up the basketball icon with Nike.
Released: 1988 | Worn by: Michael Jordan
5. Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star
If we’re being totally honest, there’s perhaps no more famous nor recognizable shoe on this list than the Chuck Taylor All-Star high-top.
Simply known as “Chuck Taylor’s” or even just “Chucks,” the shoes have become much more of a fashion fixture than a basketball shoe, as evidenced by the fact that Converse reports selling over a billion pairs of this footwear.
Released: 1917 | Worn by: Multiple
4. Nike Foamposite One
Based off the name of the shoe alone, these kicks look like if a basketball shoe and a science experiment got together and had a baby.
The shoe was so eye-catching that Nike did almost the unthinkable: making their iconic swoosh almost not visible whatsoever. Yet, that didn’t diminish the popularity of the shoe one bit, especially after they were seen on the feet of Penny Hardaway.
Released: 1997 | Worn by: Anfernee Hardaway
3. Nike Air Force 1
We praise so many of the shoes on this list for having crossed over into pop culture, but how many of these shoes became even more popular decades later, boosted by an entire song being devoted to them? That’s what the Nike Air Force 1 can boast.
The shoes made famous by Moses Malone in the early 1980’s became a retro-footwear must-have when rapper Nelly wrote a namesake song for them in the early 2000’s.
Released: 1982 | Worn by: Moses Malone
2. Air Jordan 1
Even if it’s not always “the best” of a genre or series, when like the Air Jordan shoe line goes through so many iterations and only becomes even more popular with time, we have to pay respects to the very best chapter in the epic.
The Air Jordan 1 famously targeted $100,000 in retail sales, only to approach nearly a quarter-billion in revenue after the first year. Talk about history in the making!
Released: 1985 | Worn by: Michael Jordan
1. Air Jordan 11
Another example of “look good, feel good, play good,” the Air Jordan 11 just looks like something you’d find permanently affixed to Michael Jordan.
But the shoe really cements its place in history given the fact that it’s the shoe of choice in 1995-1996, a season in which Jordan would win regular-season MVP, All-Star Game MVP and NBA Finals MVP trophies, as part of the greatest team in NBA history.
Released: 1995 | Worn by: Michael Jordan