As far as sports go, basketball is definitely one of the coolest sports out there. Fancy crossovers, magical passes, thunderous dunks and monster blocks make up some of the coolest highlights on the Sportscenter Top 10 on any given night. Aside from the amazing players and amazing plays, the thing that makes basketball really cool, are the shoes (It’s gotta be the shoes!).
Endorsed by some of the best players in the world, basketball shoes usually are the epitome of coolness and comfort, on and off the court. They even feature cutting edge technology like air cushions, cloud foams and other fancy features straight out of the pages of a science fiction novel. Popular hip-hop artists such as Nas, Run-DMC and Nelly have immortalized many basketball shoes by referring to them in their lyrics. The game of basketball is way more than just “running up and down the court, trying to put up more points on the scoreboard than the oppsition”, it’s a cultural phenomenon, and the suave and stylish shoes have been at the forefront of its spread.
In a watershed moment for shoes in league history, the NBA has announced that going into the 2018-2019 season, the players will be allowed to wear shoes featuring any colour of their liking at any point of the season. The announcement will be welcomed by all the players who are itching to be even more expressive on the court and build their brand.
This change in the status quo started last season, when Nike manufactured the uniforms for all NBA teams for the first time (on an eight year deal worth $1 billion). The long standing tradition of white based home jerseys was finally put to rest and the teams were given complete freedom when it came to deciding their home, away and alternate jersey colour schemes. The Chicago Bulls for example, wore red for all their home games.
For most of NBA’s illustrious history, shoes worn by the players have had a lot of restrictions. Initially, all team shoes were supposed to be either 51 percent black or white, with very little team colour accents. As the 2000s drew to a close, the NBA allowed shoes in full team colours, which allowed Boston Celtics to wear all- green and the Chicago Bulls to wear all-red shoes. In 2012, themed shoes to celebrate occasions such as Veterans’ Day and Black History Month were also introduced.
Shoes are an integral part of basketball history. The evolution of the basketball shoe elucidates the change in the way the game is played and basketball’s relevance in economic, cultural and athletic history. The global athletic footwear market is expected to be worth $84.4 billion in 2018, with a major chunk of it being supplied by basketball shoes. To celebrate the landmark NBA announcement, let’s take a quick look at some of the most iconic shoes in basketball history.
The pair of shoes which are widely credited to have given birth to the shoe buffs/sneakerphiles/sneakerheads of the world, are the Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars released in 1917. Even after celebrating the centenary of their launch, the All Stars are still popular off the court today.
The next pair of shoes which really caught everybody’s attention were the Adidas Superstars launched in 1969. The biggest names of that era such as Jerry West, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Pete Maravich started wearing these legendary shoes on the court. And in 1971, Adidas launched the first ever player endorsed basketball shoes. Featuring Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s smiling face, the shoes launched the ‘signature shoe’ phenomenon. The Superstar series of shoes received an exponential boost in their popularity when Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, and Jam Master Jay (yes, THE Run-D.M.C.) rocked these shoes during an MTV appearance in 1985. Run-D.M.C. even rapped about the Superstar shoes in the song My Adidas: “Now that adidas I possess for one man is rare/Myself, homeboy, got fifty pair.”
Manhattan based manufacturer PONY (Product of New York) launched the next pair of basketball shoes that caught people’s attention. Dazzling players like David Thompson and Darryl Dawkins popularized the Pony brand by wearing its shoes on the court. Initially released in limited NBA colours, the Pony Top Star became one of the most popular shoes off the court once it started being offered in multiple colours.
The shoe brand was ultimately immortalized by diminutive dunker Spud Webb on his way to victory in the 1986 Slam Dunk Contest.
Now, on to Nike. It’s hard to imagine a time where the NBA sneaker world was not ruled by Nike and yet, until the introduction of the Nike Blazer in 1973, the now ubiquitous ‘tick mark’ had not entered the collective conscience of the world.
The watershed moment for Nike was the Air Jordan 1. Launched during the 1984-1985 season, the bold colours and styling led to the NBA banning those shoes altogether. However, Nike turned that ban into an amazing marketing campaign for the red and black shoes and never looked back. The shoes worn by the greatest basketball player of all time eventually gave birth to the Jordan brand, now worth $3 billion in annual revenue.
This advertisement is one of the many amazing and innovative ones that Nike has done for the promotion of its Air Jordan series of shoes over the years.
The next pair of basketball shoes to really take the world by the storm was the Reebok Question, launched in 1996. The Questions were worn by The Answer himself, Allen Iverson. Outside of Michael Jordan, perhaps no other player has had a bigger cultural impact than Allen Iverson. His tattoos, cornrows, armsleeves and shoes really transformed how basketball players looked and played all over the globe.
This very famous play where Allen Iverson, while wearing the Reebok Questions, crossed over the ultimate shoe king, Michael Jordan, ushered in a new era of fans who swore by Iverson’s brand of basketball, athletically and aesthetically.
In 2016, LeBron James signed a lifetime deal with Nike, reportedly worth $1 billion. This landmark deal showed the immense commercial and cultural viability of player-endorsed basketball shoes, going into the future. Even before the billion dollar deal, Nike and LeBron James had a great history. He had been signed to a $90 million deal before playing a single minute in the NBA as an eighteen year old. The LeBron series of shoes have also used cutting edge technology, with the LeBron X featuring a chip that can measure a player’s vertical leap.