Over the last few years, the NBA has slowly established itself as the most stylish sports league in the world. So it follows that the best basketball shoes combine the latest in cutting-edge sneaker technology with the kind of design flourishes that appeal to their increasingly fashion-centric fanbase. Which means there’s never been a better time to lace-up a pair of hardwood-ready kicks, from pro-approved models you can rock on the courts to retro silhouettes that still inspire countless riffs today. The best basketball shoes prove you don’t need your own endorsement deal to hoop like an MVP—or even a passing interest in the sport to appreciate their primo good looks. These are every single one you should know about right now.
The Best Pure Performance Basketball Shoes
The NBA’s come a long way since Puma awarded Clyde Frazier the league’s first signature sneaker in the early ’70s. Ever since Jordan Brand built a multibillion dollar juggernaut around a virtuosic Tar Heels graduate, basketball shoes have been big business—and brands like Nike and Adidas have used them to trial cutting-edge sneaker technology before refining it for wider release. (Think of the Swoosh’s now-signature zoom air units, or the Three Stripes’ bounce pro midsoles.) In 2022, global superstars like Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Lebron James, and Damian Lillard lend their names and outsized appeal to some of the biggest sneakers on the market, but you don’t need Harden’s handles or Kawhi’s court vision to snag a pair of their kicks. Designed to help you hoop like the pros, today’s basketball shoes are the results of countless R & D dollars and years of careful backroom courtship.
Nike’s latest gravity-defying game shoe incorporates a who’s who of material innovations to claim its spot at the top of this list. A full-length zoom air unit in the heel and forefoot guarantees a cushy ride, while an exceptionally sturdy Pebax frame promises flexibility and responsiveness. The eye-grabbing zigzag pattern on the rubber outsoles might not serve an explicit functional purpose, but catch an opponent ogling ’em for a second too long and a lane to the basket suddenly opens.
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The Best Basketball Shoes for Stunting on the Hardwood
Before basketball shoes were lauded for their tech-y advancements and vertical-enhancing features they were objects of pure desire, designed to help their wearer run faster and jump higher, sure, but also look cool doing it. Over the years, the genre’s yielded some of the most lusted-after styles in sneaker history, from legendary retro silhouettes to futuristic riffs on hardwood classics. None of the below will deliver the same cushioning or ankle support as their contemporary counterparts, but if you’re a sneakerhead with a penchant for ultra-rare kicks these are a worthy addition to any collection—and won’t make you look like a rookie pulling up from behind the arc. They might turn some heads during a friendly game of pick-up, but that’ll only make it sweeter breezing past the bozo guarding you on your way to the paint.
The sneaker world’s changed a lot since Nike debuted the Air Jordan 1 in ’84, but the style remains the brand’s hero product, a perennial favorite of the biggest names in design and the ideal canvas for their wildest interpretations. The Air Jordan 1 birthed modern sneaker culture, and there’s still no silhouette more influential—and few basketball shoes with the same cachet.
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The Best “They Played Basketball In Those?!” Shoes
When Nike introduced the Blazer in 1973, its fledgling basketball division was far from the powerhouse it is today. But the silhouette kickstarted an epic run of hits for the Portland operation, revolutionizing the game in the process. Like Converse’s Chuck Taylor and Adidas’ Superstar before it, the Blazer and its peers have become so firmly lodged in the sneaker canon it’s easy to forget—and a little bit mind-boggling to remember—their humble origins on the hardwood. (The omnipresent Dunk, now synonymous with the early aughts skate scene, was once a basketball shoe too, and not a very popular one at that.) Often flimsy or downright clunky by today’s standards, they’re shoes you’d never think to lace-up on the court, no matter how casual the crowd. But basketball greats hooped in them for decades before the market evolved to meet their needs, and if the closest you come to physical exertion involves chucking an Xbox console at the wall these shoes are a sure bet.
Converse has been making the Chuck Taylor—named for the player-turned-manager of the brand’s proto-NBA basketball league—since the late ’20s, but the sneaker’s legacy today supersedes its athletic heritage. Decades after thier debut, Chucks remain a quintessential lifestyle shoe. The revamped ’70s-inspired version boasts higher-quality materials and a sturdier construction without compromising on the style’s retro charm.
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