Legacies in the NBA are defined mostly by on-court production, but the stylish off-court aspect can't be ignored. Since Michael Jordan revolutionized the sneaker game with the launch of Jordan Brand, players have been rolling out unique looks, many of which have piqued consumer interest.
There was a burst of creativity in the design of basketball kicks in the 1990s, and that evolution continued well into the new millennium as shoes are now being perfected for performance with new tweaks and lighter materials.
Shoe connoisseurs will recognize every pair on the list, but for casual fans this should serve as an educational tool to school you on the ins and outs of legendary basketball shoes.
Note: These shoes were not ranked with any specific order in mind.
Tracy McGrady is the most recent retiree whose signature sneaker was all the rage in the early 2000s, so it feels appropriate to honor the T-Mac III first.
One of Adidas' most popular items during the first decade of the new millennium, the T-Mac IIIs were a low-cut sneaker that can easily be deemed the sharpest kicks of 2004.
With editions in white, black and blue, there was a colorway for anyone who wanted to flaunt the kicks worn by one of the most dominant scorers of all time.
Keeping with the theme of recent retirees, it's only fair to discuss Allen Iverson's most famous signature shoe, the original Questions.
Debuting in 1996, the Questions were an immediate fan favorite and have garnered re-release consideration in recent years.
What has made the Questions even more iconic is that Iverson donned them when he famously crossed up Michael Jordan during his rookie season. The classic red and white colorway combined with the honeycomb stylings along the side of the sneaker make the Questions an all-time great signature shoe.
Photo courtesy of Sneaker Files
Personally, my favorite pair of signature sneakers from Allen Iverson are the Answer IVs, which the diminutive scoring machine wore during his MVP campaign in 2000-01.
While they deviated from the norm quite a bit with a low cut and zipper, the Answer IVs were undeniably stylish thanks to the variety of distinct colorways from Reebok.
Iverson laced up black and white IVs for a good chunk of the Philadelphia 76ers' 2000-01 NBA Finals run, but the red and white and blue and white (Georgetown edition) styles were also extremely popular.
Reebok recently re-released the IVs in five different colorways, as seen here.
Speaking of retired players who found success in fresh Reebok sneakers, Shawn Kemp brought the Kamikazes to life with his malicious slams and stunning displays of athleticism.
Debuting the Kamikaze II in 1996, Kemp posted double-double averages and shot better than 50 percent from the field. A high-top design that featured grandiose styles and colorways, the Kamikaze II should be fondly remembered as a '90s classic.
Along with Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill, Kemp is one of the unsung stars of an era that saw the sneaker game reach grand new heights.
You may not have been expecting to see a player like Grant Hill or a brand like Fila touted as great artistry in the realm of basketball footwear, but it's hard to ignore these.
While Hill did put together a nice career, making seven All-Star teams and averaging 16.7 points over 18 seasons, injuries plagued his time in the Association and ultimately prevented him from reaching his insanely high ceiling.
Nevertheless, the 1994-95 edition of Hill's Fila signature look is one that continues to be embraced nearly 20 years later.
Incidentally, Nice Kicks is reporting that Fila will be re-releasing the iconic shoe on Sept. 19 of this year.
A beautiful friendship began in 1984 when Michael Jordan laced up his first pair of Nikes, known as the Air Jordan 1s.
And according to Foot Locker's history of Air Jordan sneakers, there was a fair bit of controversy surrounding the red and black colorways Jordan strutted as a member of the Chicago Bulls:
Although the AJ 1 lacked technology, the colors and cultural significance set the sneaker industry on its ear. The Air Jordan 1 paved the way for colorful basketball sneakers. It transformed the way people looked at athletic shoes. During the 1985 NBA season, Michael wore the Air Jordan 1, which retailed for $65 - at the time, the most expensive basketball shoe on the market. The AJ I Black/Red colorway was banned by the NBA because of rules regarding shoe colors; Jordan was fined $5,000 for every game he wore them (Nike gladly footed the bill, as the fines created even more buzz around the Air Jordan 1).
Perhaps the most celebrated ball shoe of all time, the original Jordan 1s started a basketball branding revolution.
The release of the Air Jordan 3 represented a shift in the way Jordan Brand sneakers were viewed by the public.
According to Foot Locker's tracing of the Jordan shoe lineage, the third edition of Michael Jordan's signature shoe was a serious upgrade from all points of view:
Hatfield's design of the Air Jordan III was unique in several aspects: - The Air Jordan "wings" logo was no longer present - it was replaced by the newly introduced Jumpman logo on the tongue.
The cut of the shoe was a mid, which had never been seen in the basketball shoe world before. The midsole was crafted with highly sculpted polyurethane, which introduced a fresh look. The visible Air unit was introduced to the Air Jordan line, allowing players to literally "walk on air."
Possibly the most distinct aspect of the Air Jordan III was the upgrade in materials. The upper was constructed of rich full-grain tumbled leather and was built to feel broken in - Jordan could wear a brand new pair every game without worrying about stiffness in the shoes.
With Jordan's Jumpman insignia immortalized after stunning performances in the Slam Dunk Contest, the 1988 release of these sneakers proved to be a game-changer for the way the public perceived the iconic brand.
Building off the success of the Jordan III, the IV stuck with a mid-styled shoe as opposed to a traditional high top.
The decision was a no-brainer, and it was one that sustained the popularity boom of the Jordan Brand. Another key aspect that helped the company's growth was the appearance of Spike Lee alongside Michael Jordan in those classic Nike ads.
The following, again, comes from Foot Locker's thorough retrospective of the brand:
To market the shoe, a new batch of Michael Jordan/Mars Blackmon commercials aired.
The Air Jordan IV is one of the most collected shoes in the series. Ten years after its original release, Nike retroed the AJ IV in 1999; it sold out immediately.
The IVs are still available but in far smaller quantities than they were during Jordan's heyday.
Michael Jordan's aerial skills are lauded as the greatest of all time, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the fifth edition of his signature kicks were inspired by a World War II fighter plane, according to Foot Locker.
Released in 1990, Jordan rocked the V to immense personal success. Not only did Jordan lead the league in scoring with 33.6 points per game, but he did so on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 37.6 percent from three.
During the 1989-90 season, Jordan also posted a true shooting percentage of 60.6 and an effective field-goal percentage of 55, the best of his career, per Basketball-Reference. MJ also recorded his third-highest PER during that season, finishing with a mark of 31.2
Michael Jordan won the first of his six titles in 1991, and it's only fitting that he did so rocking the legendary Jordan 6s.
And according to Foot Locker, the kicks were designed by Tinker Hatfield and modeled after the Jordan V. The VI was made for style more than contemporary sneakers that are lightweight and optimized for maximum performance on the court, but that helped make them more than a basic basketball shoe.
Crafted in a myriad of colorways, the Jordan VI was invented and then reinvented to appeal to the masses and not just hardcore basketball fans.
Too many Air Jordans? No such thing.
For the brand that revolutionized the basketball shoe game, it would be unfair to omit a pair as classic as the Jordan IX.
What makes the IX even more worthy of mention is that it debuted during the 1993-94 season, the first time Michael Jordan announced his retirement from the NBA. However, as Foot Locker notes, while Jordan never wore them in game action, the statue outside the United Center shows him rocking the IX.
One of the signature looks of the '90s, the Air Jordan IX deserves recognition as a classic design that deserves to be laced up decades later.
When it comes to selecting one's favorite pair of Air Jordans, it's really a pick-your-poison proposition. And when discussing the most revered basketball sneakers of all time, there's no way to have that conversation without mentioning the Jordan 11s.
The 11s are famous due to a variety of factors, including Jordan's success wearing them on the floor and the silver screen, according to Foot Locker's history of the Jordan brand:
Michael wore the black/varsity royal/white version in the movie Space Jam. Jordan also wore the same "Air Jordan XI Space Jam" shoe in the NBA playoffs. Many Brand Jordan athletes worn the AJ XI over the years; Ray Allen sported a white/green/gold version during the Celtic's 2008-09 season.
Along with the 1s, 3s and 6s, the Jordan 11s should be considered one of the greatest pieces of footwear in the basketball shoe pantheon.
While the Foamposites are often attributed to Penny Hardaway, Complex reports that the shoes weren't originally designed for the Orlando Magic superstar:
Eric Avar didn't design the Foamposite with Penny Hardaway in mind. If the apocryphal stories are true, it was originally intended for Scottie Pippen (no word on whether it then would have been called the "Foamposite 33"). But in a session with Penny, where he wasn't moved by any of the other designs, he saw the Foamposite in Avar's bag, and the rest was royal blue history.
Complex also notes that Hardaway wasn't the first notable baller to debut the Foams:
Mike Bibby first hit the court as an Arizona Wildcat wearing the Royal Foamposites on March 23 of 1997. That same day, Penny Hardaway laced up his Nike Air Penny IIs. It wouldn't be until a few games later that Penny finally laced up the Foamposite One with his Orlando Magic uniform.
If said series of events is believed to be true, then Nike can thank Hardaway for bringing fame to a shoe that is still in circulation more than 15 years later. The one difference? Foamposites manufactured now retail for as much as $229.99.
Nike's Air Penny IIIs aren't quite as celebrated as the Foamposites that Penny Hardaway is often associated with, but they're still a nice, fresh pair of sneakers that garner respect on the playground.
Hardaway's second pair of Nike sneakers debuted in 1997 and were most commonly found in white or black and royal blue, coordinating with the Orlando Magic duds Penny famously donned.
When thinking of late '90s NBA superstars, Hardaway's contributions from a skill and fashion standpoint stand out along with Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal.
Kobe Bryant and Nike have had a long and fruitful partnership, but before the Black Mamba teamed up with the leaders in the shoe industry, he repped Adidas.
While the hideous "Kobe" and "Kobe Twos" stick out in the minds of sneaker connoisseurs for their interesting futuristic design, the first edition of the KB8s were high-tops that helped the high school phenom stand out upon arriving in the NBA.
A sneaker that epitmoizes quintessential '90s NBA garb, Bryant's second sneaker with Adidas was a massive home run.
One of the more recent pairs of kicks to qualify, the Nike Zoom Kobe V was released in January of 2010, shortly before Kobe Bryant went on to capture his fifth title with the Los Angeles Lakers.
A modified version of the Zoom IV, the V was a beautiful model that set the tone for the low-cut sneakers Nike has continued to produce under the Bryant banner.
The Nike Zoom Huarache 2K4s are an under-the-radar selection, but boy were they fresh after dropping in 2004.
What aided the Huarache's popularity was that Kobe Bryant wore several customized pairs, including these profiled by NiceKicks.
However, arguably the freshest pair of Huaraches are the red ones seen above. According to Nike, the red duds were inspired by the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Snake, in particular.
After the Nike Air Huarache 2K4 and 2K5 ended their successful runs, Nike turned to the Zoom Kobe series. However, in the midst of the immense success the Zoom line was having, the Hyperdunk came along.
The longevity of the Hyperdunks has been astounding. Since hitting shelves in 2006, the Hyperdunks have been modified and reinvented a number of times. They are still selling like gangbusters today.
Kobe Bryant's Hyperdunks were released at the beginning of the shoe's emergence, and the classic white/purple/gold colorways were a no-brainer.
Kevin Garnett is known for a tenacious and aggressive style of play more than the snazzy kicks he's rocked en route to 15 All-Star Game appearances.
Although he's no longer affiliated with Nike, the two were able to create some rather fashionable footwear during Garnett's time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, primarily with the release of the Air Garnett III.
Dropping in 1999, the Air Garnetts were found in blue/white and black/blue colorways, each of which followed the trend set by Penny Hardaway and his ever-popular Air Pennys.
Today, Garnett is sponsored by the Chinese brand ANTA after a stint with Adidas.
In the history of the NBA, we've never seen a player like Shaquille O'Neal. Jaw-dropping and show-stopping, O'Neal demanded a signature shoe that reflected his never-before-seen abilities.
Enter the Reebok Shaqnosis.
The Shaqnosis matched O'Neal's electric personality and style of play, with an alternating black and white pattern that was crafted to hypnotize opposing ballers.
Released by Reebok for the 1995 season, O'Neal rocked the eclectic kicks at the peak of the Orlando Magic's success.
Earlier this year, Shaq and Reebok announced a re-release of the fan favorites.
After capturing Rookie of the Year honors during the 2003-04 season, LeBron James was due a shoe that was worthy of his greatness.
Fortunately, Nike delivered in a big way with the Zoom LeBron II.
The most popular and renowned colorways of James' second sneaker with Nike were the black/red/white edition that complemented his Cleveland Cavaliers duds perfectly.
However, we'd be remiss if we failed to mention the grey/royal blue/white version (seen above) that was released midway through James' second NBA season after he made his first All-Star game in February, 2005.
With an inventive strap that featured a portrait of a lion, King James' reputation as an emerging great was aided by the release of these unique shoes.
There were plenty of quality sneaker designs for LeBron James from 2005 to 2008, but the release of the Air Max VII in October 2009 raised the bar for what to expect from Nike.
As Kobe Bryant and Nike transitioned to a low-cut shoe, James went the other way with a snazzy high-top look that featured the ever-popular Flywire design.
The final signature kicks LeBron rocked as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the red/white/black and white/blue/gold colorways were the most recognizable pairs of Air Max VII to hit the market.
And then there are the 2013 Nike LeBron XIs, the most hyped shoe that will hit the market this season.
What's unique about the XI are the unique color combinations Nike has decided to roll out, and they've got some interesting names.
First up, there are the Terracotta Warriors, seen above, which feature a blend of silver, purple, green and red. Then there's the King's Pride colorway that combines green, black, gold and red accents to bring the XI to life.
A detailed explanation from Nike follows:
LEBRON 11 KING’S PRIDE colorway
James plays with fearlessness, determination and the heart of a lion. The King’s Pride colorway draws inspiration from the lion - its dark loden upper color and the floral print on the collar lining reflect the pride of the wildlife.
LEBRON 11 TERRACOTTA WARRIOR colorway
James was impressed by the Terracotta Warrior Exhibition, which he visited when he was in Xi’An, China, in 2011. The exhibit, plus James’s playing style - which reflects a warrior's spirit of grit, confidence, hard work and determination - inspired the Terracotta Warrior colorway.
If LeBron can capture his third consecutive title wearing the XI, the shoe's legend will continue to grow.
Adidas went in an innovative direction when they decided to release the adiZero Crazy Lights, touted as the lightest shoes basketball had ever seen.
But what really made the kicks noteworthy was that Adidas created them for Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose a year after his MVP season.
With classic white Adidas stripes and a stellar black/red design, the Crazy Lights became must-owns for ballers who craved elite, performance-based kicks.
More recent iterations of the Crazy Lights have built upon the success of the originals. They should be in the spotlight more this season as Rose and Adidas staples Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday and John Wall lace up some fresh new kicks.
As he evolves from promising young talent to bona fide superstar, Kyrie Irving's shoes will get flashier and garner more attention.
Although it may feel a bit premature, Irving's 2013 Nike Hyperdunks are a phenomenal release that should be a huge hit among younger fans of the game.
And according to Nike's official release, the shoe has a unique backstory:
Irving's past and future is the main theme of Irving's 2013 Hyperdunk as told through color and material. Born in Melbourne, Australia, where his father, Drederick, played professional basketball, Irving is proud of his roots. The green-toned teal and volt colorway is a futuristic take on Australia's National basketball team colorway of green and yellow. Featured on the tongue and lining is a "wave" graphic that depicts the story of his travels overseas from Melbourne to New Jersey.
Like recent editions of LeBron James' and Kobe Bryant's sneakers, Irving's newest Nike shoe boasts Flywire. As the shoe gains popularity, it will be intriguing to see which inventive colorways Nike decides to drop.