With the decline in creativity lately among basketball shoe manufacturers, I thought it'd be fitting to remember how great basketball sneakers used to be. With so many great shoes from the past being re-released in "retro", or new colors, I wanted to pay homage to those that paved the way.
I tried to keep my list relatively recent including most of the 90's usual suspects, without including obvious historical significant greats like Nike Air Force 1's, Converse Chuck Taylors' and Puma Clyde Fraziers'.
Hopefully this article will remind you a better time, when sneakers really mattered and there were no such thing as "factory variants".
Shawn Kemp's signature shoe from the 95-96 season in Seattle is an absolute classic. This is shortly after Reebok released their Hexalite sole technology for comfort and heel support. Kemp averaged a double-double that year and was a All-Star.
The Japanese rising sun served as the creative inspiration for this Jordan shoe that came out in 1996 for $135.00. Jordan was famously wearing the black version of these shoes as Scottie Pippen helped carry him in off the floor while Jordan was suffering from the flu, during game five of the NBA Finals in Utah where Jordan scored 38 points, leading the Bulls to victory.
These kicks came out in '96 and there's no doubt you remember them. Scottie Pippen wore these in the Olympics in '96. The retro version is rumored to come out later this year.
This is Shaq's shoe from the '94 season. They are obviously creative, but they don't lack technology with Reebok Hexalite technology for heel and ankle support. Shaq's personal versions were a bit different than those released to the public. His sneakers laced higher, for additional ankle support for his size 22 foot.
Gary Payton had many great shoes. These are one of my personal favorites. The buckle clicking strap was kind of a gimmick, but the snug fit was comfortable.
The sixth Air Jordan is timeless. Early air bubble heel design, clear sole and lace-tightener. Classic kicks from Jordan's first title and first Finals MVP award.
The Glove. These shoes were ahead of their time. Zipper to close, light weight and neon green intricately designed sole. Gary Payton's best shoe ever.
Jason Kidd's shoes from '95 are generally referred to as the "bug-eyed flights". Kidd used to wear these while playing in Dallas. There's no doubt these were from the golden era of basketball shoes.
"Grandmama". Larry Johnson's signature shoes from the Charlotte Hornets in '92 are righteous. After Bird and Magic's careers were slowing down, Converse looked to a new young, powerful star. LJ was their new guy and he was rookie of the year. LJ also had a cameo appearance on the hit show Family Matters,as his famous "Grandmama" character wearing his signature kicks.
Now Grant Hill is with Nike, but when his second signature shoe came out in '96, it was a big deal. This shoe made FILA respectable in America. For awhile people just thought it was an Italian sweat-suit brand. FILA has never really been relevant since and Grant Hill has had a good career, but ultimately his career has been plagued by injuries. This might be his pinnacle achievement.
Another basketball shoe ahead of it's time. In 1999 these shoes were everywhere, in various colors. Since then they were re-released in eggplant in 2008. The futuristic design fit snug and were great for playing ball. The Flightposite was also great for lazy middle school kids that didn't want to tie their shoes with the zip close front.
I know what you're thinking: "What? How can the shoe that started it all, be number 9?!" Just calm down, this shoe is great and Jordan did win the rookie of the year in '85 with these.
They were retroed in fourteen different color schemes between 2001-2003, which was much more successful than the original release in March of 1985. It's seldom you ever see an original pair and if you do; you're in the price range of $1,500 and $2,000.
In 1996, Reebok was trying to recover from losing sneaker battles with Nike for years. Things were not looking up either as Jordan was set to return to the league. Enter: Allen Iverson. Iverson's first shoe in Philadelphia put Reebok back on the map. Iverson became the face of the brand with his crossover and dynamic scoring ability. This shoe was the catalyst to great shoes that followed, especially the Answer.
The Nike Air Max Penny is one of my favorite Penny shoes ever. Penny had a great relationship with Nike that lasted his entire career. Anfernee Hardaway's career started All-Pro with a trip to the Finals with Shaq, then was tragically ravaged by injuries toward the middle and end. But one thing is for sure, the only person with a better signature series of shoes is Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
Dee Brown and Dominique Wilkins put Reebok on the map in the mid and late 80's with their high-flying antics wearing Pumps. Both won Dunk Championships and sparked kids everywhere to want Pumps. It is one of the great shoes of all time, and single handedly kept Reebok relevant until Shaq and Iverson in the 90's. If there was a Mount Rushmore of basketball shoes Reebok Pumps would be carved in the summit.
Okay, now we are arriving to the meat and potatoes of this show. The Huarache is timeless and it's design is still prevalent in Nikes today. The ultralight shoe was renowned for it's comfort and durability. You may recall these famous shoes on the feet of five freshman from Michigan in the Final four. Since 1992, there is no doubt the Huaraches are an all-time classic among sneaker enthusiasts.
This is right when the heart of the golden age of Jordans occured. In 1989 the Air Jordan four became a huge success. Tinker Hatfield added a new trademark to these shoes creating the "Flight' logo and putting it on a shoe for the first time.
Penny Hardaway's best shoe comes in at number 3. With the space-age design and futuristic look, the Foamposite One is still Nike's most expensive sneakers ever. They retailed around $200 when they were released almost 15 years ago. Miles Simon and Mike Bibby famously wore them on their National Championship run in 1997. The shoes have been re-released and retroed a couple times in head-turning colors.
The first shoe with the "Jumpman" logo. First shoe with the elephant print. The shoe Jordan wore when he beat Wilkins to win the dunk contest in Chicago in '88. The shoe that created the character Mars Blackmon and the famous quote: "It's gotta be the shoes!"...Enough said.
Was there ever a doubt? In '95-'96 when Jordan returned from a brief two year retirement/baseball career, this is how he announced his return: with the greatest basketball shoes of all time and another three-peat. Regardless of your color preference for the "elevens", you can't go wrong.
They're dead stock and will cost you at least $300 (if you actually find an authentic pair). So start saving, because they are worth every penny.