Ranking the 24 Best Signature Shoes of All Time

Giancarlo Ferrari-King@@GiancarloKingFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2015

Ranking the 24 Best Signature Shoes of All Time

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    DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/Associated Press

    Lately, professional athletes and their signature shoes have infiltrated the fashion world like a plague.

    Moving from concepts and mangled drawings posted up somewhere in a dark laboratory to retail stores across the globe, these kicks have become an intimate part of sports and culture.

    There have been countless releases over the years. As a people, we've seen everything from gritty high-top shoes to low-top kicks that have been laced with the latest technology. Going through all of those releases, we've decided to pick out the top 24 signature shoes of all time.

    The criteria behind these choices went something like this: Each shoe was ranked due to historic importance, technological advancements and overall playability.

    With that in mind, here now is that list.

24. Adidas Mutombo

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    Image via Adidas

    Prior to Dikembe Mutombo blocking cereal boxes in Geico commercials, the 7'2" center was a defensive carnivore who used his trademark finger wag to ruin the hopes and dreams of anyone daring enough to come into the paint.

    Adidas gave the big man his very own shoe to pay homage to his personality and defensive aura. The Adidas Mutombo is a '90s hallmark. Built as a high-top, the center's No. 55 was thrust onto the ankle support piece as well as the tongue.

    Since the shoes were first released, various colorways have resurfaced on the market. It's not only a testament to how popular these sneakers have been, but it's also a testament to how the structure of the shoe has stood the test of time.

23. BrandBlack J. Crossover II

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    Image via BrandBlack

    You may not have heard about BrandBlack just yet, but don't worry—that will change. Dubbed as the new kid on the block, this sneaker company brought Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford in as its first signature athlete.

    Giving Crawford his own pair of shoes, BrandBlack created the J-Crossover collection.

    The first edition felt like it came out of left field and shook up the industry. It was super sleek, and the elements used in the kicks were reminiscent of some of the greatest sneakers we've seen over the years.

    With that first shoe behind it, BrandBlack fired up the engines and produced the J. Crossover II, taking the silhouette to another level.

    In just about a year's time, the J. Crossover model has become a factor. The shoes perform well, have a suave feel to them and are super comfortable—thanks to the excellent cushioning platform that was installed.

    For sneakerheads looking toward the future, the J. Crossover II is a shoe that definitely has earned a spot on this countdown.

22. Nike Air Griffey Max 1

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    We've seen a few basketball shoes already—as expected—but don't forget about all of the trainers Nike released during the '90s.

    Focusing in on one of the most popular athletes of that decade, Nike handed Ken Griffey Jr. his very own shoe during his first run with the Seattle Mariners.

    Griffey had a few signature offerings, but the most recognizable one was the Nike Air Griffey Max 1. Marked as an athletic trainer, the Griffey Max 1 was another quintessential '90s sneaker.

    The air bubbles lining the sole and No. 24 strap toward the ankle were staples of the shoe's framework.

    Discussing the history of the sneakers, Riley Jones of Complex.com formulated the following piece of information: "In 1996, Griffey finally got his first true signature model. The Kid himself requested a bold, unique design. He also wanted a turf version of the model to pair with his cleats so that he could rotate between the two for games, workouts, and practice."

    Nike released a ton of dope trainers around the same time Griffey Jr. got his. But they weren't the Nike Air Griffey Max 1. As the video posted above from Nice Kicks shows, these shoes are still getting love.

21. adiZero Rose 1

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Derrick Rose has battled a laundry list of injuries over the last couple of seasons, but early in his career, Rose was one of the most explosive guards the NBA has ever seen.

    Arriving to reboot the Chicago Bulls franchise in 2008, D-Rose signed a deal with Adidas after the draft that cemented his sneaker future.

    There have been a lot of great signature shoes produced for Rose, but his very first one—the adiZero Rose 1—is still the pinnacle of the line.

    Infused with an open ankle strap, the adiZero Rose 1 conformed to give consumers a solid amount of support. Besides the technical aspects, these were also really good-looking shoes—the traditional black colorway especially.

    These kicks remind you of an updated version of the Air Jordan XX. From the ankle strap to the leather layover toward the front of the shoe, the adiZero Rose 1 was a colossal achievement for the Adidas brand.

20. LeBron 12

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    Image via Nike

    LeBron James' most recent shoe finds itself at No. 20 on this list. The LeBron 12 is an advanced sneaker on all fronts.

    It's wild to think that King James has already had 12 sneakers with Nike. Somehow, the brand continues to give James an edge thanks to smart design and technology.

    What sets the LeBron 12s apart from a lot of kicks out there right now is the traction platform embedded into the sole. Perfect for playing outdoors or inside, there's no slippage or uncomfortable moments playing in these sneakers.

    Another area where James has been leap-frogging his peers resides in the color department. All of the exotic hues and shading patterns the LeBron 12s have been given leave no stone unturned.

19. T-MAC 3

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    TED S. WARREN/Associated Press

    For a good chunk of his 15-year NBA career, Tracy McGrady was one of the top players in the NBA. The 6'8" forward was a dynamite scorer who could do a little bit of everything.

    McGrady's best years came under the Orlando Magic banner from 1998 until he signed with the Houston Rockets in 2004.

    T-Mac's immense success led to Adidas giving him his own signature shoe. The T-MAC series of sneakers included some of the best-looking and best-performing kicks released during the early 2000s.

    Of all the shoes that came out, the T-MAC 3 was the most appealing one. This silhouette was dressed up with a faux gator material on the midsole, which was revolutionary at the time. Complemented by three blue lines, the T-MAC 3 proved to be a standout model on the court.

18. Kyrie 1

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    Image via Nike

    It might be a bit premature to put the Kyrie 1 on this list, but when you see something as dazzling as his first sneaker, you have to pay homage to it.

    Optically speaking, the Kyrie 1 is remarkable. The mesh overlay that floats over the midsole is one of the shoe's best attributes—you can thank Nike designer Leo Chang for that.

    As striking of a feature as that is, the real takeaway from the Kyrie 1 is the high-fashion studs embedded onto the heel of the shoes. That is something signature athletic shoes have never been blessed with before.

    Since the first "Dream" edition of the sneakers was released in December 2014, Nike has unleashed a covey of colorways.

    Don't get it twisted—the debut sneaker for a professional athlete matters. It usually sets the tone for the future. If Kyrie Irving's first installment is any indication of what we can expect, things are looking up for the young Cleveland Cavaliers point guard.

17. Nike Zoom Flight ’98 "The Glove"

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    Image via Nike

    Isn't it time we all praised Gary Payton just a little bit more?

    The 6'4" point guard played 17 years in the NBA, where he averaged 16.7 points, 6.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. At his peak, Payton was also one of the top defensive guards in basketball. As part of the now-defunct Seattle SuperSonics, "The Glove" rattled off nine outstanding seasons in a row.

    Nike finally rewarded Payton's hard work when it gave him his own sneaker—the Nike Zoom Flight ’98.

    This shoe was pure '90s bliss. Armed with a zip-up cover that engulfed the laces and secured the shoe, the Nike Zoom Flight ’98 was perfect for a defensive warlord such as Payton.

    Because of the shoe's success, Payton and Nike would go on to create a series of personalized sneakers that would serve as sequels to the Zoom Flight '98.

16. FILA Grant Hill

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    As a brand, FILA didn't always produce the best-looking sneakers during its heyday. One of the lone exceptions to that train of thought was the FILA Grant Hill.

    Those who grew up watching Hill tear the world apart at Duke can attest to how big of a star he really was. Had it not been for a series of injuries, Hill's career could have rivaled some of the top NBA stars.

    Choosing to go in the FILA direction, Hill's first sneaker was a hit among consumers. In fact, going by the data released at the time, his personalized sneakers sold 1.5 million pairs, per Timothy J. Mullaney, who was writing for The Baltimore Sun at the time.

    There wasn't really any advanced technology pumped into the sneakers. Still, that didn't stop the public from hoarding the kicks when they were first released.

    The FILA Grant Hill was the first great shoe for the brand and Hill. And that's why plenty of sneakerheads will continue to cherish that model for the rest of time.

15. Nike Air Penny I

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    Image via Nike

    Leave it to Penny Hardaway to rival Michael Jordan in the '90s when it came to signature kicks.

    The former Orlando Magic guard was one of the pioneers of the sneaker industry. His relationship with Nike couldn't have been any better. Later on we'll talk about another Hardaway gem, but for now let's focus on the Nike Air Penny I.

    In 1995, Penny and the Nike team designed these shoes to fit his distinct style. When it was all said and done, what came out of the tunnel was a jaw-dropping first shoe.

    The lines and curves surrounding these kicks were bold and in your face—kind of like Hardaway's game. Even the placement of the Nike emblem on the midsole was a stroke of genius.

    Now, 20 years later, the Nike Air Penny I is still getting released in updated colorways. When that happens, you know a shoe is special.

14. Air Jordan XVII

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    Image via Jordan Brand

    The Air Jordan XVII is hands down one of the most slept-on, forgotten-about Jordans ever made. Worn during MJ's days with the Washington Wizards in 2002, the XVII doesn't get the same love as some of the models he wore with the Bulls.

    So, what better time is there than now to let you know why these sneakers are ranked so high on this list?

    First off, forget about what Jordan did for the Wizards. Politicking strictly about the sneakers, the XVII's were ridiculous. When you slipped your foot into one of the kicks, it felt like you had a supportive nylon brace wrapped around your ankle.

    Embracing all of your hardwood needs every step of the way, the white base with a black lace overlay was the perfect formula to go out and stunt on people.

    If you didn't own a pair of these kicks, you may forget that they came packed in a metal briefcase. Maybe the good people at Jordan Brand decided that when you have a nuclear, eye-popping blue material crawling up from the soles, you needed a serious case to go along with it.

    Everything about the Air Jordan XVII was golden. Come to think of it, No. 14 actually may be too low for these grails.

13. Reebok Question

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    Lou Capozzola/Getty Images

    Reebok breaks through on this list thanks to the work the company put in with former Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson.

    The Reebok Question model was Iverson's best shoe, and it isn't even close.

    The Question was actually birthed during A.I's rookie season in '96. From an outsider's view, you could actually see shades of the Air Jordan XI featured in the Question—especially when it comes to the toe.

    As a high-top model, these shoes provided ankle-breaking support—something some players wish they could have had when they guarded Iverson.

    It's sort of poetic justice that one of the most underrated players in NBA history has his shoes on this list. The Questions were a vital part of Iverson's mystique.

12. Nike Zoom Kobe IV

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    Image via Nike

    Leave it to Kobe Bryant to bring the whole low-top wave back to the NBA. The Nike Zoom Kobe IV was one of the Black Mamba's most memorable shoes with Nike.

    At the time of the switch, Wayne Drehs of ESPN.com wrote the following about Bryant: "He knows there will be doctors, trainers, coaches, fans and even some fellow NBA stars who will look at his latest signature shoe from Nike, see that it's -- gasp -- a low-top and believe the Los Angeles Lakers guard has completely lost his mind."

    There were no gasps to be heard of as Bryant learned to thrive in a low-top shoe. Nike deserves a lot of credit for finding a way to walk the line between giving people a rigid shoe in the protection department while not sacrificing an ounce of flexibility.

    Bryant has continued to mix his love for low-top models in with the highs. Both the Kobe 9 and the remarkable Kobe X that recently hit stores were produced both ways.

11. Nike Zoom KD IV

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    Image via Nike

    Kevin Durant has benefited from an impressive sneaker legacy ever since he joined Nike. All of his personalized shoes have come equipped with various features that make each one special.

    But the one Durant kick that belongs high up on this list is the Nike Zoom KD IV. That was the transitional shoe for the KD brand.

    Intended to have a fitted look, the KD IV was a great product when it dropped in 2011. Just look at all of the grooves and ridges in the picture above. Everything works about these kicks. Each sneaker gushes with emotion, and the colorways that Nike tossed on these shoes were all fire.

    A great sneaker is one that not only plays well on the court but also draws you in the moment you see it. The KD IV was that type of shoe.

    As Durant's shoes have grown and matured, the benchmark remains the KD IV.

10. Air Jordan XX9

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    Image via Nike

    The belief that Jordan Brand hasn't produced a relevant Air Jordan since MJ himself retired couldn't be further from the truth.

    In 2014, the Air Jordan XX9 hit the streets and proved that the most historic sneaker line in the world is still capable of producing magic.

    I've said it before, but the XX9 could be the most comfortable Air Jordan ever made. There's something distinct about the one-piece upper that makes these shoes work in harmonious perfection.

    Performance is crucial to judging these types of shoes. As far as that department goes, the XX9 doesn't disappoint. The ability to breathe in these sneakers while still enjoying a NASA-type level of functionality is what makes the XX9 a distinguished breadwinner.

    Like so many Jordan models in the past, the XX9 has set up its eventual successor beautifully. At this rate, who knows what we can expect from the Air Jordan XXX.

9. Air Jordan IV

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    Image via Jordan Brand

    When Tinker Hatfield created the the Air Jordan III, he changed the way we look at sneakers. Designing with a sense of continuity, the follow-up Air Jordan IV was another masterful addition to the legendary line.

    As a mid-top, the IV was the perfect on-court and casual shoe. The materials used made for an industrial-strength sneaker that looked and felt great.

    To add salt to the wounds of other signature kicks, the Air Jordan IV also has great meaning behind it. Those were the kicks that Jordan wore when he sank the game-winner against the Cavaliers in the '89 NBA playoffs.

8. Zoom LeBron II

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    LeBron James landing with Nike fresh out of high school was big for the brand. It opened the door to the whole "post-Jordan" era.

    Jordan Brand had splintered off into its own faction, and Nike was in need of another megastar to carry the company. James became that guy.

    All of James' models were special, but one shoe that made tidal waves was the Zoom LeBron II.

    Nike was put in a tough place considering James' first shoe was such a big deal. Instead of treading water, the company went full speed ahead and produced the Zoom LeBron II.

    Dressed up with a strap for additional support, these kicks didn't need a ton of colors and vibrant patterns to make an impact. They were simply clean, bulky—in a good way—and hyper-focused.

    Due to the fact that King James is such a popular player, his recent line of sneakers has absolutely flooded the market. While you can easily get your hands on a pair of LeBron 12s or even 11s, finding the Zoom LeBron II for a decent price won't be easy.

    For more details on this shoe, the good people at Nice Kicks analyzed one particular version of the Zoom Lebron II in the video above.

7. Air Jordan XII

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    Image via Jordan Brand

    What the Air Jordan XII represents is a fitting follow-up model to the Jordan XI. The transition from the XI to the XII produced two of the freshest signature sneakers we've ever seen.

    Believe it or not, the Jordan XII was actually the first Air Jordan sneaker to be fitted with Nike's "Zoom Air" feature, per Steve Jaconetta of Sole Collector. With that boost in technology accompanying the product, the Jordan XII not only looked amazing, but playing in the shoes was a joy as well.

    The XII featured plenty of support, and it was surprisingly light and ridiculously durable. Because of its elite style, you could argue that the Jordan XII was actually a better-looking shoe than its predecessor.

    Jordan aficionados will argue either side of the coin, but that's what we love about shoes. There is no right answer.

    Even if you have the Jordan XII ranked slightly below the XIs, you can't deny how amazing this was. I mean come on, Jordan himself wore these during the "Flu Game," and those shoes wound up being auctioned off for $104,765 in 2013, as reported by ESPN's Darren Rovell.

6. Kobe 9 Elite

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    Image via Nike

    When Kobe Bryant came over to Nike in 2003, everything changed. The mutually beneficial relationship helped spurn some of the most comfortable and progressive basketball sneakers on the planet.

    Though Bryant and Nike have created a ton of quality shoes together, the Kobe 9 Elite is one of the absolute best. Whether we're discussing the shoes in high-top or low-top form, the support and lightweight materials that encompass these shoes are primo.

    Like the rest of Nike's signature kicks nowadays, a lack of original colorways was never an issue. From the Los Angeles Lakers-inspired purple-and-gold motif to the low-top customizable "Mamba Moments" collection that honored Bryant becoming the third all-time leading scorer in NBA history, the Kobe 9 Elites were truly next-level kicks.

5. Air Jordan VI

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    Image via Jordan Brand

    Now that we've officially crossed over the river into Air Jordan territory, let's continue to get after it by looking at the Air Jordan VI.

    Another Hatfield design, the VI was the shoe Jordan wore when he won his first NBA title in 1991. These were the kicks MJ rocked as he gripped the NBA trophy in tears and the ones he wore when he avoided Sam Perkins on his way to finishing one of the best shots in league history.

    That backstory combined with a prolific design makes the Air Jordan VI such a memorable shoe. It's one of the core sneakers that put Jordan as a brand on the map.

4. Nike Air Foamposite One

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    Image via Nike

    Despite not having his name officially attached to the sneakers, the Nike Air Foamposite One was one of former Orlando Magic guard Penny Hardaway's signature shoes.

    Originally released in a Magic-like colorway, the futuristic Foamposite became one of the most popular Nike releases. To this day, new color patterns and designs continue to cover the iconic mold.

    The Foamposite was an outlandish design for the times. The grooves wedged into the sidewalls of the midsole were different than anything Nike had released prior. But where the Foams really thrived was from a technological aspect.

    These kicks were sturdy yet forgiving and were packed with a serious cushioning system.

    Credit goes to Nike's current creative director and vice president of innovation, Eric Avar. Avar was the father of the Foamposite revolution, per News.Nike.com.

    In the press release detailing the history of the kicks, a forgotten piece of information was revealed: "While many attribute the Foamposite to Penny Hardaway (Air Penny III), University of Arizona freshman Mike Bibby was the one to debut the shoe during the 1997 tournament."

    On par with some of the greatest releases in sneaker history, the Nike Air Foamposite One remains a pillar of greatness.

3. Air Jordan III

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    Image via Jordan Brand

    Before the Air Jordan III came out, Hatfield hadn't really gotten involved with any of Michael's signature shoes.

    Thankfully, he took the reigns of this model and never looked back. Hatfield was sort of like The Beatles. The man produced hit after hit and always seemed to do it in a totally different way.

    A regular Paul McCartney or John Lennon, Hatfield's Air Jordan III was a masterpiece. Revisiting the history of the sneaker, Sole Collector's Steve Jaconetta also raised a good point: The Air Jordan III not only marked Hatfield's debut, but it also was the first shoe to feature the Jumpman logo.

    To sum things up: Without these shoes, the Air Jordan line would look a lot different than it does today.

2. Air Jordan XI

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    Image via Jordan Brand

    Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Air Jordan XI. If the Air Jordan I doesn't do it for you, odds are the XI is your on-court weapon of choice.

    Created by Hatfield, the Air Jordan XI was released in 1995 and worn by MJ during the Bulls' 1995-96 season.

    While the design is still perfect to this day, the shoe was immortalized because of the fact Jordan won his fifth NBA title in them.

    The "Concord" edition—a black and white offering—and the more traditional Bulls colorway were both endearing models. But true Jordan fans covet the Space Jam editions more than the rest.

    Worn by Jordan during the film Space Jam, the black midsole and leather toe were brought to life by the white underlay and a blue Jumpman logo.

    To show how popular the model remains, in December 2014, Jordan Brand released the "Legend Blue" edition of the shoes. That particular version resulted in $80 million in sales, per SportScanInfo (via Matthew Kisch of the Portland Business Journal).

    The Air Jordan XI is a true staple of not only basketball culture but also pop culture.

1. Air Jordan I

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    Image via Jordan Brand

    The first signature shoe to really set things off was the Air Jordan I.

    It wasn't known at the time, but Peter Moore's design in 1984 would radically shift the narrative of sneaker culture. The Air Jordan I was unlike anything we'd ever seen before in terms of colors. The strictly black-and-red combination was actually banned by the front offices of the NBA.

    That decision to ban the shoe created this James Dean, outlaw-type aura around the Air Jordan I.

    There have been 28 other Air Jordan models released since that first shoe. Still, the Jordan I has been released in countless colorways and modifications. It really has stood the test of time.

    Despite not being a technically savvy product like some of the other kicks on this list, the significance of the Air Jordan I makes it the top signature shoe ever made.

    All Nike product information via News.Nike.com, unless noted otherwise. All Adidas information via News.Adidas.com, unless noted otherwise.

    All NBA stats and information via Basketball-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.

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