With the NBA draft scheduled to change the lives of at least 60 young men from around the world this evening, many look to the occasion as a moment to dress up to showcase their individuality.
Since the very nature of professional sports dictates a certain amount of uniformity amongst those on a roster, players are usually only left with a view sartorial decisions once on court; namely, the shoes they choose to play in.
While a signature model is obviously the Holy Grail for kids on the blacktop who imagined that they would one day join the pantheon of greats with their own shoes like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, chances are that most players drafted will compete in various stock models based on which brand they choose to endorse.
This isn’t always the case. In many instances, players have eschewed sports scientists and data about certain basketball-equipped shoes in favor of models that were not only intended for other disciplines, but also not for athletics at all.
In honor of of one of the most fashion forward days on the NBA calendar, we explore the 17 craziest sneakers to ever grace an NBA floor.
Nike Air Flight One
In 1984, Michael Jordan got his first signature shoe, the Air Jordan 1, and has since continued the tradition even after retiring for the final time in 2003.
One of the most notable sneaker traditions for His Airness and his teammates started in 1989 and dictated that all players don black shoes during the Playoffs.
This trend famously saw the Bulls compete their first three-peat — with Jordan wearing black versions of the VI, VII and VII.
Jordan famously called it a career after this period and pursued his baseball passions, but Jordan Brand continued to release additional models.
When Jordan came back and found himself squaring off against the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, he unveiled the legendary Jordan 11 “Concord.” But since they were still in the prototype phase, there was only the white colorway and Jordan was fined for not adhering to the black shoes policy.
In turn, Jordan opted to don the signature shoe of his opponent, Penny Hardaway: the Nike Air Flight One — albeit after ripping off the “1” heel tab which denoted his number.
Although the Bulls lost, MJ still put up 40 points which begged the question, “is it really the shoes?”
Nike Air Zoom Challenge
No one will ever confuse Hall of Fame point guard, John Stockton, with being a style maven. In a sartorial context, he will best be remembered for shorts so short that he always ran the risk of having his man-parts slip out.
However, he was quite trend setting when he opted for Andre Agassi’s signature model, the Air Zoom Challenge, during the 1997 campaign which saw the Jazz lose to the Chicago Bulls in six games in the NBA Finals.
Featuring a traction pattern than translated well from clay of Rolland Garros to the arena floor at the Delta Center, Stockton proved that you didn’t have to compete in shoes specifically designed for an individual sport.
GR41 Warner Bros.
Surely aided by the $230 million USD that they made off Space Jam, Warner Bros. opted to continue its connections with basketball. However, it wasn’t simply as a studio looking to repeat the same formula.
Rather, Warner Bros. began producing its own brand of basketball shoes — selecting Charlotte Hornets three-point specialist, Glen Rice, as their main athlete endorser to go along with others like Patrick Ewing, Mugsy Bogues, Bryant Reeves, Bobby Hurley and Juwan Howard.
“We’re a vehicle to a whole new world for athletes,” said Dan Romanelli, president, Warner Bros. Consumer Products. “We will put them into our TV shows and movies. We will tap our home video or interactive units to create branded sports instructional videos or CD-ROMs.”
Rice most notably wore a Hornets-centric color way of the GR41 Warner Bros where he took home MVP honors after scoring 26 points.
adidas TMAC III
Thanks to his close ties to adidas and Sunny Vaccaro (who ran the ABCD Camp) in high school, it came as little surprise that Tracy McGrady chose the three-stripes when he made that enormous jump to the pros.
For the first few years of his career, he went for models like the adidas Real Deal, adidas Silk, adidas KB8 II, adidas Lithicon PE and adidas Mad Handle before getting his own signature shoe, the T-Mac 1 in 2001.
It was the third iteration of his signature shoe — and his exploits at the 2004 All-Star Game — which solidified McGrady as a risk taker with his footwear.
Playing in mismatched, patent leather iterations to match the East’s uniforms, he notably elevated for a self-assisted dunk off the backboard.
In 2014, Packer Shoes and adidas celebrated this moment by presenting a collaborative release which matched the mismatched tones.
And1, DaDa Supreme, Nike Zoom Huarache 2K4 & adidas a3
Despite a lengthy NBA career which has spanned 18 years, Ron Artest has only made one All-Star Game appearance.
There must have been something in the water at the aforementioned 2004 affair. Whereas Tracy Mcgrady opted for a mismatched version, Artest built upon that flare by wearing four different models — And1, DaDa Supreme Spinners, Nike Zoom Huarache 2K4 & adidas a3 — en route to putting up seven points and dishing out three assists.
Dolce & Gabbana Patent High
In a contemporary context, high fashion brands like Maison Martin Margiela, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana are reserved to pre-game entrances and post game press conferences for players. Yet, Washington Wizards guard, Gilbert Arenas, attempted to bridge that gap in 2010.
Utilizing the star-studded Staples Center as the venue, Arenas wore Dolce & Gabbana High Top sneakers that featured basketball aesthetics like straps across the midfoot area and a patent leather texture.
Arenas ultimately scored 23 points in the $395 USD designer shoes.
Nike Air Yeezy II “Solar Red”
There was a time when Kanye West’s name was synonymous with Nike. Of course, their relationship soured and he went on to even more success while with adidas.
Despite the shift in allegiances, one thing remained the exact same; the public’s thirst for all things Kanye.
Chicago Bulls guard, Nate Robinson, was a trendsetter as it relates to bringing Yeezy silhouettes into the athletic arena.
Donning the Yeezy II “Solar Red” against the Spurs, Robinson got off to a rocky start on 1-8 shooting in the first quarter. Soon after, he ditched the shoes and slid into a pair of Jordan XII white/red for the rest of the game.
adidas JS Streetball
The mention of Jeremy Scott’s name evokes thoughts of wild, animalistic and often furry designs that push the boundaries on fashion versus function. Suffice it to say, he’s more “Tinkerer” than Tinker Hatfield.
This didn’t deter Iman Shumpert who took to the floor against the Brooklyn Nets in sneakers boasting a deluge of colors like cheetah, orange, brown, green, white, black and burgundy.
“I like the audacity of Jeremy Scott’s line, and I’m into putting my orthotics in any kind of shoes to play in,” said Shumpert. “I don’t think adidas liked me playing in Jeremy Scotts too much since the line is not created for performance, but with the JS Streetball being such a loud and noticeable shoe, it made me feel like I had to do it justice on court.”
Nike Air Yeezy 2 Red October
Warm-up time — especially for NFL players — is a time to push the boundaries on flare because it gives them the opportunity to showcase wild designs without getting fined by the league office.
LeBron James followed this line of thinking with the Air Yeezy 2 “Red October” — albeit without worrying about the repercussions because he is a Nike signed athlete — during shoot around in 2014 ahead of a Game 2 Finals matchup between the Heat and Spurs.
As hyped as we think the adidas iteration is, at that same time, a person was attempting to sell six pairs of Air Yeezy’s as a package deal for $100,000 USD.
Supreme x Nike Foamposite One
There is hysteria surrounding any Supreme release. However, this was taken to all new heights of insanity when they partnered with Nike on a collaborative Foamposite One which prompted the NYPD to cancel the planned in-store release in the Big Apple in April 2014.
Two days later, Nick Young broke out a pair for a battle of Los Angeles which pitted his Lakers against the Clippers.
Nike Air Yeezy 2 Red October
LeBron James certainly established a precedent for seeing the Nike Air Yeezy 2 Red October on an NBA floor — albeit for shoot around.
Suns forward, PJ Tucker, took it to the next level by wearing them in a game against the Portland Trailblazers.
Encouraged to do so by his social media followers — so as to drum up interest for a charity event called “Kicks for Kids” — Tucker showed that Kanye West’s design could withstand the rigors of NBA action.
Later that season, Tucker provided an encore by donning the “Pure Platinum” colorway versus the Clippers.
adidas Yeezy Boost 750
Jeff Teague was supposedly going to be the first NBA player to wear the adidas Yeezy Boost 750 in a game. But after an ankle injury, the optics wouldn’t be so good if people perceived that he was putting his footwear choices over winning.
Enter, Nick Young, whose Lakers had failed to put together back-to-back victories all season.
While his numbers were anything but pedestrian — scoring eight points on 3-of-11 shooting — Young earned the distinction of being the first player in the lifestyle oriented silhouette.
After having his name checked in Kanye West’s “Facts” which chronicled his disillusionment with Nike — with the rapper stating, “Now we hottest in the streets, it ain’t no discussion/James Harden, Swaggy P runnin’ up the budget” — Young then opted for an all black pair of the 750’s later that same season.
Just Don x Air Jordan 2
Thanks to the connection to Don C, the Air Jordan 2 is often viewed solely as a lifestyle shoe despite its relevance to Michael Jordan’s career.
Rudy Gay dispelled this notion by rocking the tonal pair in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers that matched the royal blue Rochester throwback uniforms of the Sacramento Kings.
Finishing with 21 points and 8 rebounds, he clearly showed that the shoe was clearly capable of handling the up and down in the Association.
Nike Air Max 90
Atlanta Hawks swingman, Thabo Sefolosha, is a certifiable Air Max junkie. While this would seem to inform the type of footwear he favors off court, he has instead brought his passion for the silhouette on court.
Having first opted for the Nike Air Max 1 Mid in various colorways, he ditched the extended collar of the model for the timelessness — and risk — of the Air Max 90 which seemed an unlikely choice for someone coming off a fractured tibia and torn ligaments the previous season.
“I wasn’t jumping and doing things, and they felt real comfortable,” Sefolosha said. “The more I started working out and doing different things, I kept wearing Air Maxes, and they felt good.”
Finding himself in a similar situation as Ron Artest was at the 2004 All-Star Game — being on the big stage and in-between sneaker sponsorship deals — Wizards guard, John Wall, went for opulence instead of looking to attract multiple suitors.
During warmups, Wall was seen donning a $1,150 USD pair of Buscemi sneakers which had caught the interest of sneakerheads for its Italian craftsmanship and 18K gold-plated padlock on the rear of the shoe.
“What’s a better stage to introduce a shoe than during the All-Star Game?” Jon Buscemi said in an interview. “That’s traditionally when the biggest brands introduce something. We didn’t promote it at all. All we did was send them to John, he loved it and then he wore them in the warmups before the game.”
From all accounts, Wall was going to play in the game with the model, but officials deemed the padlock accessory as being a potential health hazard.
“He wanted to wear it in the game, but he wasn’t allowed to because of the hardware in it,” Buscemi said, adding, “We wanted to take sports and the finest Italian leather shoes and bring them together. It’s the first eleven-hundred dollar shoe that’s seen the floor of an NBA court.”
Supreme x Nike Air More Uptempo
Derrick Jones Jr’s name wasn’t recognizable to even the most ardent NBA fans. But thanks to his freakish jumping ability that he showcased in practice — having only one in-game dunk at the time — he landed an invite to the dunk contest at All-Star weekend.
Opting for a Metallic Gold colorway of the Supreme x Nike Air More Uptempo, Jones Jr. made it to the finals but eventually lost out to Glenn Robinson III.
KAWS x Jordan IV
A week after dropping in late March of this year, Milwaukee Bucks guard, Gary Payton II, entered the game in the collaborative pairing of KAWS and Air Jordan IV which boasted a fully suede midsole and cage and glow-in-the-dark sole.