It’s hard to separate the world of basketball from the world of sneakers. Jaw-dropping pro basketball legends aside, the needs of the sport haven’t just influenced the tech with your favorite shoes, its swagger and attitude has undoubtedly affected the aesthetics of sneakers—both on- and especially off-court. While certain players have been able to singlehandedly inspire series after series of sneakers, certain models have become more renown after being adopted by legions of stylish men and women on the streets of the nearest major city. From simple canvas uppers, to modern-day Zoom Air units, sneakerheads owe a lot to the game of roundball. With some help from our partner Finish Line, we've handpicked the best court-inspired kicks that deserve a spot on your shoe rack's starting five. Consider this a primer featuring some of the best bball shoes—even if the closest you get to shooting hoops is when you pick up a video game controller.
Nike Air Force 1
Whether you call them ‘Uptowns’, ‘Forces,’ or just ‘AF-1s,’ when it comes to basketball sneakers crossing into streetwear, there’s nothing quite like the Nike’s Air Force 1. At the time of its release in 1982, the Air Force 1 was a vessel for Nike’s burgeoning Air technology. It holds the honor of being the first basketball shoe to boast an Air sole. Since then, it’s been coopted by nearly every segment of pop culture—from rappers in the 2000s (shout out to St. Louis), to fashion fans in search of a simplified-yet-structured sneaker. While the shoe has been a canvas for hundreds of artists and designers over the decades, its most iconic form is easily its starkest; practically every single item in your wardrobe is complimented by a pair of white-on-white Air Force 1s.
Converse Chuck Taylor Hi-Top
While this easily slides into the footwear pantheon as one of the most well-known shoes of all time, there can be little doubt that today’s basketball sneakers are built upon this Converse’s pared-down, timeless structure. Effectively canvas stitched on top of a rubber sole, what once was an early 20th century athletic shoe has become a pop icon in its own right, taking the bold “All-Star” leather patch (a feature added by Charles Taylor himself) and establishing it on everything from school hallways to sold-out rock arenas. While the amount of colors, patterns, and special editions for this shoe are dizzying to say the least, there’s nothing wrong with letting the simple nature of the shoe speak for itself—in classic white or black, you have nothing to distract from the Chuck Taylor’s signature touches. Staying in fashion year, after year is no easy feat. But to hold a spot in the American wardrobe for nearly 100 years—that’s saying something.
Jordan Dub Zero
If there’s one thing the Dub Zero epitomizes, it’s basketball history. A combination of the Jordan 4, 6, 11, 12, 13, 15, and 20, this Jordan—like any good wardrobe—knows how to build off of style history to create something altogether modern and new. Whether you’re attracted to the Dub Zero for its Jordan 12 inspired “Two Three” stitching on the tongue, or like to keep people guessing when they see the Jordan 6 heel “spoiler” as you walk by, the Dub Zero has the best bits of some of Jordan’s most memorable models. As one of the model’s unique features, the laser etching on the upper helps the Dub Zero stand apart from its predecessors. This shoe may have originally dropped in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Jordan brand, but this Dub Zero colorway adds on another decade of tradition; this iteration pays tribute to 30 years of Jordan Brand with an exclusive insole. No matter how you slice it, this Dub Zero confirms a simple truth: when it comes to timelessly fashionable kicks, Jordan is the GOAT.
adidas Pro Model
Inheriting much of the design from the preceding Superstar models, the adidas Pro Model truly was a “pro model” during much of the 1970s, seeing time on the court courtesy of several notable basketball stars. As the Superstar crossed over from sport to lifestyle in the 1980s, so too did the Pro Model, earning high marks as a street style staple more than something you’d carry onto the court. Today, the retro shelltoe and leather construction are more classical “tennis-shoe-style” touches that accent everything from joggers to cuffed black jeans. Like many of adidas’ throwback styles, the slimmed silhouette makes this an easy selection, regardless if the situation’s dress code is formal or something simple. Besides, with chilly fall winds finally hitting the streets, you can’t go wrong with a high top that’s been historically designed around the rigors of the hardcourt.
Originally dropped in 1991, the FX-100 was one of the first high tops from the Italian brand. While Fila was a well-established entity within the world of tennis, its basketball operation ramped up heavily within the 90’s, featuring a small roster of pro all-stars to reintroduce the brand into the sport. Thanks to those players, Fila had a small resurgence in the final decade of the 20th century, with 90’s style in full effect on the FX-100. From the chunky contrast sole, to the high topped velcro belt, this shoe is definitely for those who are willing to posterize anyone foolish enough to challenge your fashion sense. But while this may be a style standout, rest assured that—with its simple, swooping side panel stripes, and white leather base—it’s still flexible enough to fly with the stacked jeans or sweats that you’re reaching for day-in and day-out.
Under Armour Curry 3
There’s no denying that Stephen Curry has dramatically shifted the conversation when it comes to the modern-day iteration of basketball. But while Curry is dazzling crowds with his miraculous shooting skills, he’s teamed with Under Armour to shift the paradigm on sneaker culture—helping to propel Under Armour into the style stratosphere when it comes to creating basketball sneakers that perform as good as they look. With colors ranging from team-inspired “blue-and-gold” to a more contemporary Aluminum gray, the latest iteration in Under Armour’s Curry series is as much a style-focused step forward as it is on-court equipment. But while you’ll probably be more interested in the aesthetics than the performance aspects, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Taped seams running from the shoe collar to the toebox streamline the shoe, and the breathable Threadborne S® delivers a contemporary textured upper design that’ll be breaking necks on the sidewalk when you’re not breaking ankles on the court.
Reebok Omni Lite Retro
One of basketball’s most iconic technologies, Reebok’s Pump was one of the brand’s most striking details, assisted by Dee Brown’s legendary dunk contest performance in 1991. Building off over 25 years of legacy, the Omni Lite Retro takes cues from the Reebok archive while keeping the present in mind. The brand’s proprietary Hexalite cushioning isn’t just found in the midsole of the sneaker, it’s directly called out via stitching on the heel panel. Sitting alongside the Pump unit on the tongue, the two techs are a reminder of Reebok’s basketball dominance. But this sneaker isn’t trapped in days gone by—its sleek black upper and matching tonal pump unit keep this shoe contemporary without being too distracting to whatever you might wear with it. The Omni Lite Retro is undoubtedly an homage, but just because it takes cues from a true throwback, doesn’t mean that it’s not ready for some play in your wardrobe in 2016.
LeBron Zoom Witness
Watching LeBron is a chance to witness greatness on the court. Lacing up his sneakers—well, that’s a slice of greatness you can wear for yourself. While the mid top silhouette is a callout to classic throwback basketball style, the proprietary Breathe Tech construction keeps the fit light, airy, and contemporary. With the Phylon and Zoom Air sole helping to create an overall streamlined feel and appearance, the shoe is finished off by the foam wing encircling the heel section of the sneaker. While the Zoom Witness as certainly a modern-day marvel, the select Nike technology and the overall simplified appearance makes it a strong contender—no matter what you’re lacing your LeBrons up with.
adidas Crazy 8
While we may associate Kobe Bryant with Nike nowadays, it wasn’t always the case. Once dubbed the “KB8” this truly insane adidas model is a once-on-court item that’s made just as big a splash off the court as well. Its thick design turns what would be any retro basketball shoe into something truly insane. Your friends may be stocked up with the latest J’s, but rest assured that there’s little chance that they’ll have anything that looks quite like the Crazy 8. But the shoe’s next level nature isn’t just skin deep; the Crazy 8 has the tech substance to make this a must-add to your shoe rack. A combination of mesh and leather will secure a solid feel, and this throwback shoe even has some supports that you’d find in adidas’ cutting Ultra Boost (shout out to the brand’s Torsion System). Retro style, present-day features—you’d be “crazy” not to snag a pair of these kicks for yourself.
The 31st chapter of the Jordan series is the greatest indicator of both where the brand has started—and where it’s going today. From the very first Jordan model, the shoe was banned based on its aesthetics, something that’s helped establish it as one of the most well-known sneakers (and sneaker brands) of all time. With the “bred” (black and red, for you up-and-coming sneakerheads) Jordan XXXI, the label turns back to honor its days on the league’s blacklist, while turning one of Jordan Brand’s most integral colorways into a modern marvel. While the traditional Nike Swoosh is subtly added to the side of the shoe’s Flyweave upper, the Jumpman logo stands proudly on the heel quarter of the XXXI. With a leather heel panel, and modern Flywire lacing on the front, this shoe is as much of a sidewalk statement as it is a performance shoe. Sure, black and white go with just about everything in any wardrobe. But black and red? That’s the colorway of champions—Chicago or not.