With the NBA season now in our rear view, we take a look back at some signature footwear from what many deem to be the Golden Age of the NBA. While some designs have a distinctive '90s feel to them, others have been immortalized in the sneaker world thanks to their lasting silhouettes.
When we decided to put together a list of of some of our favorite NBA sneakers, we subconsciously focused on a specific era - the late '80's and '90s - as our favorites. And who can blame us? Michael Jordan was/did have a stranglehold on the league, but there were ample challengers to the crown who not only performed on-court, but had signature shoes as well.
Here our 10 sneakers - illustrated by Dan Freebairn - that will always bring back fond memories and when all of our Hoop Dreams were still a possibility.
Model: Converse Chuck Taylor Colorway: White Year Worn: 1959 Wearer: Wilt Chamberlain
While we just waxed poetic about the '80s/''90s, we couldn't help but to include one of the most legendary pieces of footwear in NBA history. Although some players have flirted with Wilt Chamberlain's record for most points in a single game, his achievement is one that may never be broken (like Joe DiMaggio's hit streak in baseball). And even though the game between Chamberlain's Philadelphia Warriors and the New York Knicks was not televised, and no video footage of the game has been located, we do know what was on his feet that fateful night.
Model: adidas Attitude Colorway: White/Blue/Orange Year Worn: 1986 Wearer: Patrick Ewing
After being the first selection in the NBA draft by the New York Knicks, adidas wasted little time outfitting Patrick Ewing with a signature shoe in a Big Apple-themed colorway. Like other adidas basketball shoes of the era, they were manufactured in France and were noted for their luxury, leather construction unseen on shoes being produced in Mexico and the Far East, as well as an oversized tongue and padded collar.
Model: Nike Air Max2 CB 94 Colorway: Red/White/Blue Year Worn: 1994 Wearer: Charles Barkley
When you think of Charles Barkley, you think of his rugged style of play, defensive prowess, and his legendary nickname: "The Round Mound of Rebound." It should come as no surprise then that his signature shoe contained similar attributes. Designed in part by Tracy Teague, the shoe featured straightjacket-esque straps - an homage to how Barkley was hard to control/his lockdown defense - with additional aesthetics like a blow-molded Nike Air bag for cushioning on the back end.
Model: Fila 95 Colorway: White/Navy Year Worn: 1995 Wearer: Grant Hill
Prior to some debilitating injuries, Grant Hill was on a Hall of Fame trajectory and certainly helped fill the void when Michael Jordan retired for the first time in 1995. When Hill decided to sign with Fila, his seven-year $80 million contract was second only to Jordan's deal with Nike and ahead of Allen Iverson's deal with Reebok. Featuring an all-white leather upper and black rubber outsole, signature eyelet-webbing system parallel to the tongue and around the back collar, the design certainly set it apart from the rest.
Model: Nike Air Penny 1 Colorway: Black/White/Blue Year Worn: 1995 Wearer: Penny Hardaway
Who can forget the molded wing on the Air Penny 1? Everything about Penny Hardaway's first signature shoe felt groundbreaking - from the asymmetric sides with the black medial side, the ghillie lacing system, and the bold outsole design.
Model: Reebok Shaqnosis Colorway: White/Black Year Worn: 1996 Wearer: Shaquille O'Neal
Part of the challenge with providing a shoe for someone like Shaq is that almost everything appeared clunky on his size 22 feet. However, his fifth signature shoe with Reebok felt a lot different than his previous efforts. The single-colorway shoe itself was designed by Jonathan Morris - who also designed the Kamikaze II and Michael Chang's Court Victory II. In speaking with Sole Collector about the signature patten on the shoe, Morris said, "typically, I try and understand the needs of the manufacturer and I'm not trying to make it difficult for them, but at the same time, that's what made the shoe so strong. I just said, “If we lose that, then we lose the shoe.”
Model: Air Jordan 11 Colorway: Black/Red Year Worn: 1996 Wearer: Michael Jordan
When Tinker Hatfield started designing the Air Jordan 11, MJ himself was retired and Nike was contemplating ending his signature line because they didn't think anyone would buy new shoes for a player who no longer laced them up. As Hatfield remembers, "It was innovative because of the carbon fiber, which came from football cleats - both soccer and American football cleats. The patent leather was actually Michael’s idea. He didn’t really know about patent leather necessarily, but he had said he wanted a shoe that was shiny. He actually wanted a shoe that shiny for about three years before that, and I could not figure out the right kind of material and how to use it."
While many will think of the white/black colorway, the black/red pair evokes memories of the NBA Playoffs as the Chicago Bulls were only allowed to wear dark-colored shoes during the postseason.
Model: Nike Air Zoom Flight "The Glove" Colorway: Black/White Year Worn: 1996 Wearer: Gary Payton
Earning a nickname "The Glove" because of his tenacious, on-ball defense, Gary Payton's shoe with Nike featured a synthetic, zippered stretch shroud and “Monkey Paw” technology around the ankle to make it tight and snug – just like your fingers going into a glove. As Gary Payton remembers, " During the design process, we checked out different types of gloves for inspiration. I really liked the leather ones that secure your hand with the pull of a zip – the ones that have a zipper on the back part of the glove. I thought it would be nice to have a shoe that featured an element like that. No one had anything like that at the time, and I thought it was a really dope concept."
Model: Reebok Question Colorway: White/Red Year Worn: 1996 Wearer: Allen Iverson
During his rookie campaign, Allen Iverson went on to average 23.5 points and 7.5 assists per game - all while sporting his signature shoe, the Reebok Question (which played off his nickname "The Answer"). Featuring a leather upper, pearlized overlays, Hexalite cushioning and a translucent outsole, Iverson's play on court and fashion/demeanor off of it made the shoe a hit in both the athletic and street style sector.
Model: Nike Foamposite One Colorway: Dark Neon Royal/White/Black Year Worn: 1997 Wearer: Penny Hardaway
Designed by Eric Avar, the Foamposite One was another "win" for the Penny Hardaway camp - although the original design was intended for Scottie Pippen. Mike Bibby was actually the first to hit the court in the shoes as an Arizona Wildcat 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.