In all of sports, no piece of equipment has had as big of an impact on both the sport and the culture outside of the sport than the basketball sneaker has. Basketball shoes are one of the coolest pieces of sports equipment, and their appeal has spread across the world.
Basketball sneakers are not only a staple for playing the sport, but also off of the court, they have become one of the biggest collector's items in the world. Many would argue that basketball shoes are the most important part in the game of style.
The shoe industry is massive, and thousands of different shoes and colorways have been released over the years. Some were better than others, though. Therefore, we decided to rank the 10 best basketball sneakers of all time.
This list was incredibly hard to narrow down, but the shoes that did make the cut were truly elite in all aspects of being a great shoe. That includes things like on-court function, cultural impact, aesthetics and colorways, big in-game moments when they were worn by their signature athlete, and much more.
10. Nike Air More Uptempo '96
Release year: 1996 Worn by: Scottie Pippen
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) September 21, 2017
The Air More Uptempo shoes worn by Scottie Pippen in 1996 have a classic look. You could even argue that they have the most distinct look in sneaker history. “AIR” is spelled out in big lettering, and it makes a bold statement.
These shoes pop on the streets, but they pop even more on the court. This was exemplified by Scottie Pippen, who wore the shoes in the 1996 Olympic Games.
9. Nike Foamposite 1
Release year: 1997 Worn by: Penny Hardaway
The Nike Foamposite 1's are a polarizing shoe because of their unorthodox look, but their impact on the shoe game cannot be denied. The Foamposite 1's modernized how basketball shoes would look going forward and were a point of reference for the shoes of the 2000s.
The shoe has one bright, predominant color that brings all eyes to the shoe. The shoes were a huge deal in sneaker culture thanks largely to the success of Penny Hardaway's commercials.
8. Reebok Question
Release year: 1996 Worn by: Allen Iverson
When Allen Iverson received his signature line for Reebok, signature lines were still quite rare. The first Reebok Question that debuted was the “Red Toe” colorway. The Reebok Question, especially in the Red Toe OG colorway, is still a sneaker icon today.https://t.co/NUFokaaEGp pic.twitter.com/yj10S8vtnL
— ShoePalace.com (@ShoePalace) June 8, 2023
Allen Iverson had such a big impact on basketball culture that it makes sense that his signature shoe was one of the best and most significant basketball sneakers of all time. The shoes had a simple but effective look, and they are one of the best non-Nike shoes ever.
The Reebok Question sneakers also popularized young players, specifically rookies, getting their own show. Iverson merged basketball, style, and culture unlike any athlete before him, and the Reebok Questions were a big reason why.
7. Nike KD 6
Release year: 2012 Worn by: Kevin Durant
— Nike Basketball (@nikebasketball) June 18, 2016
The Kevin Durant 6's brought in a new era of basketball shoes. Kevin Durant's signature shoe that he wore during his MVP season were vibrant and colorful shoes with cool and unique patterns. The shoes also went deeper than that, as different colorways told different stories about Durant's life.
The Nike KD 6 has arguably the best tongue in the history of basketball shoes. Many shoes on this list are big and bulky, but the KD 6's appeal to hoopers with a slim foot that need a shoe to fit a frame similar to Durant's.
6. Nike Kobe 9 high
Release year: 2014 Worn by: Kobe Bryant
The Nike Kobe 9 high-top shoes might not work in most settings off of the court, but on the court, they are a thing of beauty. With built-in ankle support and premier traction, the basketball function of the shoe is unmatched.
The shoes use Kobe's flyknit look that gives them a majestic and colorful look, and the shoe has some of the most outlandishly beautiful and chaotic colorways. While the shoes may look better and be better suited for playing basketball, they also can look solid as a fashion statement with the big and bulky tongue not tied up.
5. Nike Air Jordan XI
Release year: 1995 Worn by: Michael Jordan
— SoleCollector.com (@SoleCollector) February 16, 2018
Michael Jordan is synonymous with basketball shoes. He popularized shoes as a cultural statement and modernized them functionally on the basketball court. Because of this, the movie “Air” was recently released. The movie takes a look at how Jordan came to joining Nike when they were just a small company. Now, Nike is one of the biggest companies in the world.
The Nike Air Jordan XI is a classy shoe designed to be worn on the hardwood or with a suit and tie. It is a modernized look from an older era. The Air Jordan XI was one of the best sneakers from the best shoe line ever.
On top of being a beautiful shoe, there is also basketball significance to the Air Jordan XIs. The shoe was worn by Jordan when he came back from his brief retirement and baseball stint, and they led to another dominant run by the greatest of all time (both on the court and in the shoe game).
4. Converse Weapon
Release year: 1986 Worn by: Larry Bird/Magic Johnson
Choose your weapon🔫 pic.twitter.com/xbY1SaV903
— Larry Legend☘️ (@LarryBirdDaily) November 29, 2017
The Converse Weapon is a classic shoe. Although the Nike Air Jordan I's came out before the 1986 Converse shoe, Converse still reigned supreme long before Nike dominated the shoe business.
Basketball in the '80s was all about Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers had one of the greatest rivalries ever, yet their star players rocked the same kicks. Even though the shoes were the same, the vastly different colors between Bird's green shoes and Johnson's yellow shoes made the Converse Weapon stand out even more.
3. Nike Kobe 6
Release year: 2011 Worn by: Kobe Bryant
— Ball Don’t Lie (@Balldontlie) December 26, 2017
The Nike Kobe 6's are meant to represent a snake because of Kobe Bryant's nickname, the Black Mamba. The reptile-like pattern did a perfect job of doing this. The shoe also gave the world the “Grinch” colorway, perhaps the most famous colorway of any shoe ever.
2. Nike Air Jordan III
Release year: 1988 Worn by: Michael Jordan
The Air Jordan III revolutionized sneaker design with its midcut silhouette and mixture of style and performance. We caught up with Tinker Hatfield to learn about how the III was created and how it convinced Michael Jordan to stay with Nike: https://t.co/xYF8hriA6J pic.twitter.com/ornUqt2wT5
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) February 27, 2018
The Nike Air Jordan III's are a slick shoe. The third edition of the Jordan line were the first to feature the iconic Jumpman logo. The clean-cut look is enhanced by the flashy elephant print on the heel and toe.
The shoes were worn by Michael Jordan during one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history. Jordan was MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Slam Dunk Contest winner, and a 35-point-per game scorer in these shoes. Jordan was rumored to consider leaving Nike, but the Jordan III's were so impressive that he was forced to stay, perhaps the best decision in shoe history.
1. Nike Air Jordan I
Release year: 1985 Worn by: Michael Jordan
On this date in 1984, Nike's Air Jordans were introduced. The shoes were produced for Michael Jordan to wear with the @chicagobulls. They wouldn't be available to the public until April 1985. #80s #basketball #nba #michaeljordan #Nike #AirJordan pic.twitter.com/NaizOoae8M
— LandOfThe80s (@landofthe80s) November 18, 2023
The shoe that started it all. The Nike Air Jordan I's are what made basketball shoes a big deal. The industry that had become one of the biggest in the apparel world can thank Nike and Michael Jordan for these shoes.
The shoe worked great on the court, especially in Jordan's Chicago Bulls colors, but no shoe has ever looked better off of the court. Michael Jordan also had a number of memorable moments in the NBA while wearing the Air Jordan I's.