You don’t have to look far to see the influence of basketball shoes. Silhouettes dreamt up back in the 1980s continue to dominate the contemporary sneaker market, while the ubiquitous canvas high-top first designed in the early 20th century continues to be among the most popular shoes of all time.
From sporting giants Nike and Adidas through to luxury fashion houses via independent shoemakers, the classic basketball silhouette is as in demand today as it’s ever been. Whether you’re in the market for a cutting-edge pair to elevate your game on the court, or a classic design that can be worn at the weekend, the choice is endless.
So to help narrow down your search, we’ve compiled a list of the latest and greatest models currently available, from minimal low-tops through to high-tech performance shoes.
Why basketball shoes are so popular
Basketball shoes have slowly seeped their way into mainstream culture since the early 20th century. The first pairs, made by the likes of Converse and Keds, dropped in the late 1910s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that things really took off.
Basketball was thriving during this period, with high-profile rivalries between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics propelling the sport into the national spotlight in America. The first signature shoes were also launched during this time, with the Puma Clyde (made for Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier) dropping in 1973 – over a decade before the shoe that would change the sneaker world forever.
Michael Jordan was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984. A year later his first signature shoe, the Nike Air Jordan 1, came out. It wasn’t particularly radical with its design, which didn’t stray too far from the Air Force 1 that came before it. Yet the bold use of red and black gained it instant notoriety when they were banned by the NBA for breaking its colour policy. An icon was born, paving the way for the billion-dollar athlete endorsement industry, which continues to drive the market today.
Basketball shoes are, naturally, popular off the court because of this. Kids and adults alike buy Jordans and Lebrons today because they want to emulate their on court heroes. But basketball sneakers typically just look good, too, which always helps.
Some of the sneaker world’s all-time classic silhouettes originated on the hardwood, including Converse All Stars and the aforementioned Nike Air Force 1s through to Blazers and Dunks. These timeless styles have always worked well with casualwear thanks to their simple designs and versatile colourways, and that’s not going to change any time soon.
The Best Basketball Sneaker Models
Air Jordan IV
The Air Jordan IV is one of the most popular styles to ever bear the Jumpman. Released in 1989, this classic silhouette combines a luxurious leather upper with mesh panelling and a chunky sole complete with visible Air unit.
They can be hard to get hold of and regularly sell out on release, so check out resale sites like StockX if you don’t fancy queuing.
Air Jordan 1
The one that started it all, the Air Jordan 1 remains among the most coveted of all Jordan shoes today. Nike is very careful about which colourways it releases, with the classic ‘bred’ examples still as popular as ever.
An iconic design and one that will look as good as it does now in 100 years’ time.
Converse All Star
It’s hard to imagine professional athletes competing in Converse All Stars, with their unsupportive canvas uppers and relatively stiff, uncushioned soles.
But that’s exactly what they did for decades, beginning in 1917 all the way up to the 1970s. Today they make the perfect everyday beaters, looking even better when they are scuffed up and worn in slightly, in our opinion.
Le Deux Will
A luxurious take on the traditional 1980s basketball silhouette, this Les Deux model is both sleek and sophisticated.
It comes with dark green and ivory accents, with its 100 per cent leather and suede upper stitched by hand in Portugal.
Nike Zoom Kobe IV
Perhaps the greatest shoe in the entire Nike Kobe line, the Zoom Kobe IV was a game-changer when it first released during the 08/09 season.
It took inspiration from the late NBA legend’s love of football with its low-top design, while its Flywire upper made it exceptionally light.
Nike has slowly begun re-releasing the IV, and if you can get your hands on a pair it’s still among the best performing basketball shoes out there.
Nike Dunk High
Released in 1985, the Dunk spliced the Air Force 1, the Terminator, the Legend and the Air Jordan 1. It’s simple, panelled design has been used for infinite colour combos over the years, while its flat, sturdy sole has turned it into a skate shoe classic.
Adidas Forum Low
There’s a long running theory among basketball sneakerheads that you buy Nike for on court performance, and Adidas for off court style.
The Forum is a case in point, with its retro aesthetic and throwback colourways offering the perfect finishing touch to any modern athleisure or casualwear outfit.
Inuikii Canvas Low
For a more fashion-forward take on early basketball shoes, consider the Inuikii Canvas Low. Featuring hardwearing canvas uppers and a robust, chunky contrasting sole, it offers a contemporary update on the low-top design that’s over 100 years old.
Adidas Hoops 3.0 Low
This simple, understated shoe keeps things suitably retro with its clean, no-frills upper, tonal three stripes branding and thick rubber sole.
They’re the kind of kicks you can just throw on without thinking about it – they’ll complement everything from chinos and jeans to shorts and track pants.
Superga 2433 Collect
Expertly made from the finest broken twill cotton, and with a durable vulcanised rubber sole, the Superga 2433 offers a pared-back take on the classic high-top.
Try them with a pair of tapered chinos, or finish with selvedge jeans and a knitted polo for an easy spring look.
New Balance 550
New Balance’s basketball heritage was largely forgotten until New York label Aime Leon Dore unearthed them in 2020.
This helped the 550 model usher in a new legion of fans who favoured its chunky silhouette and versatile retro styling. Available in a wide range of colours and regularly selling out, try these with tapered turn ups and oversized sweatshirts.