The Converse All-Star aka Chuck Taylor is widely known as the first full-blooded basketball shoe ever. And even though its history can be traced back to 1917, the big on-court breakthrough came only in the 50s and even more so in the 60s.
But the broad history of basketball shoes in the 1960s is also a short one. There was the Converse All-Star in black and there was the Converse All-Star in white. That’s it. Not before the end of the decade did Converse decide to produce other colorways.
In the NBA the Boston Celtics dominated the competition like probably no other team will ever again. With legendary center Bill Russell patrolling the middle, the Celtics reached the NBA Finals 13 times between 1957 and 1969, winning 11 championships. Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West also shaped the basketball world during this time but ultimately could not do anything about the Celtics dominance. Chamberlain who was arguably the most dominant basketball player of all time broke dozens of records (many of which still hold true today), but the perfect team play and defense of the Celtics, who were coached by Red Auerbach, were impossible to overcome even for him.
Today only a few sneaker connoisseurs know that the “Chuck” is really a basketball shoe. Still it is the prime example for the fact that basketball like no other sport has always shaped sneaker-history.
Basketball footwear experienced an explosion of diversity in the 1970s. Where only a couple of years before one single shoe ruled the NBA floor, the 70s brought new NBA stars with new basketball shoes. Adidas came out with the Superstar, Pro Ked brought the Royal Master, Pony released the Topstar, Nike came out with the Blazer and Puma gave a bright young superstar his own sneaker. The Puma Clyde was born.
Of course the player mentioned here is no other than legendary Knicks point guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who brought the swag full tilt before the word was even invented. With a suede upper and a wider sole for a better stand the Clyde became one of the most popular shoes in the NBA of the 70s.
Like many other basketball shoes of thar era, the Puma Clyde found its way off the court and onto the streets eventually, now being an essential part of lifestyle sneaker culture, even though today only a few know this shoes’ true basketball roots.
While the Celtics ruled the NBA like no other team in the 60s, the 70s saw eight different teams winning the title with only the Celtics and the Knicks winning it twice. Worth mentioning is the unbelievable winning streak of the Lakers (33 wins straight) and the emergence of the first Above-The-Rim superstar in NBA history: Julius “Dr. J” Erving who would become an idol to one certain Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
The curtain rises for Michael Jordan! His Airness stepped into the NBA spotlight in the 1980s and changed basketball forever. Not only did his style of play revolutionize the game, an unprecedented mix of a unique smoothness and elegance combined with an inhuman athlecticism and relentless abandon, MJ’s shoes did too.
Up to this day the Air Jordan 1 is an absolute staple for sneakerheads and hypebeasts worldwide. All other 1980s Jordans became classics too. Especially the Air Jordan 3, a design by Tinker Hatfield, was the perfect combo of fashion and performance as it mixed premium materials and creative patterns, the infamous elephant print, and the top technology of these days, Air Max. MJ’s early success, the Dunk Contest, several All Star selections and scoring records also contributed to special status of the Air Jordan series.
Jordan’s opponents also played their parts in sneaker culture. Stars like Moses Malone and Charles Barkley were testimonials for Nike’s Air Force line or represented other brands. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird for example both wore the Converse Weapon when they battled each other on the court, while Knicks big man Patrick Ewing and the NBA’s all time leading scorer Kareem Abdul Jabbar donned adidas.
The connection between hip hop culture and basketball led to basketball shoes being rocked on the streets everywhere in the 1980s. That hasn’t change up until today and the saying still goes “don’t step on my Js!“
The next generation of NBA stars also meant the next wave of basketball shoes. While Michael Jordan still dominated the basketball and the shoe world and wore arguably the most coveted and most beautiful basketball shoe of all time, the Air Jordan XI, while winning his 4th NBA championship, new stars stepped onto the scene and with them new basketball shoes.
The most famous (2nd to MJ) player when it comes to signature shoes has to be Penny Hardaway. Not only did Penny have his own Air Penny line with Nike, in 1997 he also wore the most spectacular and most unique basketball shoe the world has ever seen, the Nike Air Foamposite One. Eric Avar’s design was so futuristic and otherworldly, that the shoe with its liquid metal optics still pops out in 2017.
Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, Jordan’s Bulls teammates also were huge Nike endorsers. They both had their own signature lines or functioned as the faces of big Nike Basketball campaigns like the Uptempo Series. Rodman’s Air Shake Ndestrukt has to be one of the most outrageous designs, besides the Foams, that Nike has ever released.
While Reebok had deals with spectacular stars like Shaquille O’Neal, Shawn Kemp and bad boy Allen Iverson, adidas endorsed German Detlef Schrempf and a teenage Kobe Bryant as the faces of their brand. Nevertheless, Nike still reigned supreme in the basketball world.
2008 was quite a special year for basketball. The Boston Celtics won the Championship after a 22-year long drought. The Redeem Team, consisting of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, restored the glory of American Basketball after winning the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Peking – and NIKE provided the best shoe possible for all players, who hadn‘t yet been given the honor of an endorsement deal.
In Peking, the Swoosh launched the very first Hyperdunk. The designers hit the bull‘s eye releasing the brandnew Nike model in an US-themed colorway and helped basketball fans worldwide show their support to TEAM USA. The Hyperdunk is one of the most popular basketball shoes in forever, a performance machine, which initiated a change for future design innovations.
Not only the Hyperdunk but other iconic performance shoes revolutionized the kicks game of the millenium – at the turn of the millennium, Vince Carter stepped on court in his AND1 Tai Chi and rocked the legendary streetball shoe in unarguably the best Dunk Contest of all time. In 2003, LeBron James was granted the honor of being signed by none other than Nike. The Nike Air Zoom Generation opened LBJ the doors to the most exclusive club in sports. What happens next is history: the era of a king begins…
‘“Could u wake me up at 7:00 and could u leave me a couple of dollars. P.S. Keep this paper. Imma be a star!“, wrote James Harden on a note to his mom back in the days. Teenager Harden with dreams and aspirations turned into Superstar Harden, more precisely, one of the best Shooting Guards in the NBA. His story, his performance, his stats made a signature shoe contract long overdue. adidas stepped in and fulfilled The Beard‘s youthful dreams and presented him – and us – the Adidas Harden Vol.1.
Adidas‘ explosive takeover of the basketball business is characteristic of this decade. Not only is NBA veteran Derrick Rose still on board, but Signature freshman James Harden, Allround talent Damian Lillard and other stars such as Andrew Wiggins and Kristaps Porzingis are rocking the Three Stripes as well.
Even if the adidas Hoops family keeps on growing, the Nike‘s supremacy will still be unchallenged. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the newest squad member Paul George – the Swoosh has them all. Not without good reason is the brand from Portland still dominating the entire basketball shoe business.
Off-Court as well as On-Court, the competition is enormous. Who will be this season‘s MVP? Which team will win the Finals? Which player wears the most successful performance shoe? The next days will show…