In 2023, rumors of a post-sneaker society abound—and yet, the best basketball shoes are better than ever. After all, it’s been 50 years since Nike launched its basketball division, which means that there’s been five decades of meaningful R&D for basketball shoes to draw from, five decades of freak athletes pushing those shoes to their absolute limits, and five decades of designs to iterate on. In half a century’s time, we’ve also seen the court-traveling kicks evolve into full-blown fashion statements. Hell, the last few years have cemented the NBA as the most stylish sports league in the world. That also means there’s a lot to sift through, so we thought we’d make it a little easier. Here are the best:
Looking for the best running shoes or walking shoes? We’ve got opinions—oh, have we got opinions—on those too.
The Best Basketball Shoes Shopping Guide
The Best Pure Performance Basketball Shoes
Let’s get this out of the way early: this title might be more frequently disputed (and fluid) than any GOAT conversation or best team ever distinction. And for good reason—sneaker performance is often relative to both playing style and body type, which can mean that what works for a shifty guard who’s 5’ 3”, 136 pounds (shoutout Mugsy), might not work for a post-bound center who’s 7’ 6”, 311 pounds (shoutout Yao). In other words, there probably isn’t a “Best” in this category (biology!), but we’re going to give it a shot anyway and also assume that very few of you are Yao Ming. So, what should you be looking for in regards to performance? Traction, support, response, weight (or lack thereof), cushion and fit, mostly.
Very few, if any, shoes deliver the above like the Nike KD 15 does. It’s stripped down yet super stable, comfortable out of the box, springy as hell thanks to a full-length foam-Zoom Air Strobel combo situation and has what may be one of the grippiest soles of all time. And all of this should come as no surprise, given its namesake: Kevin Durant is a seven foot tall human who moves like a guard, which means that his shoes need to be as versatile as his game is. In other words, if these can handle KD’s workload, they can handle yours. (For those keeping score, the 16 is out but doesn’t feel like a major upgrade. Still great though.)
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The Best Basketball Shoes for Stunting on the Hardwood
Before basketball shoes were lauded for their tech-y advancements and vertical-enhancing features they were objects of pure desire, designed to help their wearer run faster and jump higher, sure, but also look cool doing it. Over the years, the genre’s yielded some of the most lusted-after styles in sneaker history, from legendary retro silhouettes to futuristic riffs on hardwood classics. None of the below will deliver the same cushioning or ankle support as their contemporary counterparts, but if you’re a sneakerhead with a penchant for ultra-rare kicks these are a worthy addition to any collection—and won’t make you look like a rookie pulling up from behind the arc. They might turn some heads during a friendly game of pick-up, but that’ll only make it sweeter breezing past the bozo guarding you on your way to the paint.
The sneaker world’s changed a lot since Nike debuted the Air Jordan 1 in ’84, but the style remains the brand’s hero product, a perennial favorite of the biggest names in design and the ideal canvas for their wildest interpretations. The Air Jordan 1 birthed modern sneaker culture, and there’s still no silhouette more influential—and few basketball shoes with the same cachet.
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The Best “They Played Basketball In Those?!” Shoes
When Nike introduced the Blazer in 1973, its fledgling basketball division was far from the powerhouse it is today. But the silhouette kickstarted an epic run of hits for the Portland operation, revolutionizing the game in the process. Like Converse’s Chuck Taylor and Adidas’ Superstar before it, the Blazer and its peers have become so firmly lodged in the sneaker canon it’s easy to forget—and a little bit mind-boggling to remember—their humble origins on the hardwood. (The omnipresent Dunk, now synonymous with the early aughts skate scene, was once a basketball shoe too, and not a very popular one at that.) Often flimsy or downright clunky by today’s standards, they’re shoes you’d never think to lace-up on the court, no matter how casual the crowd. But basketball greats hooped in them for decades before the market evolved to meet their needs, and if the closest you come to physical exertion involves chucking an Xbox console at the wall these shoes are a sure bet.
Converse has been making the Chuck Taylor—named for the player-turned-manager of the brand’s proto-NBA basketball league—since the late ’20s, but the sneaker’s legacy today supersedes its athletic heritage. Decades after thier debut, Chucks remain a quintessential lifestyle shoe. The revamped ’70s-inspired version boasts higher-quality materials and a sturdier construction without compromising on the style’s retro charm.
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