Are Basketball Shoes (Finally) Exciting Again?

Promising new signature models, the return of sought-after silhouettes from years past and strides in the basketball lifestyle market are poised to deliver a renaissance for the scene.

Footwear 
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The next generation of NBA superstars has arrived, and with them, a new era for basketball sneakers. Leaders of the new wave like Anthony Edwards, Ja Morant and Devin Booker are proving that they’re forces to be reckoned with both on and off the court, bringing fresh energy to a scene that was desperately in need of an adrenaline shot. In the last decade, basketball shoes lost some of their cultural cachet thanks to shifting consumer tastes, and, frankly the level of access to players made possible by the social media age: where before, the easiest way to feel close to your favorite hooper was by buying their jersey or shoes, today you can just follow them on social media for an intimate look into their lives. However, everything in the world of footwear is cyclical, and we’ve once again entered a pivotal time for basketball shoes. Can the new guard bring the flagging genre the same interest it enjoyed in the late ‘00s and early ‘10s?

Two things are working in favor of a basketball shoe revival: the new guard itself, and the ever-evolving parameters for who, exactly, can have a signature shoe. Despite off-court incidents that led to a lengthy suspension last year, the aforementioned Morant saw his Nike Ja 1 met with open arms, thanks to its accessibility as the brand’s least expensive signature basketball shoe and its versatile build. Booker’s debut model, the Nike BOOK 1 has garnered a great deal of eyeballs as well. Drawing inspiration from the Air Force 1, Blazer and Air Jordan 1, it’s a divisive design that set aside the modern-leaning approach of its peers, instead favoring a look that could be embraced on and off the court thanks to its retro-based cues.

However, it is competition that breeds industry-wide innovation, and Nike certainly doesn’t have the market in a chokehold the way it did in the heyday of LeBron, KD and Kyrie. Anthony Edwards’ adidas AE1 arrived at the end of 2023 with the same eye-catching flair that the blossoming star brings to the court each night. On top of its sleek design that looks as if it was lifted from an adidas YEEZY lookbook, the viral “Believe That” marketing campaign that shows Edwards lampooning his contemporaries’ (including Morant and Booker) signature models continues to showcase his infectious confidence and personality.

More brands than ever are involved in today’s signature market too, with some betting big on young talent or players with a cult following in place of established stars. Before Scoot Henderson ever stepped foot on an NBA court, he linked with PUMA to design his own sneaker — the PUMA Scoot Zeros — making him only the 10th rookie ever to receive a signature shoe. For the record, five of Scoot’s nine contemporaries are in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and one, LeBron James, is a lock to enter it after his career.

Players like undrafted guard Austin Reaves have a role in the hoop shoe revival as well. After just two seasons in the league as a role player for the Los Angeles Lakers, Reaves launched his own sneaker with Chinese sportswear brand Rigorer. Thanks to the role social media plays in athletes’ marketability, it’s no longer simply about who can make it into SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays” segment, rather, a player like Reaves with a dedicated fanbase and relatable personality can command attention in the footwear market.

Lady hoopers are finding equal footing with NBA stars too, like Sabrina Ionescu achieving success due to her Nike Sabrina 1’s straightforward style and praised performance. Meanwhile, her teammate Breanna Stewart brought forth the storytelling-focused PUMA Stewie 2 last year.

More recently, Kyrie Irving — after having a falling out with the Swoosh in 2022, just before releasing the Nike Kyrie 9 — presented his first signature shoe with ANTA this month: the ANTA KAI 1, which promptly flew off of shelves. Seeing one of the game’s biggest stars move to a brand that’s still finding its footing in North America, especially after years of success in the signature shoe game, is a potential game changer and may entice other brands to make inroads.

All of this newfound momentum backs a crucial point where new trajectories are being realized, however, you cannot count the old guard out just yet.

A 39-year-young LeBron James continues to defy the concept of aging as he remains one of the league’s greatest threats. At the same time, his long-running line with Nike found new life with the introduction of the Nike LeBron 20 in 2022, abandoning the bulky builds his kicks were known for and adopting a low-cut, slick design. From there, he iterated upon it with the Nike LeBron 21 in 2023, which has been revered as one of the best-performing sneakers on the market.

Nike Basketball has also been reintroducing James’ initial releases for years, and has begun doing the same with Kevin Durant, leading to both the Nike LeBron 4 and Nike KD 4 playing a key role in the brand’s lineup for 2024. Despite this wave starting slow with releases like the LeBron 4 “Graffiti” sitting on shelves, the period of launches surrounding NBA All-Star Weekend proved that fans are excited about both models’ revivals as releases flew off of shelves — namely, the LeBron 4 “Fruity Pebbles” and KD 4 “Galaxy.”

And, of course, there’s a special place carved out for Kobe Bryant. After the Nike Kobe franchise was relaunched for last year’s Kobe Day (August 24), it quickly became apparent that the franchise would be making a significant comeback in 2024, with the Nike Kobe 4, 6 and 8 Protro all releasing in a myriad of colorways. Seeing the bestselling line return to prominence will hopefully begin to satisfy the overwhelming demand for his sneakers following his untimely death in 2020 and the pause in the partnership that occurred as a result. Not to mention, returning looks like the Kobe 4 Protro “Gold Medal” have been sought-after for over a decade now and add even more excitement to the equation.

Meanwhile, the pinnacle of adidas Basketball’s output, outside of signature models, currently rests in the hands of Fear of God’s Jerry Lorenzo. After three years of waiting, Lorenzo’s collaborative Fear of God Athletics line made its debut at the end of 2023 and has brought forth both apparel and footwear that is rooted in basketball, spearheading the ongoing modernization of the brand. Ultimately, this shift has prompted its signature shoes, like James Harden and his adidas Harden Vol. 8, to take note, as evidenced by Harden’s latest look featuring strong geometry that ties-in to the brand’s overarching approach.

Thanks to all of these options, the all-too-elusive excitement of hitting the court and lacing up a fresh pair of kicks backed by renewed vitality has returned, setting us on a course to embrace these inevitably nostalgic designs off the court in the future. No matter if you’re looking for a pair that is swathed in history, or want the latest technology co-signed by the future leaders of the game, it’s out there right now for you to find and embrace.

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