I grew up with basketball shoes on the brain. When the catalogs arrived in the mail, it was to the hoops section I turned first. It was never a brand thing, as I played in Nikes, Reeboks and adidas. One season I even kicked it around in New Balance (I was once a skeptic at first, too). But in many ways, Nike has driven the basketball sneaker dialogue in my lifetime, which isn’t a whole lot longer than its recent countdown of its 20 most iconic designs of the past 20 years. Why this time frame when Air Jordan 1s were released in 1985? Because the original Dream Team came in 1992, and helped push not only sneakers to a wider audience, but globalized basketball’s visibility. Of those 20, from the Air Force 180 Low to Hyperdunk+, here are our rankings for the most iconic of the bunch.
20. NIKE ZOOM GENERATION (2003)
The military-boot inspiration never took hold with me as a player who prefers the lighter, less restrictive offerings. There were clearly reasons to see this as a Humvee of a shoe for LeBron James, durable and agile, with protection around the ankle but not the kind that would take it into high-top territory. If you wanted to be secure in the shoe and needed to go as fast as possible as LeBron does, it was a natural place to look in ’03.
19. NIKE AIR SWOOPES (1996)
It was part of a run of sneakers that used switchable accesories like the Nike Air Modify Force, also in 1996. There wasn’t enough “there” there to see it as anything more than a solid, durable, beat-you-up-and-down-the-floor style of sneaker. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It locked you in with the removable strap and the reinforced lace eyes symbolized the rigor the shoe was meant to be put through.
18. NIKE ZOOM KOBE IV (2008)
The KobeSystem got a start with the soccer-boot inspired sneaker. He wanted a featherlight shoe and he got it. It would go higher but up ahead, one shoe came before it that did this concept one better (it just didn’t have a superstar endorsement).
17. NIKE AIR ZOOM HYPERFUSE (2010)
The originator of the Hyperfuse technology of a unibody frame composed of layers working together as one is a mile marker along the road for Nike’s shoe tech. It fits the Nike mantra of many pieces synced together instead of a rigid, one-size fits all approach to basketball. While I’m personally a fan of what this shoe begat, the Zoom Hyperfuse 2011, this deserves a mention of being the first of style and technology Nike is still perfecting.