The Top 10 Basketball Sneakers Since 2000

In the new issue of Dime Magazine, we took a look at the best – and worst – the game has offered since the turn of the century. From the players to jerseys to sneakers to teams to even trends, you can relive the past 12 years by scooping up the new issue currently on newsstands nationwide. In those pages, you’ll find the following feature…

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Curating a list of the best sneakers since 2000 is a monumental task – trust us. There are just so many, some better performance-wise, others better for casual wear. If it’s a signature model, how well does it fit the athlete that inspires it? And then – perhaps foremost – you have to consider your own personal biases.

With basements filled with shoeboxes, we consider ourselves sneakerheads. We don’t have the largest collections, but tend to buy what we love. As such, the following is our best attempt at what we consider to be the finest 10 basketball sneakers in the past 12 years. There’s no way you’ll agree with some of these, while others will surprise you – one in particular, you’ll question our sanity – but it’s just one magazine’s list.

And that’s the beauty here: Your sneakers are as individual as you are. Some people love Air Force 1’s, others SB Dunks. Some collect Jordans, others Foamposites. And the experiences you’ve had in your sneakers mean as much as any cushioning system or limited production run.

When it comes down to it, you are what you wear on your feet. Here’s our list.

The 10 Best NBA Players Since 2000
The Next 10 Who Will Shape The Future Generation Of Basketball
The Top 10 Worst Basketball Trends Since 2000

(Ed. note: BIG shoutout to our friend Nick DePaula at Sole Collector for helping us with some of these photos)

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There’s no question there are obvious differences in perception between Kevin Durant and his peers. The distinction most make is between “The Decision” and Durant announcing his contract extension on Twitter. Durant plays in a small market, he likes video games and he’ll do stuff like showing up out of nowhere to play flag football with a bunch of college guys. Perhaps he really is too good to be true, perhaps not, but it’s impossible not to like him regardless.

[RELATED: The 10 Best Sneakers Of The NBA Season]

His signature line has its own quirks, as well, as evidenced by the superior KD II. (The KD IV is more attractive, but the fit isn’t nearly as comfortable.) The sneaker features an oversize strap specifically requested by Durant himself, and unlike in most sneakers – in which the strap is mostly superfluous – it helps provide a superb fit. The KD II looks like a running shoe, and the technology falls right in line: Most of the cushioning is focused on the forefoot, catering to the proper biomechanical way to run. Basically, it helps you stay light on your feet and equipped to react. The outsole featured numerous details personal to Durant while maintaining an outstanding amount of traction.

The KD line also distinguished itself with its low price point. Unable as a kid to afford the sneakers he wanted, Durant wanted to make sure today’s youth didn’t have that problem, so the KD II retailed for $88, a relative pittance compared to what else was on the market at the time. The price has steadily crept up for the past few releases, but the KD V will still be an affordable $115.

The KD II was great on court, much more attractive than the first KD sneaker and a rising star in its own right to fit a player who led the NBA in scoring for the first time. And perhaps best of all, Durant ensured it fit into your budget – or rather, allowance.

When you buy an extremely light sneaker, you know the first thing you do with it: You throw it up in the air. We have a running shoe that weighs less than eight ounces, and love tossing it up and catching it to get the feel that it’s barely there. The lighter your sneaker, the more you feel like you’re running on air. It’s both a physical and mental thing.

Basketball sneakers aren’t always known for that; the lightest Air Jordan tips the scales at 11 ounces – adidas thought it could do better. Known for technical innovation with their sneakers – they once made a running shoe that adjusted its cushioning based on the conditions – they trimmed the already miniscule Crazy Light down from 9.8 to 9.5 ounces, making its follow-up the lightest basketball sneaker of all time.

At the same time they cut the weight for the Crazy Light II by 3 percent, they made it even stronger so that 1-5 on the team can wear it with confidence. The result is a sneaker you can play for hours in, but that can actually hold up to that sort of workload. Basically, it’s everything to everyone, as evidenced by all 48 McDonald’s All-Americans opting to wear it in this spring’s game.

“I think with any great product, at some point, you hit the finish line,” lead designer Robbie Fuller told Dime at the gala release. “You’ve got to stop. You’ve got to make [the sneaker]. And then you’ve got to go back and reevaluate, and everything can be refined. If [the Crazy Light 1] was industry breaking, then what would be even more amazing? If you could take away [weight] but add [strength]? That’s crazy talk. That’s why it’s the Crazy Light 2.”

The Zoom Rookies are significant more for what they mean than what they are. They’re nice enough sneakers, to be certain, but helping to keep Penny Hardaway in the lexicon is their greatest contribution.

No sneaker line could have competed with Air Jordans back in the ’90s, but Nike’s Penny line was literally the only one that could even be mentioned in the same breath. The sneakers were great, but the man behind them was a factor as well: Penny had the cool name, the slick game, and Shaq as a teammate. He was soft-spoken, but he had Lil’ Penny doing his talking for him.

Unfortunately, after two All-NBA First Team nods before turning 25 years old, knee injuries reduced Penny to a shell of what he once was. Perhaps that’s why he remains such a fascination. We’ll always wonder what could have been had his body not betrayed him.

[RELATED: Penny Hardaway’s Top 10 Plays]

The ½ Cent came first, but the Zoom Rookie LWP was a superior sneaker, combining elements of early Penny sneakers like the Air Go and Flight One with Foamposite, Zoom Air and carbon fiber. It took two and a half years to develop and was worth every minute. It’s an instant classic that Penny himself has said he’s proud to have represent him. His old sneakers are retroed frequently, but the reason the Zoom Rookie was so crucial is that it broke new ground and still made a connection, leading to the upcoming Air Max Penny V and beyond.

“I never imagined this back when I was playing in the NBA, that my shoe would be going on this long,” Penny told Dime last October. “I did picture myself having a line of about 15 different pairs of Pennys, because I thought my career would go on that long and it’d be a different shoe every year.

“But still, to have the line still going on, it’s a great feeling.”

For him and us both.

Sometimes, a shoe just sells itself as a matter of course: No commercial needed. This isn’t to say they didn’t make ads for the Nike Shox BB4; though I don’t remember any off-hand, I do know the slogan was “Boing!” But you couldn’t have asked for better publicity than Vince Carter leaping straight over a 7-foot Frenchman in the 2000 Olympics while wearing them. They couldn’t have hurt his vertical leap.

It’s weird to think now, since running sneakers with Shox just blend in with everything else on the shelves, but they were an incredible novelty back in 2000 when they first started showing up on feet. We’re still amazed Shox required 16 years of research, and we couldn’t pretend to understand the physics behind how hollow polyurethane columns inside a heel counter are supposed to serve as a spring. The real question is, are they good on the court? Vince’s first signature shoe, the VC1, is one of our favorite all-time performance sneakers. The BB4 is probably better.

For casual wear, the BB4 is a classic based on looks alone. The look is so iconic, so familiar. And though Shox never quite took over the basketball world the way they were supposed to – we doubt you’ll see a Shox Air Jordan or LeBron sneaker any time soon – that doesn’t mean they weren’t revolutionary. The BB4 goes down with sneakers like the first Jordan and Foamposite as a pioneer, a totally new idea. Seeing people still wearing it today is proof all that research paid off.

One thing that stuck with us from watching one of Dion Waiters‘ pre-draft workouts this summer in Philadelphia was his footwear. Dion wore a customized pair of Zoom Kobe VI with Syracuse colors, he killed his workout and nobody’s stock rose higher in the ensuing months. The way we figure, if they work for him

The Zoom Kobe V was an excellent sneaker, but the VI had an attention to detail that the V hadn’t had, and possessed many more personal touches. To go along with Kobe’s Black Mamba nickname, the sneaker’s forefoot was covered with a scale pattern, as was the slick black box, which also featured the pun “Venomenon.” (You tell Kobe it’s corny.) They released all sorts of colorways; the Christmas Grinches were the most coveted, but we prefer the Dark Knights. We like Batman.

The terrific marketing campaign, a faux movie directed by Robert Rodriguez that also starred Bruce Willis, Danny Trejo and Kanye West (!), was a great bonus. People who had literally no interest in sneakers were asking us about the campaign because they’re fans of Rodriguez’s Machete or From Dusk Til Dawn. It’s hard to say whether that connection sold a single pair of sneakers, but for our purposes, we liked seeing two of our worlds collide.

And as Waiters would confirm, the Zoom Kobe VI are one of the most comfortable sneakers we’ve ever worn. Like the V, it’s relatively snug, but the material molds to your foot to give you a contoured, lockdown fit. With Zoom Air in the heel and forefoot, it gives you a low ride and plays fast. It’s perfect for intense guards who make a lot of quick cuts – or, as we can attest to, for sprinting to catch a train from Philly back to New York.

A signature sneaker’s mystique is enhanced by what its namesake did while wearing it – hence the lasting and frenzied appeal of iconic Air Jordans. Likewise, Allen Iverson has a few models synonymous with key moments in his career. We can never see The Questions without picturing him sans cornrows, crossing up MJ himself with a wicked crossover.

Close behind is the Answer IV, worn by AI while he willed the 2001 Sixers – a team completely reliant on him – to the NBA Finals. They didn’t appear to stand a chance against the Lakers, but then a miraculous Game 1 win was made possible by Iverson’s virtuoso 48-point performance.

The Lakers won the next four games – they had arguably the two best players in the league – but it was still the Summer of Iverson. Along with the Air Jordan XVI, the Answer IV was everywhere that year, often seen matched with Nike Swingman Sixers jerseys. Iverson was the coolest in the game, the sneakers had some great curves, if you will, and for practical purposes, anyone who has experienced the DMX cushioning system knows it’s the truth.

For Iverson, things were never quite as good again as they were the night of Game 1 against the Lakers in 2001. But that just makes the Answer IV that much more special. And the demand is there: They were retroed this summer, perfect for reminiscing about the brief period Iverson stood on top of the NBA world, with his feet in some slick Reeboks.

Every numbered Air Jordan features incredible performance, a sense of style and an attention to detail. The Air Jordan XX is no different, with a revolutionary Independent Podular Suspension cushioning system and an ankle leash of sorts to provide support. What set the XX apart, however, is its appreciation for the heritage of the line, and by extension, the fans who’ve followed Michael Jordan’s career.

Designed by the great Tinker Hatfield – the architect of the Air Jordan III through XV – the XX features a lasered midfoot strap inspired by trumpet maker David Monette, who would etch details meaningful to a musician’s life on his trumpets. If you look close enough, you can pick out icons representing Jordan’s championships, his friends and family, his hobbies and each one of the preceding 19 sneakers. There is even homage to Jordan heroes David Thompson, Larry Bird, Dean Smith and Michael’s father. The longer you look, and the more you know, the more you see.

“I spent more time with him on this shoe than probably on any other shoe in the past because of the big storytelling aspect of the design,” Hatfield told Footwear News in 2005. “I suppose we talked 15 or 20 different times and had seven or eight different visits. … The more personal interaction got him to open up and he started remembering and thinking about his life.”

All that face time resulted in a notebook full of stories that Hatfield had lasered onto the sneaker. The ad campaign featured Spike Lee reading Jordan stories from a big book to a group of kids. When the camera pans around, the page Spike is reading off has no words, just the images lasered on the Jordan XX. If you own a pair, take 10 minutes and give the strap a good look, see how much artistry and memories went into it, and you’ll know exactly why you have it.

The Air Zoom Generation was a great sneaker. But it wasn’t necessarily a great LeBron James sneaker. It did have his name on the tongue and featured silver accents intended to connote LeBron’s vehicle of choice back then, his infamous H2 Hummer. But except for the Timberland-inspired “Wheat” colorway – a stroke of genius – you couldn’t really differentiate it at a distance from any other awesome Nike basketball sneaker.

Not so for the Zoom LeBron 2. On the base level, it had LeBron in the sneaker’s name. And like its namesake, it broke so much new ground: The sneaker perfectly melded retro and new-age elements, with a removable oversized strap covering an upper enhanced with laser-etched LeBron-themed details. Performance-wise, it still might be the finest sneaker in the line: Ruggedly constructed using ballistic mesh, it featured highly responsive full-length Zoom Air.

In terms of marketing, Nike was still feeling its way with its would-be King. The Chamber of Fear ad campaign – which we adored – was based on 1970s Kung Fu films and gave the sneakers a bit of an underground feel.

But the all-black birthday edition released in December of 2004 was more a sign of things to come: There were only 500 pairs made, they were sold exclusively on Nike’s site, and they sold out within minutes. Part of that was LeBron’s rapidly growing bandwagon. And part of it was Nike had cooked up an unquestionably classic sneaker.

When Kanye West performed “New God Flow” in July during his first solo concert since the Watch the Throne tour, the one line that resonated the most was: “I’m not trying to stunt, man, but these Yeezys jumped over the Jumpman.” The crowd at Revel in Atlantic City murmured amongst themselves. Kanye is known for power moves, but sending slings and arrows at the unassailable paragon of sneaker culture is next level.

It’s pointless to debate whether the audacious statement is true: It’s not. You still see Kanye wearing Jordans frequently while the reverse will almost certainly never be true, and Kanye could only dream of the commerce Brand Jordan basks in. But the simple fact that he’s in position to make the assertion shows how impressive a splash he’s made with his burgeoning Nike line.

The Yeezys themselves are less a sneaker than a fever dream – like his stage shows – with nubuck anaconda-style scales, obelisks on the end of the laces, hieroglyphics underneath the strap and a reptilian shaped Achilles.

In terms of appearing on this list, we do realize you’d have to be kind of nuts to play basketball in these – maybe J.R. Smith will try it at some point? – but we feel Kanye put them in play by comparing them to Jordans. And the same people who hypebeast over a pair of Concords or Cement IVs went berserk for these, camping for a week with no indication they’d actually be able to buy the sneaker. Pairs immediately popped up on eBay for upwards of $3,000 (Don’t hold this against us as avowed sneakerheads… but one of us in the Dime family flipped a pair he got for retail. Weddings cost money, and he cleared almost two grand.).

Will they ever leapfrog the ubiquitous Air Jordans? They won’t, but much as Kanye carved out his own lane as a hip-hop titan parallel to Jay-Z, perhaps he’s done the same thing with sneakers. You have Air Jordans, and then the Yeezy line in a whole other orbit, carrying its own unique artistry and insane hype. The fact they’re even in the conversation is significant in itself.

You might’ve never heard of these sneakers. Here’s why it’s best if you have: They are hands down, without a doubt, the best sneakers we’ve ever played in.

One of us in the Dime family bought a pair in his senior year of college in 2001 because he liked the sleek look of the black/zinc colorway, and because he knew Steve Nash swore by them. The minute he put them on, he felt like asking, where have these been all my life? He wore them all the time both on and off the court, and they fit like a glove. The cushioning was perfect. The low profile made the sneaker feel faster, and the shoes gripped the court better than anything experienced before.

Unfortunately, one of the best features of the sneaker – the Velcro strap that provided an impeccable lockdown fit – betrayed us, snapping in two when we went to put them on for perhaps the 1,000th time. Ever since, a few of us have looked for a pair in our size on eBay and such to no avail. They’ve never been retroed. If they ever are, we’ll scoop up four pairs so we’re covered for a decade.

So much of sneaker collecting now is about chasing hype. People want what everyone else wants and what they’re supposed to want. We loved the Air Jet Flight because it was an incredible sneaker, but very few people seemed to be checking for it. The look of the sneaker is certainly subjective, but the people who’ve played in it love it like a cult movie – basically, it’s the Evil Dead 2 of kicks.

Perhaps you have your own version of a cult classic – maybe the Huarache 2K4 (which nearly made the list) or the Zoom Flight Turbine, which we also loved. But once you sift through the Galaxy Foamposites and Jordan retroes, there are sneakers like the Air Jet Flight that are just as valuable, but in a different way. It’s undoubtedly cool to have sneakers other people covet. It’s unquestionably far cooler to discover a sneaker that feels like yours and yours alone.

What do you think was the best sneaker of the past 12 years?

Follow Bryan on Twitter at @SportsAngle.

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