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Evolution of Basketball Shoes

Publish Date: 15.05.2024
Fact checked by: Jackson T. Pierce

Athletic wear has come a long way over the years, and that goes double for shoes. Relaxed, breathable, and more comfortable clothing is always great, but having reliable footwear makes a lot of sports much more enjoyable. That’s especially true for basketball.

Basketball shoes are some of the most iconic sneakers on planet Earth. Not only are they comfortable, but they have enough style that they can be worn casually by millions of people around the world. Still, they weren’t always that way.

Early iterations of basketball shoes are almost unrecognizable compared to what exists today. The items have always had the same function, but how they provide comfort has drastically shifted over the years. That goes for their look too.

 

Early Developments (Pre-1970’s)

In the early days of the game, basketball shoes weren’t that different from regular footwear. While the sneakers had a unique look, they were nowhere close to the sleek, colorful models that are on the market today.

Before the 1970’s, Converse made roughly 90 percent of all basketball shoes on Earth. The shoe giant dominated the sneaker market. They got in early, with their first version of the All-Star Basketball Shoe coming out in 1917, and never looked back.

Though the company never altered their iconic high-top look, they were the first company to make innovations to the sneaker, including providing more sole flexibility and creating extra ankle support.

In addition, Converse had their own team (the Converse All-Stars) as a form of promotion and they became the official shoe of both the Olympics and the U.S. Armed Forces during the 1930’s. All of that greatly pushed them into the forefront of basketball gyms everywhere.

Rise of Market Competitors and Technological Innovations (1970’s-1990’s)

Moving through the 1960’s, it seemed that no shoe company would, or could, match Converse’s popularity. However, that changed as other corporations began to make their own models.

The first was Adidas, who created their Superstar sneaker in 1969. The shoe had a distinct look that broke from the classic Converse design. It also came with a genuine leather upper sole, herringbone traction, and great support.

Such traits made the shoes popular with some of the biggest NBA stars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, and Pete Maravich.

That shift then kicked off other shoe designs. Puma worked with Walt Clyde Frazier to create the Puma Clyde, known for its suede upper and wide sole, and Nike released both the Bruin and the Blazer during the decade.

While Converse attempted to stick around by releasing their shoes in different colors for the first time, they couldn’t keep up. The company continued to dip in popularity throughout the decade until the market blew wide open.

Many sneaker companies popped up in the 1970’s looking for a share of the market. With them came new looks, styles, characteristics, and colors. However, no matter how great the shoes were, no one could compete with Nike.

The mega corporation first came on the scene through the release of the Air Force 1 in 1982. The sturdy shoe had a truly one-of-a-kind style that players and fans both loved.

What truly pushed them over the top, however, was their partnership with a young Michael Jordan and development of the Air Jordan sneaker. The shoe didn’t just make an impact on the court, it skyrocketed Nike sales and became the first basketball sneaker to be worn casually.

That trend then spilled over to the 90’s, where Adidas, Reebok, and Nike all innovated on the classic sneaker design and came up with new looks to make them both court and casually wearable.

The NBA’s rise, backed by stars like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, made it so basketball shoes were worn everywhere for the first time. Sneaker heads came about as well, creating a rapidly-growing collector market that would explode over the next two decades.

Advancements in the 2000’s

Moving into the 2000’s, the history of basketball shoes became even more nuanced. As the game became faster and more intense, shoes became lighter and more cushioned to handle the heightened level of play. They focused on durability as well.

Models like the Nike Hyperdunk and Adidas Crazy Light greatly shifted the market, providing a fashionable shell around a cushioned sole, flexible upper, and unmatched traction. They gave more feedback and spring, two key aspects in improving on-court play.

Not only that, but signature shoes rapidly increased in popularity. Many big stars, including Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, developed their own sneakers. Fans clamored for such models, expanding the numerous ways such sneakers could be enjoyed.

Technological Milestones and Material Innovation (2010’s-Present)

The creativity that began in the 2000’s became even more targeted in the 2010’s. During the turn of the decade, basketball shoes got sleeker, more protective, shock absorbent, all while being lighter, breathable, and more flexible.

Models like the Nike Shox and Adidas Boost completely redefined what sneakers could do. They felt great, added comfort, energy return and made players better than ever before. Not only that, but they looked extremely cool. That alone put them ahead of the market.

The new colors and designs made the shoes fashion statements on top of amazing accessories. The technology also helped cut down on injuries. Aspects like Nike Foamposite created a much more stable base than then made playing basketball safer than ever before.

Future Directions

Basketball shoes have come a long way since their inception, and they only continue to get better each and every year. The giant companies come out with new innovations each season, constantly figuring out how to improve their designs without losing protection or comfort.

There’s no telling what exciting technology will come next, but it will likely build on what already exists. Manufacturing continues to get more sustainable, and shoe design, while similar on the outside, only gets better for athletes at all levels.

Shoe-related injuries are only likely going to decline as time goes on, especially as shoes put more of a focus on protection. Cushion and energy return are two of the biggest aspects when it comes to the evolution of basketball shoes, and they will get better in the coming years.

Not only that, but the rise of digital technology makes it much easier for shoes to be accessible. Ecommerce and the internet have both been huge for new-age shoes, allowing collectors and fans alike to easily access and purchase their favorite brands.

Conclusion

Basketball shoes aren’t just something players wear on the court, they are a fashion statement, a time capsule, and a collector’s item. The history of basketball shoes is a long, storied one with plenty of shifts and advancements.

The accessories have come a long way from the first Converse, and they will only get better and more fashionable as companies continue to tinker with the design. The modern basketball sneaker needs to have versatility past models lacked.

Basketball is a much more intense sport than it used to be. Players only get better with each year, meaning athletes need to be faster, stronger, and more agile. New sneakers need to match that level. Soon, they may even surpass it.

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