What are most Basketball Shoes made of?


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Usually when I look down at my feet during a Basketball session, I’m thinking about why I didn’t rotate on defence sooner or why I didn’t cut harder to the basket. More often these days I’m simply thinking about how I can get more air in my lungs. It dawned on me this week that I didn’t really know what my Basketball shoes are made of.  

So, what are most Basketball shoes made of? Usually it is a mix of leather and synthetic mesh for the uppers. Some uppers can be a blend of canvas and leather. Almost always the sole of the shoe will be made from rubber. This allows the shoe to give optimum performance as Basketball involves heavy impact and fast cuts and turns. 

Basketball shoes don’t just vary in their visual style though. Throughout the decades the science and performance of shoes has evolved. We are a long way from wearing Chuck Taylor All-stars in games. 

Important things to consider when choosing a Basketball Shoe?

The first purpose designed Basketball shoe came out in 1917. The Allstar by Converse was soon endorsed by one of the greatest players in the game at the time, Chuck Taylor. Throughout the 1920’s these shoes grew in popularity and prestige. Now often known simply as “Chucks” they remain a fashion staple both on and off the court to this day. Made with a thin rubber sole and simple canvas upper they provide neither the comfort or performance of modern Basketball shoes. They do however look pretty cool. Cross someone over wearing a pair of Converse Allstars today and you’ll have instant respect! Initially only available in black or white the Allstars didn’t reach their current multi-coloured peak until the 1960’s. 

The next big evolution in Basketball shoe came from Adidas in 1969. The Adidas Superstar boasted the first genuine leather upper for more protection, a thicker rubber sole and a unique herringbone pattern on the bottom to give better traction. These Basketball shoes didn’t just change the style of the game, they offered a genuine competitive advantage. More comfort and better performance meant faster cuts, more explosive sprints and the ability to beat your opponent by that extra inch. The Adidas Superstar dominated the NBA on the 1970’s eventually helping spark the player endorsement age by signing All time great Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  

I say helped spark, because the first true player endorsement deal was with a brand that today, isn’t really known for its Basketball gear. Although it is making a comeback (Shout out Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III). In 1973 “The Puma Clyde”, named for then New York Knicks star, Walt “Clyde” Frazier launched. It is generally regarded as the first true signature shoe. Composed of a strong rubber sole and leather upper it gave similar performance and comfort to the Adidas Superstar. Which one you chose to wear on court would depend entirely on your style. 

Since the Chuck Taylor Allstar Basketball shoes have found a way into every day life. Collected, represented, protected and sought after the latest or rarest kicks can elevate your style and your social status no matter how broken your jump shot is. The most dominant of which has to belong to two of the all time greats. Nike + Jordan. Nike didn’t enter the Basketball shoe world until 1972 but a decade later with the release of the Air Force 1 in 1982 they were dominant. This iconic shoe, still produced and loved to this day was the first Basketball shoe to feature the Nike Air Technology. They came in lows, mids and highs. Not venturing to far from the tried and tested thick rubber, grippy patterned sole and strong leather upper, the Airforce 1 started to add more design features. In particular the highs sported a velcro strap to protect the laces and all versions have featured a small metal medallion at the foot of the laces. This is usually inscribed with AF-1 and the year the shoe was made. 

When Michael Jordan took the world by storm with his high flying dunks and athletic play on both ends of the floor, it seemed like destiny that “His Airness” would hook up with Nike, the shoe brand that could boast having  “Air” as a patented technology. By 1985, for the price of $65, people could now buy Nike Air Jordans. The same shoes Mike himself wore on court. Again not venturing far from the rubber sole and stitched leather upper, the combination of comfort, style, performance and Jordan put sales through the roof. Nike would dominate Basketball for most of the 90’s. Even getting in trouble with commissioner David Stern didn’t slow them down. Breaking the 51% white rule only made them seem more edgy to fans of the game and the culture around it. Today the release date of any new “J’s” is a huge event in sneaker-heads calendars.  

What drove the evolution of the Basketball shoe? 

Of course it wasn’t just Basketball players who wore and advertised Basketball shoes for the brands. The explosion of Hip-Hop culture in the 80’s provided the perfect blend of sport and music for Basketball shoes to thrive. Air Force 1’s, J’s and everything else are often cited by rappers. Their videos will almost always see them wearing Basketball shoes. Then of course there’s Run DMC. 

The signature shoe is big business. It drives brand engagement, sales and social media hits for the brands. For the players, it can mean freedom. Today many NBA players are able to take less on their salary capped contracts than they are entitled to, allowing them to play where and with who they want. Their signature shoe and clothing deals are a big reason for this. 

New players in the game Under Armour have their centre piece – Steph Curry. His fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson is signed with Chinese brand Anta. Nike have their former team mate and arguable greatest player in the game today Kevin Durrant, reigning MVP Giannis and another player called Lebron something. The market is crowded, but it’s a booming industry. During the most anticipated college game of the season between Duke and North Carolina, Duke megastar (now of the New Orleans Pelicans) Zion Williamson tore apart his Nike PG2.5s on a hard cut. Ripping the leather upper away from the rubber sole. This highly public and globally televised incident caused shares in Nike to initially drop by 1%. The story had a happy ending though because Zion has now signed to Jordan Brand, a subsidiary of Nike.  

Related Questions

Does the 51% colour rule still exist in the NBA?  

No. The rule was repealed in the early 2000’s to allow brands and players more freedom to express themselves.  

Is Jordan Brand owned by Nike?  

Yes. Jordan Brand is a subsidiary of Nike created in the late 1990’s to allow growth. It currently holds a bigger share of the Basketball shoe market than Nike.  

Did Stephon Marbury really make a $15 basketball shoe?  

Yes. NBA veteran Stephon Marbury released the “Starbury” in 2006. Priced under $15 they were aimed to allow everyone to play in high quality shoes. He even wore them in an NBA game.  

Louis

I fell in love with Basketball when I was about 9 years old. Since then I have played on, coached and organised many teams. I've followed the NBA ever since. With no home team I've always rooted for teams and players I like the style of. The last 2 decades that's meant Greg Popoviches Spurs for the most part. My favourite NBA podcasts are The Lowe Post, Open Floor and The Ringers "The Mismatch".

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