Many athletes have used their own experiences to design better shoes over time: shoes such as the Under Armour Men’s Curry 3 featured in our ankle support guide are designed using regular dialog with the players.
Given the long history of some of these collabs, however, some of the venerable classics aren’t going to serve quite as well on the court where good structure and tech is vital to performance and comfort. Let’s see which of these basketball shoe collabs below have held up against the test of time.
5 of the Best (and Biggest) Basketball Shoe Collabs
Michael Jordan x Nike
The unprecedented deal Nike made with Michael Jordan led to the creation of the granddaddy of the basketball shoe collab, the Air Jordan. The NBA style guide actually banned the shoe initially, which Nike cleverly used in its marketing.
It may not have needed to, however, since a craze on par with Cabbage Patch Dolls took hold from the outset. Obviously, the high-top AJ1 is the most iconic, with their seemingly ageless clean design and ‘wings’ logo, but for the court, something like the breathable and comfortable Flyknit Elevation 23 is probably a better pick.
Kobe Bryant x Adidas
It was the envy of Nike’s Jordan deal that partly inspired Adidas to look for an up-and-coming athlete that would create a brand to compete with its big rival. Kobe Bryant’s famous deal with Adidas arguably positioned the player to become one of the all-time greats, although it also helped to save the Stripes in the late 90s.
Ultimately, it wouldn’t last, with Kobe signing on with Nike in 2003, although it looks like the line is coming back soon now that deal has ended. The signature shoes set the stage for many subsequent designs, but overall look more futuristic than classic athletic wear. Bulky but lightweight, the line introduced innovations such as the heel support cushion in the KB8 II.
LeBron James x Nike
Arguably getting a bit formulaic with the LeBron 18s, the consistency of the signature line is also a marker of a great design. The brand is the second most valuable after Michael Jordan, now worth billions thanks in no small part to basketball enthusiasts in the USA and China. But it isn’t just LeBron’s name that sells them — excellent multi-directional traction, cushioning, and bounce makes their long-standing favorites.
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The first and most successful WNBA tie-in shoe, Nike once again showed it had a winning formula with the Air Swoopes during the year the league started in 1996. Sheryl Swoopes never wore Nikes growing up in Brownfield, Texas, but went on to become one of its most enduring female brand ambassadors.
The original AS1 design’s striking block colors and the midfoot strap were part of what sent men searching in droves for bigger sizes they could wear, a reversal of what had been happening up to that point. The now-relaunched AS2 is the better sports shoe, however.
James Harden x Adidas
Now onto the 5th generation of his signature shoe, some of the earlier Harden designs are arguably better for play. The player first signed with Adidas for an eye-watering $200mn back in 2015 and went on to produce some great shoes. While not the most affordable, the Harden Vol. 2 is a great marriage of nice thick soles and a comfortable upper.
Designs that pop and sizzle have caught the eye of sneakerheads and fashionistas around the globe. Although some of these shoe collabs may no longer be the best for current players, they all went a long way in furthering the tech and design that makes basketball the sport it is today.