A Century of Style: How Basketball Shoes for Men Have Evolved

How many of you remember the year your parents got you your first pair of basketball shoes? Remember how excited you were to finally have those sweet Air Jordans on your feet and what made you even more excited was showing off those kicks to all your friends? Well, just as the game of basketball has evolved over the past century, so have basketball shoes for men

In this article, we’ll take a look at how basketball shoes have evolved from their original rubber soles and canvas tops to their modern-day counterparts with lightweight materials that provide more traction and flexibility than ever before.

The birth of basketball

Basketball as we know it was born on a December day in 1891. A YMCA director named James Naismith had just arrived in Springfield, Massachusetts, to teach at a local college. Although he’d played football, soccer and rugby while attending McGill University in Montreal (he even earned a medical degree), Naismith was new to basketball—and had no team on which to try out his sport. I have been giving some thought to making a new game, he wrote.

The release and death of Jordans I

The Nike Air Jordan I was originally released in 1985 and was met with a great deal of controversy. The shoe’s high price point did not sit well with customers, even though it was considered to be the best basketball shoe ever made by many reviewers at the time. 

However, over time consumers began to see that value was there in quality products like those produced by Nike. For example, Michael Jordan himself wore his signature basketball shoes religiously and refused to play without them. Not only that, but he played better when wearing these Jordans; he attributed his success on the court due to being more comfortable in these shoes than any others.

The rise and fall of Nikes Huarache

The Huarache is one of Nike’s best basketball shoes for men and probably played a part in starting something that would later evolve into a trend. In 2000, basketball players started wearing them, but soon after people began copying them. By 2003 Nike saw there was a market for minimalist sneakers and other companies such as Adidas, Reebok, and New Balance began to release similar models. 

When Lebron James wore a simpler pair designed by Chinese manufacturers Li-Ning in 2008, it opened up an entirely new market. However, in 2010 Nike took back over when they released their Free line which sold 60 million pairs worldwide.

Kobe Bryant leads Nike to new heights

In 2004, Nike signed Kobe Bryant to a $40 million contract, making him one of its highest-paid endorsers. The 5-time NBA champion went on to have an illustrious career in which he shattered numerous records, including becoming just the third player in NBA history to score 30,000 points. 

While there’s no doubt that Bryant is one of basketball’s best—not to mention his endorsement helped expand Nike’s popularity globally—the company made waves in footwear when it introduced its first pair of basketball shoes that were designed specifically for women. In 2003, ESPN reported that Adidas was responsible for selling 70 per cent (approximately $200 million) worth of basketball shoes.

Flyknits soar into popularity

The first basketball shoe for men was worn by George Mikan, who sparked a revolution in playing style when he used his size 13 feet to shoot and score almost at will. It wasn’t until 1985 that another man—Michael Jordan—would spark another revolution in play, opting out of high-top shoes in favor of a low-top canvas pair that was more lightweight and easier to move around in. 

The Air Jordan line became a global phenomenon, with millions of consumers buying up Jordan’s kicks in droves every year since he entered into retirement. In recent years, Nike has introduced new innovations such as Flyknit material or FitKnit technology to help athletes get closer to their game.

LeBron James and the low tops dominate

Today, basketball shoes are worn by players on every level. While high tops were once standard, many basketball players have begun to wear low-top models—especially in casual settings. In professional play, these new low-tops still dominate men’s basketball—there’s little sign that high tops will regain their popularity any time soon. 

Low tops have even found a home among female players and those just getting into the game! However, you don’t need to be a pro to appreciate what our century has brought us with basketball shoes; there are plenty of stylish options available from popular brands like Jordan Brand, Nike and Under Armour. No matter what your taste or athletic ability may be, there is a style out there for you!

Back in the day, you had no choice

you wore whatever sneaker you were given, no matter what. The game has changed and so have sneakers, with new styles and technology being introduced all the time. Now, high-top basketball shoes are a thing of the past. 

Current athletes play in low-tops or classic sneakers that look like high-tops but aren’t quite as elevated or constricting as their predecessors. To get some perspective on how basketball shoes have evolved over time, here’s a brief history of men’s basketball shoes through each decade. It makes for an interesting look back at basketball footwear from times past—and it might even help you make better footwear decisions today!

The End?

While one could argue that there have been points throughout history where basketball sneakers have peaked, it would be hard to make a case that we are at such a point now. In an industry that is as competitive as any in modern commerce, footwear designers must constantly push themselves and their creations forward or fall behind. 

If you look back over 100 years of innovation, exploration and brilliant design, then it would be hard to imagine there being anything left in the world of basketball sneakers to uncover or reinvent; where could they possibly go from here? In short, they will evolve but they won’t disappear anytime soon. We can only imagine what our great-grandchildren will be wearing on their feet when they play hoop… not too long from now!


Despite what many shoe companies may try to tell you, basketball is not a young man’s game. Throughout most of its history, it has been dominated by older athletes who have a more developed understanding of how to use their bodies and minds to master their sport.


What do you think?

Written by Virily Editor

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