Today’s Ugliest Basketball Shoes and How We Got There

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When you think of stylish basketball kicks, the classics immediately come to mind—timeless originals such as the Converse All-Star canvas basketball shoe, introduced in 1917, are still a hot commodity on store shelves, after all. It was a much simpler, much more beautiful time on the courts of yesteryear. But when did it all go wrong?

When did we go from sleek classics to much-maligned designs such as Adidas Originals and Jeremy Scott’s embarrassing (and debatably racist) JS Roundhouse Mids, complete with shackle-style ankle cuffs?

What made us think that basketball kicks equal a pair of mesh-ensconced, carbon fibre monstrosities with pump technology, Thermoplastic Urethane soles and neon patent leather panels glowing a radioactive shade of Chernobyl (guaranteed to instantly add vertical leap)?
 

It’s simple: It’s a sign of the times. Basketball shoe makers left behind simple, practical designs and started focusing more on flash factor ever since Adidas introduced its now-iconic Superstars (more on those beauts later). Prior to then, basketball shoes were seen as less a fashion statement and more of a piece of equipment, said Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Ont., and the mind behind its Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture exhibit.

The first shoes designed specifically for basketball players popped up around the turn of the 20th century, right after the game was created for the YMCA as a way to foster team spirit during the winter months. At the time, basketball shoes were little more than a tool on the court.

Then came the breakthroughs in rubber production during the First and Second World Wars that helped make the classic canvas upper basketball shoe ubiquitous.

But it’s in the late 60s and early 70s that new fads such as jogging pulled basketball and athletic shoes into the realm of street style for the first time—and put sneaks at the whim of crazy designers. With the fitness craze hitting North America full force, people began wearing basketball shoes as a way to express their status as active individuals living up to their full potential.
 
 

It started at the Adidas Superstar in 1969, said Semmelhack. This shoe was unlike anything before it: It was the first low-top model. It traded canvas for a full leather upper. And—more interestingly—it was bought up by basketball players and the fashion crowd alike. Styles such as 1972’s Nike Cortez and 1974’s Nike Waffle Trainer followed.

“All of the sudden, the lights go on, and the basketball shoe now becomes the focus of fashion as well,” said Semmelhack.

From then on, said Semmelhack, the leather basketball shoe became associated with high-end players (think MJ signing on with Nike), exclusivity, collecting and technology. Its tie with new technologies especially helped fuel its role as a style symbol, with advances dreamed up for the court capturing the imagination of the public—the same pump technology that did away with laces on Reebok’s Insta Pump Furies made them look pretty badass at the same time.
 

 

Which brings us to the kicks of today.

The humble basketball shoe is now at the mercy of the cyclical turnover of trends—what comes into fashion, must go out. While one design is hitting the shelves, another is drafted just as quickly it take its place with even crazier gimmicks, bells and whistles, just vying to keep our attention.

Add to that that guys tend to express their individuality through their shoes—especially guys who want to push the envelope with, say, screaming loud pink and purple kicks. Due to our hunt for individuality, there’s a huge market to fill for out-of-this-world shoes, and designers are more than happy to rise up to the challenge.

Unfortunately, that means that there will be duds.

 
The Adidas Crazy 8, Kobe Bryant’s signature shoe, boasts the aesthetics of a bright yellow tub of butter. The Nike Flightposite III can easily be mistaken for a golf ball squeezed between pieces of a decommissioned Russian communications satellite. And, of course, the Adidas Kobe 2: its boxy design is where the future meets the ass end of the L Train, except you’re better off walking through a chemical spill in these than onto a basketball court.
 
 
 

That’s not to say that all new kicks are ugly, and that the pure simplicity of classic basketball shoes is the only metric for incredible design. High-end designers—most of whom you’ll remember from that time you accidentally logged into your girlfriend’s Pinterest account—are jumping on board to push what it means to be a men’s basketball shoe. Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo and others are creating amazing basketball-inspired sneakers of their own, such as the one above.

However, these newer shoes are obviously not meant for the courts—they only take the aesthetic of basketball shoes and make it their own. As designers push what it means to be a basketball shoe, it is entirely possible that its relatively short, 150-year history as we know it is nearing an end. 
 
Just keep in mind, things can’t get much uglier:

Nike LeBron X Elite – 2013
 
Adidas D Rose 3.5 – 2013
 
Adidas Crazy 8 – 1997
 
Nike Flightposite III – 2002
 
 

COMMENTS

Anon at 25 Jun 2014

Your gay. The last two are pretty fucking beautiful bitch...

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