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?
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.
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.
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.
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.