The Evolution of Basketball Sneakers From Converse Rag Sneakers to the Famous Jordans

A hundred years ago, at the dawn of the development of basketball, young men mastering a new sport put on rag sneakers with thin rubber soles on their feet and set off to throw the ball into the basket. It never occurred to them that in some hundred years, kilometer-long queues of sneakerheads would line up behind basketball shoes (they would not even understand such a word), and profile models in terms of quantity and quality of technology, materials and design would not be inferior to fireballs “Formula 1”. Let’s have a look at how the silhouette of basketball shoes has changed over their almost century-old history. 

The Beginning: 1917-1984 – Converse All Stars

Back in the early 20th century, there was almost no alternative to the basketball shoes of the classic era. It lasted almost seventy years. The legendary Converse All Star sneakers, developed at the beginning of the 20th century, was ruling when basketball was almost in its infancy. It is only in the late 1960s that Converse shoes were replaced by Nike and Adidas, more adapted and sharpened for the game.

In 2012, Markus Converse released the first batch of sneakers designed exclusively for basketball, the Converse All Star. A year later, NBA star Chuck Taylor donned Converse sneakers and received the first pair of promotional sneakers. And three years later, Chuck officially joined Converse, and All Star became his personalized promodel. In the same year, the company added the signature “Chuck Taylor” to the All Star emblem. These sneakers set a fantastic record – over the course of its existence, the Converse All Star has sold over 750 million pairs.

Today, Converse All Star is not associated exclusively with basketball, but they were created specifically for this sport.

Mi 50’s: Japan In the Round

Kihachiro Onitsuka, founder of Onitsuka Tiger (later renamed Asics), launches Japan’s first basketball shoe, the OK Basketball. The sole of the sneaker was very similar in its properties to the suction cups of an octopus and provided additional grip for the shoe with the platform. This model did not lead to a technological revolution in the sports sneaker market, but in fairness it should be said that basketball shoes have never been the main skate of the Japanese brand. But this and subsequent models served as an excellent help for commercially viable reissues and replicas of these sneakers already in the 21st century, so in a sense this release can also be considered successful.

The OK Basketball outsole resembled the suction cups of an octopus in its properties and provided additional grip of the shoe with the court.

Adidas Superstar Enters the Game- 1969

It was this year that the Adidas Superstar came out – one of the most recognizable sneaker silhouettes in the world with rubber toe protection and a sole that does not leave marks on the floor. Within the first two years of its launch, nearly three-quarters of NBA players began wearing the model, including the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Today, the Adidas Superstar no longer falls into the category of exclusively sports shoes – it, like Converse Chuck Taylor and the first Jordans, has become an integral part of street culture.

Today, hardly any professional basketball player would risk wearing the Adidas Superstar on the court, but forty years ago, more than half of the NBA players wore them.

Nike’s Arrival Brings Competition – 1972

The era of the classic Converse Chuck Taylor is coming to an end, the basketball shoe market is not yet saturated, and new sports brands are slowly entering it. In 1972, Nike took the first steps in this direction with the release of its first basketball shoes – low Bruin and high Blazer, made of leather. Nike prepared thoroughly for their debut on the NBA parquet, calling for the advertising company the leading basketball players of the League – Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith and the legendary “Iceman” George Gervin.

Nike’s total dominance of the sports shoe market is still far away. In 2012, the brand released its first models of basketball shoes – Bruin and Blazer.

Nike’s New Models Are Out

Two varieties of Blazer sneakers come out at once – low leather Nike Blazer Low and high suede Nike Blazer Suede. At the time, the stereotype of basketball shoes—high-top sneakers with shin guards and leg support—hadn’t arrived on the basketball court yet, so virtually every model released in the 1970s featured both low and high configurations. A good half of the players in the ABA, and later the NBA, preferred low shoes to high ones, while the other half played exclusively in high ones. Nike understood that the comfort and weight of shoes during sports is very important for athletes, and they began to use a lighter and softer material in the production of basketball shoes – suede.

Nike All Court – 1975-1976

The period from 1972 to 1980 can be called the period of formation of Nike in basketball: during this time, eleven varieties of basketball shoes were released, which in our time can be safely called canonical. In the late 1970s, the first models of Nike basketball shoes came out, which were not made of leather or the already proven suede, but of fabric – they had much better ventilation, and they were lighter in weight than their leather counterparts. Thus, two fabric models appeared: the high All Court Canvas Hi and the low All Court Canvas.

In the late 1970s, the first models of Nike basketball shoes came out, which were not made of leather or already proven suede, but of fabric. 

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The Famous All Force One Are In the Place – 1982

Nike takes another step towards leadership in the athletic footwear market with the introduction of the first basketball shoe to feature Air technology, based on the use of compressed air capsules as a shock absorber. The first air-sole shoe was the Nike Air Force One, named after the US President’s plane. Subsequently, these sneakers are firmly entrenched in the status of absolute classics of basketball shoes.

The Air Force One was the first basketball shoe to feature a unique cushioning technology called Air

Nike Air Jordan, Most Popular Sneakers Since Now – 1985

Basketball shoe sales have skyrocketed this year as Michael Jordan signed a deal with Nike to wear the Air Jordan, the first official name-brand basketball sneaker in history. The potential of the first Jordans turned out to be inexhaustible – in the 1980s they became a real commercial bestseller and remain so to this day.

Nike signed a contract with young talent Michael Jordan. This transaction, in fact, determined the main path for the development of the company in the basketball shoe market for many years to come.

Since then, many sneakers have seen light and new models continue to be launched almost each year. Basketball became popular because of its amazing players, but let’s admit, also because of the shoes they’ve been wearing for more than a century.