Many professional basketball players would say that the basketball shoe is one of, if not the most important item that they wear on the court. A lot of these players would even say that without proper shoes, they wouldn’t really be able to play the sport properly. Sure, you can wear anything you want on the basketball court, like slippers or casual shoes, and you can even play barefoot, but these wouldn’t give you the same comfort, support, and protection that basketball shoes provide.
The basketball shoe features materials and technologies that are specifically designed to provide the best experience for casual and professional basketball players. There are a lot of components in basketball shoes that you wouldn’t normally find in other types of shoes, and in this article, we will talk about these components as well as the parts that are similar to running shoes and footwear made for other sports. Here are the key components of a basketball shoe.
The most prominent or visible part of the basketball shoe is the upper, where a lot of the features of technologies are present. There are three types of upper sizes for basketball shoes and these types are low top, mid-top, and high top. As their names already suggest, these types are supposed to determine how high the shoe is and how much it covers your foot.
For high tops, the upper would run above the ankle, while mid-tops would stop right at the ankle. Low tops would have an upper that stops below the ankle. High tops provide the best ankle support, and low tops don’t provide the same level of ankle support but are worn to offer better and faster movement on the basketball court. The mid-top offers the best features of the high top and low top, although its feel and comfort are similar to a high top.
Parts of the Upper
The upper of a basketball shoe would often have components that provide maximum supper for the foot, especially on the ankles that are prone to injuries on the court due to the player performing various quick movements. Here are the different parts of the upper and their function on a basketball shoe.
The toe box is the area or section of the upper that surrounds and protects the toes. The shape and the size of the toe box are very important for basketball players, as they will determine how comfortable or supported the shoe really is. If the toe box is too narrow or too wide, it would just cause injuries on the toe like ingrown nails or fractures. So, the toe box should have the correct size for your foot. Those with normal or narrow feet would go true to size on a basketball shoe, while those with wide feet would tend to buy shoes that are a half size up.
Right next to the toe box is the vamp, which is the part that surrounds the middle of your foot on the basketball shoe. Since the middle of your foot is that one that flexes a lot, the vamp of a basketball shoe should be flexible enough for movement. However, it shouldn’t be soft, as it wouldn’t be able to provide support for your foot. Instead, it should have a little bit of reinforcement but not as reinforced as the toe box or the heel of the shoe.
The heel is the part of a basketball shoe that supports the heel of your foot, although it could sometimes support the ankles as well, depending on how tall the basketball shoe is. The heel section is often reinforced by a heel panel (often made of TPU or thermoplastic polyurethane) so that it would provide the ultimate support for your heels. The hell part is usually tougher and harder than the other parts of the shoe so that your heels wouldn’t move inside the shoe while you are playing basketball.
Eyelets and Eyestays
The eyelets are the holes on the upper where the laces are supposed to go through. High tops would usually have more eyelets than low tops. These eyelets are reinforced by eyestays, which are strips of leather or other materials that are sewn onto the upper and are placed in a way to make the eyelets more durable.
The tongue is located in between the two eyestays and the eyelets of a shoe. The tongue is typically a separate piece in a basketball shoe that is only sewn on the toe box. However, modern basketball shoes would have tongues that are sewn to the vamp or attached to the vamp using two strips of garter inside the shoe. However, there are even some shoes that don’t have tongues at all. The tongue is usually made from a softer and more breathable material than the rest of the upper to provide ventilation or breathability for the basketball shoe.
To offer more breathability besides the tongue, some basketball shoes would have ventilation holes on the toe box or on the side of the vamp. These ventilation holes allow your feet to breathe a little bit so that they wouldn’t sweat too much. Without ventilation holes, your feet will feel uncomfortable inside the shoes after a few hours of wear.
The sockliner is the interior part of the upper that allows your feet to feel comfortable inside the shoe. Without the sockliner, your feet would rub against the rough parts of the upper, causing blisters, scratches, and other wounds. For softness, the sockliner is usually made from thick cotton.
Besides the sockliner, another part of the upper that makes your feet feel comfortable while wearing basketball shoes is the insole. In addition to providing comfort, the insoles of basketball shoes also offer extra cushioning for your feet. What’s great about a lot of basketball shoes is that their insoles are removable, so you can replace the insoles with the ones that are suitable for your feet, especially if you have flat feet or if your feet are healing from injuries.
Commonly Used Materials for the Upper
The upper can be made using different materials, and each of these materials offers various advantages over the other. Here is a list of the commonly used materials for the upper of basketball shoes.
One of the most popular materials for basketball shoe uppers is leather, which is a strong and durable material that can turn flexible after several uses or wears. Leather provides the best protection for your feet, which is why it is also used in a lot of casual shoes. However, this material does not have any breathable qualities, but brands would often put ventilation holes on the leather upper to make it a little bit breathable.
Another drawback of leather is that it can be quite heavy, but you will find modern basketball shoes made of various materials besides leather to make the shoes lighter. So, you would just find panels or pieces of leather in some basketball shoes today.
Suede is a different type of leather that is softer and typically lighter than the regular leather you would often see in many shoes. Suede is also made from the skin torn from the underside of animals like lambs, pigs, and goats, so it would have a hairy texture instead of the smooth texture of regular leather.
A lot of running shoes in the 70s and 80s would have a suede upper because of their lightness and flexibility. The same features also apply to the suede in basketball shoes, although some parts of the suede are reinforced by leather to increase rigidity and support instead of allowing flexibility.
The downside to having a suede upper is that it can be quite difficult to clean it, as dirt and grime could often get stuck on the hairs of the upper. But, if you don’t mind wearing dirty basketball shoes after a few years, then the downside of suede is definitely not a drawback for you.
A lot of brands would often find ways to make their manufacturing expenses less expensive, and one of those ways is by using synthetic leather instead of genuine leather. Synthetic leather, as its name already suggests, is a material that is man-made and is created to have the same qualities as leather but is noticeably thinner, lighter, and more breathable.
Using synthetic leather as an upper material is really not that bad, especially for basketball, as the material will make the shoes feel much lighter compared to having a genuine leather upper. However, much like genuine leather, a lot of modern basketball shoes today would only have synthetic leather panels in several parts of the shoe for reinforcement or extra flair.
A lot of basketball shoes today would have a knitted upper, as it is considered one of the best upper materials today because it provides support while still being quite flexible. The knitted upper can be stretchy and flexible, although it can be rigid in some parts of the upper that require support, like the midfoot and the heel.
In order for it to be tougher in some areas of the shoe, the knitted upper would often be covered by a PU (polyurethane) laminate or leather pieces. Moreover, the knit would also be reinforced with yarns or strings or polyester or nylon so that the upper wouldn’t flex too much on the basketball shoe.
Along with the knitted upper, mesh is another popular material used as an upper for many basketball shoes in recent years. Mesh is a fabric that is made from various plastic substances that are woven together, like nylon, polypropylene, and polyester, so it is tougher and more rigid than cotton.
The weave of these materials is quite loose, so mesh is inherently more breathable than leather, suede, or synthetic leather. But, the loose weave would also have its drawback, as it is not as durable as the other upper materials. Mesh is often used in the toe box and vamp areas of a running shoe, but for basketball shoes, this material is primarily seen on the tongue to provide breathability on shoes that are made from less breathable materials.
Rubber is an upper material that is primarily used to add layers of design to basketball shoes. So, rubber isn’t used for the entire upper of a basketball shoe and is just used for decoration. However, rubber is primarily utilized as an outsole for many basketball shoes because of its durability.
As an upper, rubber can be quite heavy, so it is no surprise that it isn’t used to be the primary material for basketball and running shoes. But, rubber can act as a great reinforcement for various high-wear areas of basketball shoes, particularly the eyelets and the heel.
The Midsole and Outsole
The midsole and the outsole are the two parts of the basketball shoe that is located at the bottom of the upper. The midsole is connected to the upper through a board last, which is a flexible board on top of the midsole that is sewn with the upper for a secure connection. Some parts of the shoe would then be glued onto the midsole so that the connection between the upper and the midsole would be stronger and more durable. The outsole would also be glued to the bottom of the midsole.
The outsole is typically tougher and more rigid than the midsole so that it will last longer on the basketball court. The midsole would then be softer to provide cushioning for the feet, although it is still quite dense in order for it to offer supper for the feet as well.
Commonly Used Materials for Midsoles and Outsoles
The midsole and the outsole are often made from different materials, although there are some materials that are more popular than the others. Here are details about the materials commonly used on midsoles and outsoles of basketball shoes.
EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate)
Ethylene-vinyl acetate, better known by its acronym EVA, is a type of midsole material that is incredibly popular for running and basketball shoes because of its softness. Besides being soft, EVA is also quite light, so it doesn’t put too much weight on the shoes and would allow you to have quicker movements on the court. Because EVA is very soft, the material is often contained within a cage made of denser materials so that the basketball shoes would have better responsiveness.
Phylon is material made from EVA that is compressed and then heat-expanded and cooled in a mold. This process allows the EVA to be much denser but retains its lightness and softness. In modern basketball shoes, phylon is a very common material since it is inexpensive to manufacture and is better than EVA in terms of durability.
The drawback of EVA is that it would often bottom out too fast, so the comfort that it provides only last for a few months or a year, depending on how long it is used. So, by compressing and expanding EVA with heat, the phylon material lasts much longer and would bottom out slower than regular EVA.
Rubber is a material that is primarily used for outsoles because of how durable it is compared to other materials. You would often see rubber on the outsoles of shoes made for outdoor basketball, but casual shoes would often have rubber midsoles as well since they don’t need too much cushioning compared to basketball shoes. The drawback to the rubber material is that it can be quite heavy, so having it as a midsole is not recommended for basketball shoes.
Phylite is a special material developed by Nike that contains 60% phylon and 40% rubber. The phylite material retains the softness and responsiveness of phylon but has the durability and rigidness of rubber. Although it is not as soft as phylon, phylite is much more durable, which is why Nike would often use it as both a midsole and an outsole. So, there is no more need to add rubber to the outsole of a phylite midsole since it is rigid enough to withstand wear and tear for months and even years.
Polyurethane, also known as PU, is a plastic material that can be molded or formulated to be rigid or flexible. This type of midsole material was quite popular during the late 80s and early 90s, as it served as an upgrade over regular rubber, which has been used as a midsole for a variety of vintage basketball shoes. Polyurethane is significantly softer and lighter than rubber, so it is really no surprise that it became a very popular alternative for basketball shoe midsoles.
However, polyurethane eventually became unpopular when EVA and phylon became more abundant and favored in the market, as PU has one glaring weakness in its composition. This weakness is its durability, as it is prone to yellowing and crumbling when it is exposed to sunlight and moisture. Nonetheless, you will still see polyurethane midsoles in retro basketball shoes like the early Air Jordan models, although these shoes are no longer considered suitable for playing basketball.
E-TPU (Expanded Thermoplastic Polyurethane)
E-TPU is a midsole material that is created by combining TPU granules in order to form the shape of the basketball shoe’s midsole. Even if the shape of the midsole is already molded or created, the granules of TPU are still present on the exterior of the midsole.
One of the most popular E-TPU types today is Boost, a trademarked material by Adidas that uses the material for their running and basketball shoe lines. Boost is described to have a bouncier feel compared to EVA and phylon, and this bounciness made it one of the most comfortable midsole materials.
Today, you would see a lot of people wearing shoes with Boost, like the Adidas UltraBoost, as these are also quite comfortable for casual wear. For basketball shoes, the Boost material is caged within a more rigid and denser material like TPU to reduce its bounciness and increase its responsiveness.
Without a cage, the Boost material may be too bouncy for basketball and can cause injuries. Another weakness of Boost is its durability, so it needs to have a rubber outsole because it cannot withstand wear and tear on indoor and outdoor basketball courts. The UltraBoost, which belongs to the running shoe line of Adidas, has a rubber outsole made by Continental, a company that primarily manufactures durable car tires.
We hope that this article has helped you in learning more about basketball shoes, particularly their components and the materials used to make them. Through learning these aspects of the basketball shoe, you will be able to have better decisions in picking which brand or model is suitable for your playstyle.