Top 5 Performance Basketball Sneakers

Top 5 Performance Basketball Shoes

This article goes out to all the hoopers out there who understand the difference of what playing in a lousy shoe feels like compared to playing in an excellent performer. Basketball shoe technology has come a long way over the years. To think that Wilt Chamberlain used to play in Converse All-Stars and Kareem Abdul Jabbar used to play in Adidas Superstars is just plain crazy to me. Now, basketball players everywhere get to pick and choose basketball shoe models that fit their skillset most.

The Kyrie shoe-line is designed for quicker guards who are light on their feet and have an excellent change of direction. The Lebron shoe-line is made for bigger, heavier, players who need more cushion in their shoes to soften the blow on the players’ joints. Hybrid models like the PG line or James Harden line combine both cushion and traction to make a more well-rounded shoe model. The technology now is better and more versatile than ever.

This article is going to go over the five best performance basketball shoes over the last 20 years. Every model will be judged by how it performed relative to other shoes on the market at the time and other technology available at the time.

#5. Adidas Dame 2

When the Dame line first came out, I was a little sceptical about Adidas basketball shoes. The Dame 1 was not a very good performer, the Harden line hadn’t come out yet, and boost cushioning was still relatively new. But after watching some reviews on YouTube and reading up on the Dame 2, I was convinced to buy it. Wow, what a pleasant surprise it was.

Cushion

The Dame 2 featured full-length bounce cushioning rather than the much more popular and trending, boost cushion. Bounce was far more responsive than Boost and was a better shoe for jumping and court feel. Boost was better on the impact protection side of the technology, but for hoopers who liked to play above the rim or make quick cuts, bounce cushion was the way to go.

Materials

The upper of the shoe came in a few different materials and varied depending on the colourway. The Dame 2 usually had a jacquard material upper which is a fancy way of saying they used a breathable mesh material. The more premium model featured Adidas’ primeknit. It was also one of the first shoes on the market that had a sock-like fit on it and felt great on your foot.

Price Point

To top it all off, the Dame 2 was priced at only $105 USD. This was a shoe with high-end technology and materials that was priced like a budget model. It was a great shoe overall and one of my absolute favourite shoes to play in.

#4. Under Armour Curry 2

When the hype started surrounding Steph Curry, Under Armour was pressured to put out a performance model that met the standards of consumers. The Curry 2 exceeded those standards and was one of the best performers in recent memory.

Traction

The thing that separated the Curry 2 from the other shoes was the traction. Steph Curry is one of the shiftiest, quickest, players in the league. He can stop on a dime and accelerate past defenders, so Under Armour knew that they needed to make a shoe with superb stopping power. The Curry 2 featured a full-length herringbone traction pattern, the most reliable traction pattern to date. They also used a hard rubber compound to ensure that the shoe would be durable and the traction wouldn’t fade after a few good games. These shoes were incredible when it came to changing direction. You could really feel yourself stopping on a dime while your defenders (who weren’t wearing Curry 2’s) would have trouble doing the same.

Support

The Curry 2 also had the best support and lockdown for a shoe at that time. Due to Curry’s frequent ankle injuries, Under Armour needed to ensure that they made a shoe that could provide ample support and protection to avoid ankle rolls or sprains. Although this shoe was not ankle-roll-proof, it was pretty close to it. The Curry 2 had a mid-foot shank, internal heel counter, and featured a snug 1-to-1 fit; all the features you need to provide a stable, supportive shoe.

The Curry 2 was a remarkable performer, and you can see that just by looking at the resell market on these. New models are being sold for more than retail because people love playing in them so much.

#3. Nike Hyperdunk 08

If you played competitive basketball in 2008 or any of the five years following, you’ll know that the Nike Hyperdunk was the shoe to get. Every team had them, and every player had them. They came in as many colourways as you can imagine, and they dominated the basketball shoe market.

Technology

The Hyperdunk was ahead of its time when it came to technology. It featured fly-wire technology which was an advanced lacing system that provided the best support your money could buy on a basketball shoe. The Hyperdunk also debunked the myth that reliable support must mean a heavy shoe. The Hyperdunk 08 was the lightest shoe on the market at the time and had a traction pattern that was well suited for guards and forwards.

Versatility

At its peak, the Hyperdunk 08 was the lightest shoe, most supportive shoe, most popular shoe, that came in hundreds of colourways, featured player PE’s and was available in both high tops and low tops. This shoe is generational and unforgettable. The Hyperdunk 08 is easily one of the best performers over the last 20 years.

#2. Nike Kobe 4

Speaking of shoes that were ahead of their time, the Kobe 4 has to be at the top of that list. During a time where high-top shoes were perceived to be better basketball shoes because of ankle support and stability, the Kobe line decided to release a low-top sneaker?

At first, the consensus of this release was that Nike was foolish for going to a low-top on the Kobe line. Nobody would buy a low top. You’re pretty much asking for a rolled ankle at that point. That was until you played in the Kobe 4. Then the consumer’s opinion changed really quick.

Support

The Kobe 4 debunked the myth that ankle protection relies on whether the shoe is a high-top or low-top. Ankle protection actually comes from the stability of the interior of the shoe. In order to be a shoe with reliable protection, an internal heel counter, midfoot shank, and snug 1-to-1 fits are all needed. The Kobe 4 had all of those features. Even though it was a low-cut, it was one of the safest shoes on the market. Players all around the league started wearing them, and soon, the trend caught on to consumers everywhere.

Impact

The trend of low-cut basketball shoes was born because of the Kobe 4’s. Low-cuts are more comfortable, easier to put on, and they’re easier to wear with external accessories like ankle braces or ankle sleeves. The brace could be placed on top of the shoe and wouldn’t compromise the integrity of the shoe at all, unlike a high-top model. Truly revolutionary.

Cushion

Above all of that, the Kobe 4 also featured full-length zoom cushion, which to this day, is still my favourite Nike cushioning available on a basketball shoe. Zoom is a responsive cushion that gives you impact protection without sacrificing any court feel or responsiveness. You can see it today in the Freak 1’s, KD 10’s, and PG 2’s.

Overall, the Kobe 4 has to be on the list because of the change that it spurred when it comes to low-top basketball shoes. It is sporadic to see a high-top basketball shoe today. Most shoes are mid-cut at the highest and offer low-cut versions as well. Low-cut basketball shoes are the new norm for basketball shoes, and that would never be true if it weren’t for the Kobe 4.

#1. Kobe 9

The Kobe 9 basketball shoe was the best basketball shoe that I have ever played in, and it’s honestly not even close. This shoe has every feature you want in a basketball shoe and comes in so many different variations that it meets the needs of every hooper depending on what they’re looking for in a basketball sneaker.

Cushion

Cushion wise; the shoe featured a Nike Zoom unit in the heel and lunarlon on the rest of the midsole. The Zoom was lovely (as always), and the lunarlon was more comfortable than advertised. It didn’t bottom out easily and maintained its structure as a comfortable cushion.

Upper

The upper was different depending on the version that you wanted. The normal Kobe 9 low came in an engineered mesh upper. It was a durable, breathable, mesh that was a nice hybrid of comfortable and protective. The Kobe 9 Elite series featured Nike’s most premium knit material: Flyknit. The flyknit on the Kobe 9 wasn’t as plush as the flyknit you see in today’s sneakers. It was a bit firmer and sturdier, which meant more stability for a knit shoe. This is easily Nike’s best flyknit they’ve featured on a basketball shoe.

Traction

The traction on the Kobe 9 was Hall of Fame level. A new traction pattern was featured on the Kobe 9 to make it look like a circular heat map of your foot was drawn out on the sole. This ensured that there was traction on every part of your foot that would apply pressure on the court. The shoes would allow you to stop on a dime on any court, in any conditions. This is probably the best traction on a basketball shoe still to this day.

Versatility

The Kobe 9 also was versatile in the sense that it gave you the option of either going with a low-top or the high-top version of the shoe. The high-top version was only made with flyknit, classifying them as Kobe 9 Elite shoes. Although both are solid, I prefer the Kobe 9 Elite (high). The price point was hefty for these, but the shoe was just too good of a performer not to pick it up.

Support

The Kobe 9 Elite high-top was an incredible basketball shoe and an ankle-brace all mixed in one. Although there were people who disliked the high-top version because they felt it was restrictive, I thought the opposite. If you have ever played with an ankle brace before, you understand how uncomfortable it is. The Kobe 9 Elite high was so supportive as a high-top that you essentially did not need to wear an ankle brace anymore. The shoe went so far up your leg that it was almost impossible to roll an ankle because the material on the shoe simply would not allow you to. Now, I’m not saying that it couldn’t happen, but she structure of the shoe made it a lot more unlikely. As someone with an ankle injury-history, the Kobe 9 high was revolutionary. After I played in it, I didn’t want to play in any other sneaker.

The Kobe 9 Elite high-top, is the best basketball sneaker ever made.

To all the sneakerheads and basketball players reading this, I hope you enjoyed it. If you haven’t had the chance to hoop in these shoes, I highly recommend that you do so.

Post
I am a 25-year old independent basketball scout who has aspirations to one day work in the NBA. I am located in Toronto, Canada and grew up loving the Raptors. This sparked my interest in basketball and I haven't looked back since. Currently I am working as a Video and Analytics Co-ordinator for the Humber Hawks basketball team, while also scouting overseas for Ambassy International.

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