The narrative of basketball shoes can’t be fully told without due reference to the history that has shaped its popularity and explosion in the brand industry.
Long before signature shoes became a thing in the NBA, the early 1920s had signaled what was to become a routine reality for many years to come. Chuck Taylor is the first name that would top that history, and really, every other franchise history-making deal evolved from his.
Chuck Taylor had wanted a different kind of beast. Yes, but not a wild beast, a tamed beast, a shoe that arrests a player’s foot for simplicity and stability on the court which basketball shoes didn’t have at that time.
He was himself once a semi-professional footballer before becoming a shoes salesperson who would go on to mainstream the idea of having signature shoes to one’s athletic brand.
He approached Converse, an American shoe company, to make his dream shoe a reality. It was this same company who produced, designed, and sold brand of shoes that became known as the “Chuck Taylors”.
The shoe was going to give the flexibility he requested for so that players can easily play their game with the dominant troupe they sought to bring to the sport.
Chuck’s action began a career business and professional experience for NBA players to have their names stuck to shoes that fans would buy.
For ease of engagement, we are referencing basketball players who have played the game owning their signature shoes from those who have retired and to those who are currently professional NBA players.
1. Walt Clyde Frazier
Walt Frazier is an American-born former NBA player for the New York Knicks. He led his team to the franchise’s two championships till date in 1970 and 1973.
His successes on the court was not going to go unnoticed. At that time, Converse and Adidas already had a strong footing in the NBA and made shoes for players at no cost.
It was when the German Puma approached Clyde — who was going to be their gateway into the American basketball market — that the concept of signature shoe finally began.
In their proposal to Walt — who was Knicks guard at that time — he was offered $5,000 dollars and free shoes. This was in 1973!
Frazier’s demand from Puma was a sneaker that would be more flexible, lighter, and have an interior padding superior to what was common place then.
Puma designed the Puma Clyde, a suede shoe which then became the first ever signature shoes an NBA athlete was going to wear.
Although the shoe was meant to be an on-court accessory, it also had a streetwear version that instantly became a hit among buyers. The success of that experiment led to a wide-long signature shoe brand as we have it now.
While Air Jordan (to be talked about later) was eventually going to set a course for signature shoes, Clyde led the way. Like they say, literally, before the Air Jordan, there was the Puma Clyde.
Converse, who was a big competitor at that time, approached Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to have their shoes for them, too. However, they didn’t have signature shoes, although Magic Johnson, being an entrepreneur, started his own sneakers called the MVP Brand after he retired.
The market life of the shoes was short lived, but it did leave behind memorable designs that have become part of basketball fans historical indulgence.
Larry Bird wore popular sneakers like the Converse All-Star, Converse Pro, Converse StarTech, Converse Weapon, Converse Cons which spanned between 1979-1992.
2. Michael Jordan
Air Jordan was named after arguably the greatest basketball player of all time – Michael Jordan.
Jordan had sprung onto the NBA scene after his NBA draft to the Chicago Bulls. The popularity about his attacking and guard skills finesse, game intelligence, power, dunks, and ball handling skills had become a national sensation.
So, in early 1984, Nike had approached him for his signature shoes which was going to be called Air Jordan. The brand was a basketball, athletic, and casual shoes design that morphed from the original Air Jordan which was specifically designed and produced for Michael Jordan himself.
The shoe became an aspirational invitation for every basketball player or fan who wanted to fly. His silhouette was the underlying inspiration for the “Jumpman” logo.
The first signature shoes, called Air Jordan I, was designed from the Nike Air Ship which was the model for the Jordan I, with the red and black colorway. The release was met with a popular belief that it was banned from on-court use. That spurred the market success of the release.
The signature shoe has grown into a series that has remained popular in the mainstream. They include Air Jordan II to Air Jordan XX3, and then Air Jordan 2009 – Air Jordan XXXIII.
There have also been other shoes from the Air Jordan line, like the 2006 Jordan Spiz’ike shoes which was a signature shoe with the Hollywood director, Spike Lee.
There have also been Defining Moments, Defining Moment II, Defining Moments III, Defining Moments IV, expressions like Retro 6 Infrared Pack, Old Love New Love, Air Jordan Sixty Plus, amongst others.
The Air Jordan has been a commercial success since its first release in 1986 up until now. The success of the signature shoes has also sparked conversations about the cost and controversies that surrounded early releases that led to death of fans who were keen on having the shoes.
3. Kobe Bryant
Kobe died after his retirement from basketball with the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe was an iconic basketball player whose understanding of the game, discipline, and dedication generated a lot of conversation of his place in the discussions about being one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
He was fearless, ferocious, and fantastic. These adjectives perhaps also qualify what his shoe lines stood for.
Kobe is late now, however, his signature Nike sneakers are one of the most common basketball shoes worn by players in the NBA and fans alike.
When he lost his life in a helicopter crash, Nike released a statement that his sneakers were sold out. He has had over 14 signature shoes since its first release.
Over the years, the signature shoes are designed to allow for strength and flexibility, mainly lightweight, and provide ankle protection.
4. Dwayne Wade (Li-Ning Way of Wade 7)
This was Dwayne Wade’s signature sneaker bow out from the NBA. His illustrious career had been complemented by endorsement deals that are as mouth watering as they could ever get.
As a rookie, he signed originally for Converse in 2004 and then joined the Jordan Brand in 2009. After his successful bounce, Wade finally got his signature sneaker with China’s Li-Ning, fast becoming a mainstream hit with cultic followership in the U.S.
1. Carmelo Anthony
Jordan Melo was the signature sneaker signed to Carmelo Anthony. He currently plays with the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA.
Carmelo’s towering personality on the court has seen him nominated ten times for NBA All-Star and six times as All-NBA Team member.
He was hung up as a face for Jordan’s Jumpman Brand for years and has about 13 signature models ranging from Jordan 1.5 to Jordan Melo 11
2. James Edward Harden
James Edward Harden Jr. plays his NBA professional game with the Houston Rockets. He has shown over the years that he is a prolific scorer and is one of the best shooting guards in the game.
His signature shoes contract is with Adidas for a 13-year deal signed in 2015. His Harden collection (since 2015) has been the Adidas Harden I – IV, spanning a 4 year collection that has been a point reference for bigger players who prioritize cushioning from impacts.
There have been few disappointments with the collection line over the years but it delivers in performance overload for users.
3. Kevin Durant
Nike KD collections started with the Nike Flight School in 2007-2008 season and current stands as Nike KD 11 for 2018-2019.
Kevin Durant began his professional career with the Seattle Supersonics — who are now known as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He combines speed, good shooting range, and length to his game which is Nike’s signature focus on his shoe brand.
Kevin Durant currently plays for the Brooklyn Nets.
4. Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving is an NBA professional player that plays for the Brooklyn Nets. His NBA draft was in 2011 after being selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was named the Rookie of the Year that same year.
His signature shoe line is the Nike Kyrie which has, over the years, been praised for the traction and ankle support it provides. There are many who also finds his Kyrie 4 sneakers quite durable.
Here’s one of the Kyrie Irving shoes to check out!
5. Stephen Curry
The signature Under Armour Curry’s shoe is attributive to Wardell Stephen Curry, known as Steph Curry. He plays his NBA professional game with the Golden State Warriors.
Steph Curry’s vision on the court remains one of the most revered in the NBA and he had his first MVP in the 2014-15 season when he led his Warriors teammate to their first championship win since 1975.
He had begun his story with signature shoes from Nike Kicks. He then moved to Under Armour in 2013. After that switch, his first signature shoes, the Curry 1, was unveiled with subsequent releases like Under Armour Curry 2, Under Armour Curry 2.5, Under Armour Curry 3, Under Armour Curry 3Zer0, UA Curry 4, UA Curry 5, UA Curry 3Zero 2 and Under Armour Curry 6.
6. Chris Paul
CP3 is the signature sneaker brand of Chris Paul who is signed to the Jordan brand. Chris Paul is a guard for the Okhlahoma City Thunder where he plies his NBA professional trade.
His signature shoe is had had series for more than a decade now, and it is preferred by NBA players like Reggie Bullock and Jabari Parker. Paul wears other signature Jordan sneakers like Air Jordan’s 1, 4, and 7.
7. Lebron James
Lebron James has lived up to the weight of expectations on him since he started playing professional basketball. He was meant to carry on from where the Jordan’s sneaker legacy had survived through the year.
Only in 2017, he was named as Nike’s top seller and currently holds one of the longest records for signature shoe lines.
Lebron James currently plays for the Lakers. But his is a career that has spanned from his draft to Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 till date.
His long line of signature includes Nike LeBron 16 Black/Black-University Red (Fresh Bred), Nike LeBron 16 Triple Blacks, Nike LeBron 16 HFR, Nike LeBron 16 Multi/Multi (1 Thru 5), Nike LeBron 16 Oreos, amongst others.
8. Derrick Rose
The signature sneaker of Derrick Martell Rose is signed to Adidas. Derrick Rose plays with the Detroit Pistons in the NBA. His career starting point saw him picked in the 200 NBA draft to the Chicago Bulls, the same year he was the NBA Rookie of the Year.
The signature line with Adidas saw him rake up a year worth of Adidas sneakers to the tune of $165,000.
The design over the years has captured the free-flowing, creative craft of Rose’s play. The first signature shoe was the adiZero Rose 1 which was launched in October 2010 and already sold out also in February 2011.
9. Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard’s illustrious playing career has spanned over 15 years following his NBA draft in 2004 to the Orlando Magic. He has played with the Lakers, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Homets, and Washington Wizards.
Howard had a signature sneaker’s deal with the Chinese firm, Peak. That deal expired September of 2019, and he currently wears Kobe’s Nike signature shoes.
He wore this to the recent 2020 Slam Dunk Contest, surely as a tribute to the late basketball player.
Prior to his signature sneaker with Peak, he was with Adidas and that ended pre-2016.
10. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis a Greek NBA professional player with the Mlwaukee Bucks who is quickly becoming one of the best players in the NBA and often compared with Lebron James in his overall game.
In 2017, he signed with Swoosh after a cold sneaker war ensued between Li-Ning and Adidas. It was the brand who were able to win him over.
However, he is now signed to Nike and the outfit has officially launched his first signature sneaker: Nike Zoom Freak 1 after being named NBA’s MVP.
His marketability has also been an eye-catching interest for observers who saw him in the 2018-19 season raking in the fourth highest selling jersey.
11. Trae Young
Trae Young is one of the brightest young players the game has ever seen. He signed up for Adidas and his debuting with his signature shoe, The Adidas N3XT L3V3L 2 ‘Ice Trae’.
He plies his NBA professional football with the Atlanta Hawks. His nickname, “Ice Trae”, has been a representation of his shooting ability which has been compared with Steph Curry’s in recent times.
12. Klay Thompson
The Anta brand was signed to Klay Thompson in 2015 when he was just joining them during their dominant seasons. He reportedly agreed to a 10-year deal with the Chinese brand which would make him earn as much $80M