Admittedly, I can acknowledge that I’m substantially biased by the generation and decade I grew up in. But that being said, I feel like I truly grew up during the pinnacle of Nike basketball.
I was born in 1988, right when Michael Jordan began taking over the NBA. To me, the late 90’s and early 2000’s represented the peak of Nike Basketball, in terms of the popularity and cultural impact. Sure, LeBron and KD still sell a boatload of shoes in the present, but something just felt different when I was a kid. Maybe we can chalk it up to nostalgia at it’s most basic level, but I do feel like my generation genuinely appreciated the Nike Basketball shoes being unleashed when we were younger.
Back before Eastbay came out, I can remember walking into the mall, or local shoe store and pleading with my parents to let me buy a pair of Gary Payton’s, Kobe’s, or even the Nike Shox when the BB4 hit the scene.
The good news for those of us who now have at least some degree of disposable income, the majority of the shoes on my list can still be purchased — if you’re willing to pay a substantial premium. Of course, you’d probably be thoroughly disappointed if you were planning on trying to play with them. Those who have purchased 20 year old basketball shoes quickly realize that they’re not going to hold up.
Again, let me be incredibly clear – I’m not attempting to create a Top 10 list of the greatest basketball shoes during my youth, but instead I’m ranking the Top 10 of shoes I personally owned. Thus, I make no apologies for my method of ranking, or even the shoes themselves. All I’m saying is, that if Nike re-released any of the shoes on the list below, I wouldn’t hesitate at pulling the trigger.
1. Nike Air Solo Flight 1
Originally released in 2000, this shoe caught my attention almost immediately. Now to be completely honest, the shoe itself was not actually that great for basketball. At the time, it was billed as a more affordable version ($85) of the Nike Air Flightposite, but I wasn’t too bothered by that. The all-black colorway was a thing of beauty. You remember, right?
The black-on-black version of this shoe was nothing short of incredible. They didn’t last long, but they damn sure looked good.
Nike must have appreciated their own creation at least somewhat, enough to bring it back to Foot Locker in 2008 as the Nike Air Flight 1 Retro, which I’m kicking myself for not buying at the time. They even made a slide version of this shoe, which I never quite understood.
2. Nike Shox BB4
Everyone from my generation remembers when the Shox BB4 was delivered to the masses. Even if it didn’t actually have springs underneath the heel, it sure looked like it did. Which probably gave way too many people a lot of confidence that certainly wasn’t warranted. Regardless, the BB4 was an absolute gamechanger for Nike, leading to a long line of “Shox” inspired shoes. I’m not at all ashamed that I owned two pairs.
The Shox BB4 was nothing short of legendary. Vince Carter was wearing a pair when he famously dunked over 7’2 Frederic Weis in the 2000 Olympics. Boingggggggg.
3. Nike Air Zoom Generation
After LeBron James took his talents straight from high school to the NBA, he already had a shoe deal worth $100 million with Nike. The first shoe to his name was the Air Zoom Generation. As a kid from Cleveland, I still remember his first game against the Sacramento Kings quite clearly. He happened to be wearing a pair of thes shoes, while he flew through the air for his first NBA dunk.
Fit for a King, the Air Zoom Generation will always be appreciated for the simple fact that it was LeBron’s first signature shoe.
Hard to believe it was 2003 when this shoe came out, considering LeBron is still putting up MVP numbers all these years later.
4. Nike Shox Bomber
Noticing a trend here? Generally speaking, I was always a sucker for anything that had “Shox” in the name. Well played Nike marketing team. Much to my delight, Nike kept adding more and more fake springs to their shoes. One of my all-time favorites was the Nike Shox Bomber; I snagged a pair of the low-cuts because the black-and-white colorway just spoke to me.
The Shox BB4’s were cool and all, but the Bomber added an entire level of Shox we didn’t know we needed.
The only problem I had with the Shox Bomber’s were that they felt incredibly bulky, and didn’t get me any closer to dunking. Aside from that, one of my favorite shoes I’ve ever owned.
5. Adidas Kobe 2
Okay technically speaking, this shoe doesn’t belong in my list because it certainly wasn’t made by Nike. That’s because Kobe Bryant originally signed with adidas, who produced this all-time classic, the Kobe 2. For me personally, I like to refer to Kobe’s second signature shoe as a moon boot (or moon shoes), because what else could these possibly be?
Kobe eventually moved his brand over to Nike, but I’ll never forget the moon shoes adidas came out with for him back in the day. I appreciate you, moon shoes.
They didn’t have laces, they looked outrageous, and they were like nothing else on the market at the time. Of course I bought a pair.
6. Nike Shox Stunner
To quote a friend, “WHAT ARE THOOOOOOOSEEEEE?” The Nike Shox Stunner was a shoe (I’m fairly certain) designed specifically for me. It had a piece of rubber that sprawled across the top of the shoe, while the rest of the shoe was basically designed to look like the original BB4.
“Hey since the BB4 was so successful, what if we added a bunch of synthetic material across the top of it? We’ll call it the Shox Stunner, it’ll sell right?” – someone at Nike, probably. Of course I bought these.
Can we also appreciate that the shoe had a strap across the top? What a time it was to be alive.
7. Nike Zoom Ultraflight
At first glance, the Zoom Ultraflight was a thing of beauty. While it did feature a lot of external plastic (that also happened to be transparent), the shoe was pretty nice. I bought a pair of these in white and orange, and remember being a little bit perplexed.. because they didn’t feel comfortable whatsoever.
The Zoom Ultraflight was an experimental shoe for Nike, which for me wasn’t a good one. They seemed pretty proud of it though, and I did buy them.. so I guess Nike won again.
As with most shoes I bought at the time, I liked how they looked and gave zero credence to how they actually performed. It was just weird though, there was this mesh pocket thing that you put your foot inside of, which resulted in some space between the back of your foot and the plastic outer. Kind of odd, but kind of cool at the same time. Actually, not that cool. Definitely ended up with some blisters from these.
8. Nike Air Garnett 3
For the kids who only know Kevin Garnett as the crazy guy on TNT who also has hoodie’s that somehow stay positioned exactly on his head at all times, he also was a pretty amazing basketball player. Back when he played for the Timberwolves, KG was an absolute monster, and one of the most unique personalities in the NBA.
The Air Garnett 3 was an outstanding basketball shoe. Designed for a pretty insane individual who happened to be pretty good at playing basketball. Plain and simple.
After The Big Ticket burst onto the scene, it was only a matter of time before Nike saw dollar signs and put his name on a handful of shoes. The Air Garnett 3 was my personal favorite.
9. Nike Flightposite III
Honestly, I don’t know why I gravitate towards the most ridiculously designed shoes possible, but the Flightposite III certainly fell right within my wheelhouse. I think at this point, Nike was honestly just trolling the entire market by making this shoe. Why did I buy the Flightposite III? I have no idea.
Basketball shoes, but if basketball shoes were also wearing two pairs of headphones. Everyone deserves a pair of shoes with headphones, just something I’ve always believed.
I’m not even really sure how to describe what exactly the Flightposite III looks like. The only thing I can think of, is if a basketball shoe had two pairs of ears, and needed two earmuffs, it might look something like this. Or more simply, aliens.
10. Nike Air More Uptempo
Even though he played alongside arguably the greatest player of all-time, Scottie Pippen is considered an all-time player in his own right, and for good reason. Nike rewarded him with a couple different shoes, including the Air More Uptempo, which must have been a real doozy of a brainstorming meeting when it came time to give it a name. “Hey, I’ve got an idea for a shoe. It features the word “AIR” as large as the shoe can possibly allow, and it’s kind of amazing. It’s slightly above what I would consider to be uptempo, what should we call it?”
Scottie Pippen’s second signature shoe didn’t hold anything back. This is definitely a “hate it or love it” type shoe, but we’re on record as loving it. Just wish the AIR text was slightly larger, it’s kind of hard to see.
In fairness, the shoe itself is actually pretty amazing if you can get over the insanely large printed text.
Bonus: Nike Zoom GP II
Like a GLOVE?! At one point in time, Gary Payton was the bee’s knees. He talked incessantly on the court and had the game to back it up. Nike made the obvious move in creating a signature line for the all-time great. For me, the first (and only) Gary Payton shoe I owned was the Zoom GP II.
Gary Payton’s signature shoe fit like a glove, after you spent a considerable amount of time getting it on. Other than that, this shoe was nice. Extra grippy too.
The Zoom GP II was.. kind of okay, I guess? If memory serves, they were actually fairly difficult to get on, but they did have an insane amount of traction which anyone can appreciate.
There you have it! This concludes a look back in time at the most amazing, questionable, and regrettable basketball shoes that I’ve owned at one point in my life.