What’s one of the coolest things anybody could ever do? Be in the NBA. What’s cooler than that? Being in the NBA with your own signature sneaker. Although sneaker endorsements are thrown around left and right to the guys in the league, to have your own name on a sneaker is an extremely coveted privilege only the very best have had the opportunity to get….or at least mostly the very best players have had the opportunity to get. After Phil Knight brought Michael Jordan to Nike and turned the word Jordans into a plural possessive noun, signature sneakers have been just a tad bit more ubiquitous than when Chuck Taylor passed the ball to all of his white teammates and the standards: much lower.
Let’s be clear, this is not a list of the best and worst signature shoes, this is about the players wearing them; although there are certainly more than a few in this article with some atrocious models that would pull double duty in that list as well (have you seen the Adidas Kobe 2?). As more brands emerge and players continue to want to make money, both sides will only continue to grow: Shout out to Best Honorable Mentions: Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony, and Worst…Al Harrington?
16 8. Best: Allen Iverson - Reebok
AI. The Answer. The man with the illest crossover since Run D.M.C hooked up with Aerosmith and dude most imitated on school playgrounds until Steph Curry, shook up the Nike heavy NBA when he signed with Reebok in 1996. Although most known for his first signature “The Question,” in which he performed the crossover heard 'round the world for making MJ himself look stupid, a good amount of the shoes in his I-3 line that he continued to rock throughout his 14 year career were heavily sought after and he remains Reebok’s biggest basketball player on their roster to date (maybe Shaquille O'Neal, but he wasn’t with them long).
15 8: Worst: Rajon Rondo - Anta
Rajon Rondo is by no means a bad player. He came out of the gate scorching kids in his rookie class, drawing comparisons to legendary point guards like Magic Johnson and John Stockton, as well as getting co-signs by floor generals such as Jason Kidd. Not to mention being an integral part of the O.G. big three’s (Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce) 2008 title in just his second year in the league. However, once the band was broken up and Rondo was on Boston Island by himself, the guys he loved to pass it to the most were gearing towards retirement in Minnesota, saving LeBron James in Game Six of the NBA Finals with a clutch three, and embracing the role of the “veteran off the bench role” respectfully, he was never really the same player. And that’s when he got a shoe deal?
14 7. Best: Charles Barkley - Nike
There has never been a player like Sir Charles Barkley. A 6’6” power forward who averaged 10 rebounds a game? That can throw down dunks with the ferocity of a center yet grace of a shooting guard? The closest in the modern day is probably Warriors star/knucklehead Draymond Green, but he ain’t close. Nike saw that “one of a kindeness”-- packaged his “I am not a role model” mentality with their product and created one of the most recognizable signature lines of all time, starting with the Nike Air Force Max CB in 1994.
13 7. Worst: Luis Scola - Anta
Luis Scola is a solid, solid role player. When your shooter is double teamed and the post is congested—get it to Scola in the corner and he’ll either knock down the three or get the defenders in the air and make a smart pass to a cutter, which he did for years in Houston, maybe finishing off the play to Trevor Ariza or Kyle Lowry running down the lane. But that’s what he is: a role player. The role player’s duty is to show up when they’re called upon and that’s about it.
Anta must’ve seen something different when they gave him his own signature shoe in 2010 and, to Anta’s credit, that was right after the FIBA America Championships where for whatever reason Scola played like an absolute monster. He averaged 27 points per game during that summer's tournament, was named MVP of the tournament in 2015, and is now the Championship's all time leading scorer! So if it was just for FIBA. by all means give this man a shoe. But for the NBA……ehhhh.
12 6. Best: Kobe Bryant - Adidas, Nike
Some might say he’s too low on this -- to those I say: 10 less field goal attempts than Karl Malone for third all time (26,200), yet well over three thousand less points. Regardless, Mamba was easily the best thing since Jordan when he came to the league in the stacked '96 draft, which quickly garnered him a sneaker deal with Adidas, before landing his first actual signature, the KB8, the next season. Though many consider 2000s the Kobe 1 his first real deal shoe. Kobe Bryant and Shaq did what they did in the early 2000s with Kobe staying loyal to the three stripe, but after Shaq jumped ship, Kobe also made a departure of his own, to the Apple of the NBA, footwear behemoth Nike.
11 6. Worst: Bryant Reeves - Warner Brothers
This name should look familiar to no one except for Oklahoma State die hards and military hair cut aficionados. Yes, this man actually played in the NBA, and yes, he did underperform. The first ever draft pick by the then-Vancouver Grizzlies honestly had a lot of pressure on him when they chose him sixth overall in 1995, as this was the expansion Grizzlies’ first year as a team and Reeves' was surely to be the player to lead them to glory and cement them as one of the greatest franchises of all time. Wrong. “Big Country” failed to average 10 rebounds at the Center position, and was well known for his lack of speed and athleticism as he bustled down the court, doing so wearing his own signature Warner Bros sneakers. That’s not a typo. In the mid '90s the Movie giant ventured into footwear, even signing Shaq and Glen Rice at one point before being okay with not having an Oligarchy.
Reeve’s wasn’t awful, he just struggled with weight and being injury prone, which unfortunately caused him to not be the force in the paint he could’ve been and forced him into early retirement after just six seasons. Warner Brothers?
10 5. Best: Shaquille O'Neal-Reebok, DUNK, WB, Shaq
Shaq (you know, the guy from Kazaam and Blended?) may be the most dominant big man to ever set foot on a basketball court. We’d seen tall guys before, we’d seen big guys before, but what we hadn’t seen, is somebody 7 foot tall and over 300 pounds that dunked the ball so hard that he shattered the backboard. Sure, guys like Darryl Dawkins broke some glass before him but Shaq was on a different level.
One-time MVP, multiple All-Star, three rings with Kobe, one without - Shaq’s done it all, and he’s done so in a variety of signatures sneakers. Probably most known for his What are thosssee???!! that you can pick up at the same place where you get your dinette set. However, he’s laced up a plethora of different size 22’s including the aforementioned Warner Bros experiments, his short lived DUNK shoes, and the iconic line he had with Reebok, the crown jewel being the “Shaqnosis” that sneakerheads still wear today.
After his last championship with the Heat, he ended his career as a journeyman, playing for three more teams before calling it quits with the Celtics after the 2011 season. He might be higher on this list if he could just make free throws.
9 5. Worst: Chandler Parsons - Anta
Not to beat a dead horse, but as previously stated, Chinese brand Anta seems to be willing to sign just about anybody with Jerry West on their chest to a shoe contract. Don’t get me wrong, Chandler Parsons is a nice player and will surely dominate the rec leagues he plays in once he retires, but signature sneakers usually belong to A) guys who have played in multiple All Star Games - let alone at least one. B) Are the top five at their position. C) Have the ability to take over a game, which to be fair he did once when he dropped 10 three pointers on the Grizzlies, but they lost so it doesn’t really matter.
8 4. Best: Tim Duncan - Nike, Adidas
Perhaps the most divisive player in the history of the league in terms of watchability, purely because of the “boring” yet extremely fundamentally sound way in which he played the game. Tm Duncan, The Big Fundamental himself, just wrapped up a remarkable 19 year career with the equally boring yet fundamental Spurs, with whom he won five championships. That's definitely a career that warrant’s a sneaker deal.
Although he was about as flashy as a cardboard box, Duncan’s first signature series with Nike was much louder than his game (and his press conferences), albeit it sort of makes sense that he would switch to Adidas, who have seemed to have always played it safer when it comes to style, certainly suiting Duncan’s sensibilities.
7 4. Worst: George Hill - Peak
What is George Hill? Is he a Point Guard? Well he only averaged 3.3 assists per game for his career. Is he a scorer? Well his highest per game average was 16.1 and the most he’s ever totaled in a game is 37.
6 3. Best: LeBron James - Nike
Some might say he’s too high on this list. To those I say: He took a team with Larry Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic to the Finals. A place where he’s been seven times. Oh, and he helped break Cleveland’s 52 year streak of not winning any titles in any of the major sports. Regardless, LeBlock James deserves every penny of his over one billion dollar contract with Nike, the company that’s outfitted him with signature shoes since before he could legally drink.
Could he have made his decision to “take his talents to South Beach” in a more tasteful manner? Of course. But he didn't, and during his stint with Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and (insert three point shooter) he grabbed two rings before returning home to The Land. This past June he put on one of the best performances in final history, turned Steph Curry into an antagonist, and finally gave the world the signature moment (block) we’d all been waiting for. Hopefully there’s more to come.
5 3. Worst: Evan Turner - Li-Ning
This one’s a bit of a head-scratcher. And I’m not talking about his ridiculous new deal with the Portland Trail Blazers. When Evan Turner came into the league in 2010 as the second pick overall for the Sixers, he had a lot of promise after a pretty stellar college career with Ohio State University. But in the league he just hasn’t gotten it done. And until his recent stint with Boston, he had been not getting it done.
Now although they weren’t the egregious Sixers of last year when he started there as a rookie, he didn’t really do anything to stop them from getting two lottery picks over the last two years. What makes it worse is unlike others who have gotten the signature treatment after they’ve shown their supposed worth following a few seasons in the league, Li-Ning signed him to a deal right out of the gate. At 27, he’s still relatively young, so maybe Portland will be the place where he finds (and keeps) his pace.
4 2. Best: Magic Johnson - Converse, MVP
Despite the fact that both Magic Johnson shared his first signature sneaker with Larry Bird and only had maybe one shoe in his Converse line that was literally his own,, 1989’s Converse Magic, Magic Johnson deserves to be on this list not only because he is who most people picture when they think of the Converse Weapon, but because he is hands down the greatest Point Guard of all time, and one of the most influential and impressive players the NBA has ever had.
We all know that Johnson had to cut his career short due to a horrific illness, but what he did during his tenure with the Lakers was nothing short of phenomenal. Five championships, the first of which he earned as a rookie where he became the first to win Finals MVP, an award he would claim twice more while also tallying 12 All Star appearances. He will go down as the all time assist per game leader with 11 a contest and remains in a class of maybe a few others (John Stockton, Bob Cousy, Jason Kidd) who represent what it means to be a true, true Point Guard. Magic indeed.
3 2. Worst: Matt Bonner - Adidas
Okay, so this one is a little hilarious. He may not deserve his own signature shoe, let alone an endorsement deal (of which he’s never really had), but either way you’ve got to love Matt Bonner. Most known for being “Mr. White Guy” on the Spurs since 2006 and his signature/not signature New Balances, Bonner is that guy who hits the annoying three in the corner when the opposing team’s trying to make a fourth quarter comeback, which is a solid attribute to have, but it isn’t shoe worthy.
2 1. Best: Michael Jordan - Nike
There isn’t anything that I could type that would sway you Michael Jordan’s way - you don’t need to be swayed. Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player and he also might be the greatest athlete and competitor of all time. His legend just so happened to coincide with his legendary shoes, which probably would still have a life of their own regardless of MJ’s career. But MJ had the career that he had and the level of icon his shoes hold was thus magnified by about a million.
1 1. Worst: Jimmer Fredette - Spalding
Jimmer Fredette was an amazing college basketball player. Great scorer, amazing three point shooter, and in the pre-Curry (well pre-2014 Curry) era it was from Jimmer range where all the kids were shooting it during recess. But for some reason once the Sacramento Kings took him 10th in the 2011 NBA Draft, he hasn’t even been close to the same player we all fell in love with during his March Madness days with BYU.
He’s technically been in the league since 2011, but much of that time has been spent on the bench, or this past season in the D-League with the Westchester Knicks. Perhaps a combination of not being able to adjust to defenses who have taken away his three ball and being a liability on defense himself, have kept him out of the league, but the kid wants to play, so maybe he’ll get back in there.
Oh yeah, Spalding made the bold move to give him his own signature shoes his first year in the league, but he’s been spotted wearing Under Armor for the Westchester Knicks, so it seems like that deal is over. Let’s hope he’s not though. We’re all rootin' for you, Jimmer.
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