#KoFBestOf2016 continues with a look back at the Top 10 NBA Signature Shoe Athletes. In a year that most of us would consider a downer compared to the highs of the early 2000s, there was still plenty of heat that came through the pipeline courtesy of the usual suspects like Nike’s Big 4, but we also saw adidas and Under Armour make a play for supremacy and a few surprises from out of nowhere. Let’s just 2017 gives us more to talk about other than, “I wonder if all of these things will drop in price because they’re too expensive now.”
Kevin Durant (Nike)
Context is everything. The idea of starting low and moving up can be seen as smart business in some cases and in others it can be perceived as moving out of your space and into something you and the customer base you’ve built might not be ready to handle. In the case of stars like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, they established themselves as players who wore high-priced Signature shoes from the start so the bar was established and anything less was seen as possibly inferior (Nike LeBron Soldiers being the exception). Kevin Durant started as an $88 signature Shoe athlete and skyrocketed all the way to nearly $200 in a matter of years and people couldn’t handle it. Couple that with an underwhelming string of releases (Nike KD 7 and Nike KD 8) and the result was KDs sitting on shelves and languishing. A $150 Nike KD 9 with Flyknit and a shiny new team to wear it is a course correction for sure, and it’ll be interesting to see how far up KD moves up as the Golden State Warriors pile up wins (and probably rings).
Klay Thompson (ANTA)
ANTA officials were probably kicking themselves on the night when Klay Thompson set an NBA-record 37 points in one quarter. They were on the verge of announcing their deal with Klay during the 2015 All-Star Weekend and that outburst just had to happen a few days prior when Klay was still wearing Hyperdunks. Flash forward to the end of 2016 and Klay just went berserk with 60 points in three quarters and wearing the ANTA KT2. It’s hard to envision Klay ever really being more than the third pillar in the signature shoe hierarchy on the Warriors, but maybe with a few more hot scoring performances, people might actually give his kicks a look.
Dwyane Wade (Li-Ning)
It’s crazy to think that we are now in Year 5 of the Dwyane Wade-Li-Ning partnership and while it never became the international success that would open the floodgates for other Chinese brands to rise to prominence stateside, we have seen the Way Of Wade evolve into a solid line of signature kicks for people who are looking for something a little bit different. Wade coming home to Chicago raises the brand awareness slightly, but I don’t think it will ever catch on like a certain Jumpman did a little over 30 years ago.
Jamal Crawford (BRANDBLACK)
Oh, the J.Crossover BRANDBLACK signature shoe series, we hardly knew ye. I still remember the dark Silver Lake studio when the brand was first unveiled back three years. A year later, I got a chance to interview Jamal about the J.Crossover 2 and his involvement with the design process. It was enlightening to see somebody who may not be a mainstream name but is a cult hero to NBA junkies get the same treatment as a LeBron or a KD might over at the larger brands. The J.Crossover 3 was secretly one of the best-looking signature shoes of 2016 and Crawford flourished in them, winning his third NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award. But now that Crawford has moved on to adidas, this might be the last time we see a BRANDBLACK make this kind of list. I hope that isn’t the case as the brand continues to push the boundaries of luxury and performance in basketball shoes.
Damian Lillard (adidas)
The D Lillard 2 made a name for itself by being the affordable performance signature shoe that the kids could buy without breaking the bank. The Dame 3 will continue that path as Damian Lillard continues to make it all about the people. What I’m curious to see down the line is the Dame 4 and 5. Will they make the same “mistake” as KD and price it to the moon or will we see Lillard maintain a level of consistency pricewise throughout his signature shoe career that we haven’t seen maybe ever?
James Harden (adidas)
The adidas Harden Vol. 1 was born to succeed. At least that’s what adidas is hoping for when they made James Harden their man last year. He’s all over the adidas billboards, commercials and flagship stores across the country, and the Harden Vol. 1 has all of the elements that adidas has used – Primeknit, Boost, fashion balanced with performance – to become the brand of choice for many sneakerheads for the past few years. Harden calls his signature shoe a masterpiece. Let’s hope for the sake of real competition among the brands that the public takes notice and justifies that claim.
LeBron James (Nike)
There was a struggle to keep LeBron James this high up on the list. The Nike LeBron 13 was a bust in the eyes of many and it was just a bummer to see practically every colorway that released for the shoe just take up space in stores all across the country. So how could we keep The King at #4 with such a lackluster entry? Because unlike most stars, James has the ability and resources to adapt to the situation. As a result, the Nike LeBron Soldier 10 became his de facto signature shoe and has been so prominently featured since the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA championship that nobody would bat an eye if we just renamed the Soldier 10 the real LeBron 13.
Stephen Curry (Under Armour)
Much like when KD landed in Golden State, Steph Curry has had to take backseat as we end 2016. But for that first half of the year? Hell, no one could stop the Chef, not even his own Chef shoes that got killed on the Internets. A stunning loss in the Finals, a no-show (due to injury) in the Olympics and an underwhelming (so far) Under Armour Curry 3 have been a deterrents to the Curry Train, but there’s no reason to believe that the sky is falling for UA because the kids who love Steph still see him as the future of the league and not even KD – who is actually younger than Steph but has been in the spotlight for way longer – can keep that down.
Kyrie Irving (Nike)
Picking the top 2 this year was easy. It was just a matter of figuring out which one would take the top spot. Even though Kyrie Irving was the one who made the go-ahead basket that would give the Cavs the championship, paid homage to Michael Jackson, and dropped a collab with Krispy Kreme of all things, he’s not The Black Mamba. Yet…
Kobe Bryant (Nike)
What more can we say? Mamba out!
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