My list for best basketball shoes of 2018 — and the award goes to…
Just a couple of years ago, I declared, right here on this site, that 2016 was the greatest year for basketball sneakers ever. Now in 2018, we may have just seen the worst year in basketball sneakers. No, not for performance reasons (although one major brand really dropped off), but for the overall lack of interest in the market. What happened? Just a few years ago, sneakerheads were lining up for every KD, LeBron and Kobe colorway Nike could push out. Now, Foot Locker and Finish Line (and other stores and chains) are discounting the shoes almost before they hit shelves. Some say it’s cyclical; others say the number of people playing basketball has dropped significantly and those numbers will probably never come back.
So with all this negativity, what could possibly make the list of top shoes of the year? That’s the funny part – overall, it was a really good year for sneaks – just not for basketball. We will get to the top performers shortly but first, we have to cover some extra ground. I didn’t just review basketball shoes, so I won’t just write about them for Top Picks. Here, in all of its unorganized glory, is The List.
COMEBACK BRAND OF 2018
In the last few years, we have seen a slew of brands rise from the ashes: Champion, Ewing, KSwiss, Fila and Puma, to name a few. However, one brand made a huge impact us at WearTesters when we were younger and it made a huge re-appearance in 2018:
With the killer performance of the Attack mid and low and the fact that they signed two NBA players, And1 seems to be poised to rise to new (old) heights. The retro of the Tai Chis and bringing back players familiar to the followers of the brand (Kevin Garnett is just the first) seems to be a great start. However, another brand came back stronger than And1.
Yeah, the Vector is still a crossfit-focused brand, but the Classics line has gotten a huge injection of adrenaline from designers like Craig Howard, Alejandra Bucco, Chris Hill, Marc Brosseau and Xavier Jones. The crew has a healthy respect for the back catalog and did a fantastic job of designing shoes that carried over retro designs with futuristic technology and materials. With shoes like the DMX1200, DMX 1600, DMX2000, Answer IV.V and the complete Pyer Moss series from Kerby Jean-Raymond, Reebok made a huge jump back into the public eye.
This category isn’t about a shoe that made a reappearance but rather, a shoe that came off the mat like Rocky. Two shoes come to mind for different reasons:
Under Armour Curry 5
I hated this shoe when I did the review. This may be repeating what most of you know, especially if you follow my Instagram, but the heel slip was terrible and felt unsafe, the traction was gone and the lacing system rubbed my arches raw. Like a good fighter, the Curry 5 stuck around and made adjustments. I was advised to go up a half-size by our fearless leader (Nightwing2303) and I now own four pairs of the Curry 5 – it became one of my favorites of 2018. Going up allowed my foot to sit lower in the heel, eliminating heel slip and the laces didn’t have to pull as tight to lock me in, so the raw arches were gone. Traction is still iffy depending on the colorway, but solid outsoles and clean floors are sticky-icky.
Nike Hyperdunk X
Simply put, no React in the shoe – they took us back to the Zoom of the 2016. That’s all you need to know.
Nike Air Maestro 2 (Red All-Star)
Sure, the Jordan III and Concord XI retro’d this year, but we have seen them multiple times. The Maestro 2 retro’d before but not this close to the original (I don’t count those bastardized zipper versions). The materials were buttery smooth and smelled like a dairy, the cushioning was actually playable and we all know about that 90’s herringbone traction. All for the price of $140 (not outrageous for the materials and design in these days) and you got a retro that took you back in time.
DROP-OFF OF THE YEAR
This pick really hurts – I have a sentimental connection to the player and the shoe line: the first model in the line was the first shoe I was ever seeded by a brand and it made me feel huge. The player grabbed me because of his no fear, full-speed attacks and athleticism, and also, because of his no-quit attitude. However, the Adidas Rose 9 was a complete travesty to the series.
Starting with the 5, we got Boost in some form or another, and the cushioning was a serious strong point. Traction, minus the 2, has also always been one of the top models of the year (the Rose 7 is the new standard). The Rose 9 is arguably the best looking of the line, but the materials are thin, the fit is extremely sloppy and the traction is terrible on anything but the best of courts.
This is a tough one, as most companies started to realize that herringbone works. We still saw a ton of story-telling patterns but we also got the beautiful, peaked, spaced herringbone on a lot of soles as well. Pattern, however, is only part of the equation – rubber compound and durability come into play as well. Combining all of this, we come down to two shoes:
Nike Zoom Kobe I Protro
It’s a shame that a shoe that is basically 12 years old makes this list, but it goes to show the simplest things still work: true multi-directional herringbone (the pattern is rotated across the sole) and thick, solid rubber that will last indoors and out. The pattern does need a little break-in time to start flexing its grip, but it still doesn’t get much better than this. Except for…
Nike Lebron 16
Yeah, the LeBron 16 is serious about grip. Taking cues from the Soldier 12 ( I didn’t review it, but that is a borderline great shoe as well), the LeBron 16 uses a really extended, drawn-out herringbone pattern across the forefoot that grips from day 1 (the only thing that really puts it above the Protro, actually), For once, we get a durable outsole as well which is good, since as soon as the rubber is gone, so is the cushioning. The pattern gathers no dust, stays grippy from start to finish and is a smooth transition from stand-still to moving. Perfect.
Boost. Zoom. HOVR. Bounce. Max Zoom. Harmonix. ANTA-EVE. Gradient-Dual. With all these choices, what could possibly go wrong? Well, some of them, in certain forms, suck. That’s why we are here. At the end of the day, two shoes stood (barely) above the rest. Barely.
Adidas Harden Vol.3
This year, the Harden saw a fall release as opposed to the winter for the Vol. 2 and since it is a little fresher on my mind, it gets the nod. There’s full-length Boost, which almost always works, but comes with a stiffer ride in the forefoot, thanks to the slight caging around the lateral side. The Boost just feels more packed and dense than the 2, like a hybrid Vol. 1 with low ride and the Vol. 2’s plushness, making the Vol. 3 responsive and quick while keeping your bones from jarring.
Nike Lebron 16
Again with the LeBron? Yep, it is a good, good shoe. Max Zoom is the midsole separated into three different zones (the fourth area, under the very end of the toes, is straight foam) for flexibility and transition and it absorbs every impact while still responding and bouncing back in a hurry. The ride is taller than the Harden but stability is not sacrificed like the LeBron 15 last year. If you require, no – desire maximum bounce and spring underfoot, the LeBron 16 is the ride.
Hard category here; do materials really matter as long as the shoe performs? In this day of instant gratification and throw-away products, who cares if the upper lasts longer than your next paycheck? Well, actually, we do. But is leather better than knit? Is fuse completely outdated? Is synthetic leather made from plastic cows? Here are my picks for the best performance materials of 2018.
Nike Lebron 16
Knit the way knit should be done – thick, flexible, minimal glue covering the material and durable. The Battleknit 2.0 is immediately more flexible than the 2017 version (although the LeBron 15 wasn’t bad) and fits around your foot almost like a sock.
Nike Kobe I Protro
There’s nothing like real leather and the way it breaks-in around your foot. Yes, it takes more than out-of-the-box trying on for the fit to dial in, but after a few hard wears, the material just folds around your foot and “learns” your flex points and bumps and lumps, becoming an extension of your foot. There’s nothing better.
Let’s face it – if a shoe doesn’t fit right, there is nothing that will make it work. Sliding across the forefoot or your heel slipping up and down immediately, for most of us, ruins the shoe, no matter how comfy or nice they look. With that said, these two shoes locked us down like Gary Payton in 1996.
Nike Kyrie 5
A late entry into the awards show, the Kyrie 5 is one of the best fitting shoes to ever be pulled, tugged and wrestled onto my feet. The initial try-on was almost embarrassing, as I tried for almost 10 minutes to get my foot into the shoe. I ended up going a half-size up, which makes me a hypocritical wonder, since I have graded shoes down for not fitting true. However once you get that first entry done, the ankle collar and flytrap strap become easier to get on and the fit is extremely almost perfect. But, since I had to go up a half-size, the Kyrie 5 only gets #3.
Adidas Harden Vol. 3
The second-best fitting shoe I have ever worn from Adidas, behind the Supernatural Creator, the Harden Vol. 3 doesn’t form-fit like some knit/textile uppers, but the almost-traditional tongue construction allows for the narrowest and wide-footers to feel comfortable once inside the shoe. The exaggerated heel looks bulky and unnecessary, but works to lock-in the heel once the leather breaks in. The strap is completely for aesthetics and doesn’t really help at all, but the lacing system is so nice that it doesn’t matter.
Jordan Why Not Zer0.1
If anyone says a shoe with perfect lockdown doesn’t exist, they are right. However, the shoe that comes closest in 2018 is right here. There is a slight break-in time to get the midsole to flex and begin compressing and for some, the shroud is too restrictive. But couple the fit with the raised midsole and insanely padded collar and you have a shoe that locks you in completely from heel to toe.
With the disappearance of big men and the traditional post-up game, the need for shoes with serious support structures and boot-like ankle collars are going ghost as well. Fast and free are the needs and wants of almost every player, and this category shows it (it was really hard to narrow this category down).
This is almost too easy – with all of the straps and lines and buckles and pulleys, it’s almost obvious that the 33 would be supportive. With a higher cut around the ankle and a lock-down system that pulls you into the heel and midsole, the shoe just screams bridges, columns and beams. There is a definite “high top” feel to the 33 and the freedom of movement is less than a shoe like the Kobe AD Exodus and Jordan Fly Lockdown, making it one of the only shoes that seemed to focus on support this year.
Jordan Why Not Zer0.1
Coming back to the Why Not, the Zer0.1 has an exaggerated heel counter that is a stiff Phylon and works with the laces and ankle strap to completely lock your ankle in. The thick midsole integrates with the heel counter making the whole structure work in tandem to keep your ankle up and the fit keeps internal movement from becoming an issue.
So, there are the categories – now to the official Duke4005 top 10 awards.
5. Nike Lebron XVI – Great traction, materials and cushioning. Slightly wide fit wasn’t as locked in as I like, so it drops slightly. I told you fit was important.
4. Nike Zoom Kyrie 5 – a late comer but still a serious performer. Great fit, above-average traction and a low-riding but cushioned forefoot Zoom Turbo make court feel and transition second to none.
3. Jordan Why Not Zer0.1 – Rarely, very rarely, do I buy more than one pair of a shoe for performance. The Why Not, the Harden Vol.2, and the Curry 5 all have four pairs in my closet. That should say something. The Why Not is a supportive, cushioned package in a sleek upper built for quick-changes in direction and fast and hard landings.
2. Adidas Harden Vol.3 – Forget the bells and whistles – just give us a straight-up performance beast with good traction, great cushioning for court feel and protection and a serious fit. Adidas did.
1. Nike Zoom Kobe I Protro – Dang shame, or testament to the legacy? The fact that a shoe from 2006, with only slight and minimal changes, can take the top spot of the 2018 rankings is a telling fact. From the top-notch leather upper to the full Zoom cushioning to one of the best traction patterns ever, the Kobe I was already an all-time performer. The Protro only solidified that opinion.
Well, there it is – another year in the books and, from a performance aspect, the brands just keep going. We saw new cushioning, new materials and old brands made new again. It’s a little strange that the best shoe of the year, almost unanimously across all review sites, is a design that is 12 years old, but sometimes old dogs and new tricks still mix.
However, one thing we learned this year – even if the market says performance, especially basketball, is lost, there are still companies and designers that want to bring the best to the table. The only thing the market being down means is the prices will go from unreasonable to borderline normal and make it easier for us to review every model we can. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get what you want or need on first shot – there are a ton of killer performers out there and trust us, one of them will fit and fill your needs.
From WearTesters – keep playing, reading, and watching – and WEAR YOUR SHOES!!!!!