Wow. What else can I start with but wow? No need to rehash what the last year brought, but as most of you know it was difficult for the WearTesters team to find open gyms to play and test.
Fortunately, I had no issues finding indoor courts as that’s how things roll in Texas. Finding enough players for full-court runs was a different story and most days it was difficult. However, I played enough full court 5-on-5 to test some GREAT models in games and drills. That said, here are my (Duke4005), 2020 top performers.
But first, I introduced a new category. Over the last few years, I found myself in the weight room doing more training than basketball. So this year I added a Best Trainer category. Granted, I hadn’t tried more obscure brands like NoBull and Inov-8 until recently, but as far as the big brands, I’ve tested quite a few shoes.
One of my favorite lines (since its beginning) comes from Reebok and it ain’t the Nano (although they’re great too). Nope, I’m talking about the JJ Watt line. The JJ 2 is my all time favorite trainer, or was, until now. With the Reebok JJ 4 we get a near-perfect fit (a little bubbly in the toe), great cushioning for its intended use, and just enough Floatride to allow for short runs (1-4 miles). The upper is Flexweave and seriously durable for any activity while still maintaining flexibility. Great job by the design team on a great continuation of the line. Plus, the Question tie-in is a great call back and a great look.
And now, let me unveil the list:
Comeback Brand of the Year
This one is tough. There wasn’t really a reappearance like we saw last year with Puma. However, one brand did appear on NBA courts again. And the reappearance of Reebok is giving me and other OG sneakerheads hope.
I know, two categories and I’ve already grabbed Reebok twice, but honestly, as far as product, they had a good year. As of this writing, the first week of the new NBA season, Reebok has three athletes signed to wear their product on court. They are Montrezl Harrell, Trey Burke, and Josh Richardson. And now, we’re getting rumors of a Master P/Baron Davis-led group looking to buy the company from adidas. On top of those two points, and the legions of Question and Kamikaze II releases (and sellouts), Reebok may finally be back in the performance hoops market sooner rather than later.
This one was tough…until December 24th. Yeah, you know it, the Nike Zoom Kobe 6 Grinch. THE BEST KOBE OF ALL TIME returned in one of its BEST colorways. And that it came back with a Zoom Turbo unit in the forefoot guarantees these will be a performance beast. Yes, I will play in them. They were super-limited and difficult to get, but if you got lucky, you’ll know how great they perform. These might have even made my top 10 (or even top 3) if I’d gotten them in time to play in them before 2021.
Hmmmm… this one is a little different, but… the ENTIRE basketball shoe market wins this one. 5-8 years ago, Nike had consumers lining up for every Kobe 5-6-7-8-9, Lebron 8-9-10-11-12, and Kyrie 1-4. Even shoes like the Hyperdunk and Hyperfuse were selling well and being worn casually everywhere you looked. In 2014, the basketball market accounted for 13% of the total sneaker market. In 2020, less than 5%. What happened?
Basketball is still going strong, the athletes are more visible and accessible than ever, and the game is still exciting. The biggest thing to remember is fashion is cyclical. Trends come and go every 25-30 years. I mean, just look at mullets. Even they’re back. What does this mean for us, as basketball players? It means the WearTesters crew will buy new performance shoes for testing on release day, paying retail for most, while you, the consumer, can wait out most releases and reap great discounts as they transition to sale racks.
I know, most of you didn’t have much luck playing indoors this year. Hopefully this award helps you get an idea of what to go after when lockdowns are lifted. That said, on indoor courts, two shoes really stood out for traction, the Puma RS-Dreamer and the And1 Attack 2.0.
I used both of these shoes on multiple courts and could count on them to stop on a dime even if the court wasn’t worth a penny. The RS-Dreamer was the biggest surprise though as the pattern looks NOTHING like a typical basketball traction pattern. It had very little lateral design, but it stuck to everything. The Attack 2.0 was as I expected. One thing And1 almost always got right, even back in the 90s, was grip. It’s no different 20 years later. So which one is the best? I’ll go with the Puma RS-Dreamer, if only because of the unique look that still works great.
On the surface, if you have read our Instagram posts and reviews, this is a no-brainer, the Nike LeBron 18. But in the end, this race was not as clear-cut as I thought. At the end of year, the Nike Zoom BB NXT found my feet and this race became a LOT closer. In the end, however, the LeBron 18 won out. If you need a maximum cushioned shoe that is still flexible enough to get up and down the court, you can’t beat the LeBron 18. The combination of a heel 270 Max Air unit, full-length Zoom unit hiding inside of it, and the Cushlon carrier means for some, this shoe is too much cushioning. For me, my knees and back are HAPPY.
I am a SUCKER for raw, natural materials. One shoe had exactly what I was looking for, the Puma Clyde All-Pro Kuzma Mid. Supple leather upper, soft and smooth, breaks right in and forms around your foot like a, well, good leather shoe. Puma has made big moves in the last three years in basketball and one thing they rarely miss on is materials. If you’re not a fan of leather, for whatever reason, I would pick the Puma Clyde All-Pro Low or the Curry 8 as the best knits that are still light and playable.
With knit uppers, fit is often easy to get right (sizing, however…is a problem for some brands). The knit just wraps around the foot and folds/forms right where it needs to for a sock-like fit. With that being the case, here are the shoes I thought had the best fit: Curry 8, adidas Dame 7, Air Jordan 35, New Balance OMN1S Low, and my pick for best fit:
The Nike Zoom BB NXT. To be honest, this one was a spur of the moment pick. As I looked over the list of shoes I played in this year, I remembered how well the upper fit my foot, and even how when I laced loosely, I didn’t have much heel slip. When laced tightly, like I do when playing, there was no movement at all and no pain from lace pressure. The upper isn’t knit, but it’s a nice woven mesh and with plenty of internal padding and zero dead space.
Only two shoes I wore really stood out as supportive. They were the Air Jordan 35 and the Under Armour Embiid 1. The Jordan 35 is a very structured shoe, using a large eclipse plate, thick padding in the collar, and internal lacing straps to wrap your foot in the shoe. The Embiid 1 used a wide, low base with a stiffer midsole to promote solid landings. Who wins? I’ll say the Jordan 35 for players needing serious boot-like lockdown, but you can’t go wrong with the Embiid 1 if you still want a little freedom alongside a solid base.
And now, here are the 2020 Top 10 performers:
Honorable Mentions: The following shoes are so new I haven’t gotten enough time to add them in, but I think at least a couple will make the list. They are the Kyrie 7, Curry 8, Puma Clyde All- Pro, and adidas Rose 11.
10. Under Armour Embiid 1
A big man’s shoe built for a guard. The Embiid 1 uses almost-original Micro G for a smooth ride with just enough impact protection and bounce to save knees. It also has traction that works on any surface. Read the full review.
9. And1 Attack 2.0
With great, GREAT cushioning and awesome traction, the And1 Attack 2.0 finally saw a limited retail release this year. It’s a shame all of their NBA talent has jumped ship because the Attack 2.0 is a shoe that will rock with anyone on court, for any need. Read the full review.
8. adidas DON Issue 2
I really wanted to rank this higher because I LOVE this shoe, and honestly, number 8 isn’t bad. I have no problems reaching into my closet and grabbing these for a night of full court play, but I could say that about all of the top 10. If you need A+ court feel, just enough cushion, and sleek-fitting rocket, grab the DON Issue 2. Read the full review.
8b. Anta KT 5 Low
Sneaking one in on you here because I am dumb and forgot the KT 5 Low came out in Spring 2020. The fit is a little generous in the forefoot but the lacing locks your foot in with no slipping. Containment for a knit upper is solid. The knit itself is of highest quality. And traction, TRAXXXXION, is great on any court. Cushioning is a little stiff but quick and fast under foot. If you haven’t tried an Anta shoe yet, you need to. Watch the full review.
7. Air Jordan 35
More shoe than the Jordan 34 but with the same cushioning. The Jordan 35 won’t be for everyone. But I loved the performance. Great traction, great cushioning, great fit, and of course, it’s the new Air Jordan. Read the full review.
6. adidas Pro Boost Low
Originally my number three pick, the Pro Boost Low is a STRONG shoe. Great cushioning (Boost inside a Lightstrike carrier), great fit, great traction, great support…just an overall solid shoe that fits most any player or style. No flash, all substance. Read the full review.
5. Nike KD13
All around good shoe, again. The Zoom strobel is always a winner, and this one has a wider base than the KD 12. Traction is really nice on a clean court but not durable at all. It’s got a softer foam carrier for comfort as well. The KD 13 may be the most well-rounded shoe on the list (along with the Pro Boost). Read the full review.
4. adidas Dame 7
What a difference a year makes. I tried three pairs of the Dame 6 and couldn’t get a feel for them on court at all. I didn’t like them but Dame destroyed the league in them. The adidas Dame 7, however, includes great Lightstrike cushioning and feel, great traction, and the fit is serious. And really, it’s Dame’s shoe, which moves it up two notches. Honestly, the Dame 7 could have been switched with any of the shoes above it (except number 1) and it would not make a difference. It’s that good. Read the full review.
3. Air Jordan 34 Low
The Air Jordan 34 Mid was my top pick last year, and the Air Jordan 34 Low is, in my opinion, better. So how did the Jordan 34 Low not win the top spot? Well, I just felt it was behind the top two. The Jordan 34 is still one of the greatest shoes in the Jordan line. Great traction, great fit, great cushioning, super stable…great GREAT shoe all around and one that players will be looking for on the resell market for years. Read the full review.
2. Nike Zoom BB NXT
My top two spots are honestly interchangeable. I picked #1 because I had better games in those shoes. Both shoes feature the best cushioning protection on the market and as I get older that becomes waaaaaay more important than court feel and foot-rockets. The Nike Zoom BB NXT is the second best cushioning on the market with a double layer of React foam in the heel, a pair of huge Zoom units under the forefoot, and a React insole. Your feet won’t feel the floor on even the hardest landings. But the Zoom BB NXT doesn’t play like a brick. Instead, it plays fast and tight with great traction and fit. Read the full review.
Drum roll PLEASE…
1. Nike LeBron 18
Best cushioning ever. Best. Cushioning. EVER. Yep, that good. But most cushioned shoes are stiff and blocky, not so with the Nike LeBron 18. The forefoot is still flexible while playing, the traction is WAY improved over the LeBron 17, fit is solid, containment works great (for me), and the fit is dead on. It does ride a little high, of course, but the LeBron 18 feels so good on foot I can’t quit wearing it. Yes, the plastic tongue sucks, but after about three wears I didn’t notice it anymore. If you enjoyed the LeBron 15, but needed more containment, or wished the LeBron 16 was a little softer, get the LeBron 18. You’ll be HAPPY. Read the full review.
Well, there they are, my 2020 top performers. My 10th year reviewing shoes and my 10th year-end wrap up. After all these shoes and all these reviews, I’m still as excited as ever when I see new technologies, new designs, and new cushioning All I can think about is “How will it feel on court?”
If you love the game of basketball then of course you love the shoes that you play in. The two go hand in hand. Every year, I tell myself “this may be my last one. I’m old and washed.” Then, every year, I see the new Jordan, the new LeBron, or the new Curry and I get excited and feel like a kid again. Yes, a 40-something year old kid. And you know what? I love it.