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Converse and the Rise of the High-Tops
Quite frankly, basketball is a sport that is dominated by high-tops. If we ask you to think of a basketball shoe right now, a high-top is most probably what’s going to fill your mind. We cannot blame you; the high-top domination has a long history in the sport.
Most sources reveal that Converse was the company that brought basketball shoes to prominence in the early 1900s. It is the home of the now ubiquitous Chucks, which started as a line of high-top basketball shoes. The company launched and called the line the All-Star in 1917.
Though the All-Star enjoyed moderate success upon its release, it didn’t really mean that its design was perfect. A basketball player who was called Chuck Taylor went to the company one day to suggest modifications. Clearly, he was a disgruntled customer; but Converse didn’t see him only as such. Given the way that he talked, he sounded like a good salesman. So, aside from hearing and eventually acting on his complaints, Converse offered Mr. Taylor a post in the company’s sales team.
Taylor’s selling acumen was indeed gold. He traveled around spearheading sales activities such as basketball clinics. In those events, Converse shoes were made not only relevant but also immediately available to those who want to buy. He single-handedly succeeded in converting countless individuals and even whole teams into Converse loyalists.
So significant were Taylor’s contributions that Converse decided to put his signature on the All Star patch in 1921. The whole series was also relabeled to bear his name, making him one of the first basketball players to have shoes named after them.
With the intensification of the company’s sales and marketing efforts, the Converse brand eventually became synonymous with basketball. The Chuck Taylor All-Star–which had become known simply as the ‘Chucks’–had also creeped well beyond the basketball court. People on the streets started wearing them, and ‘Chucks’ became a household name.
Indeed, the Chucks made an indelible impact not only in basketball but also in the general sneaker landscape.
Nike: The Battlecry for Victory
The Chucks enjoyed both off-court and on-court dominance for decades. Its influence was still pretty much felt well into the 1960s. It remained relevant even as Nike entered the market and released the first Nike high-top basketball shoes in the early 1970s. This doesn’t mean, of course, that Nike’s products were summarily subdued by the Chucks. Nike’s entry just meant that the much celebrated Converse sneakers would finally have to share the limelight.
Nike high-top basketball shoes found a very strong ally and endorser in Michael Jordan, who launched the world renowned Air Jordan series in the 80s. MJ’s series of Nike high-tops witnessed his rise as an undisputed NBA legend. Some of those Nike shoes even figured prominently in his iconic games. A good example is the Air Jordan 12, which was the shoe that Michael Jordan was wearing when he played in the game 5 of the 1997 Finals even as he was burning with the flu. MJ and the Chicago Bulls eventually won the series.
The Air Jordans are usually equipped with the brand’s latest shoe technologies. They, at certain points, also sported unique aesthetics that pretty much divided public opinion. Nevertheless, they left a lasting impact on the sneaker landscape.
The Air Jordan series became so successful and popular that it gave birth to what is now known as the autonomous Jordan brand. This company also has in its roster All-Star player and Olympic legend Carmelo Anthony and 2017 NBA MVP Russell Westbrook. Even with Michael Jordan out of the court, his signature line is still kept alive with the production of new models, and they are still as sought after as the ones released when the great MJ was still active on the court.
Nike as a company slowly became the sneaker giant that it is now. They continued to rely on well-researched technology to assert its relevance on and off the court. The 90s, in particular, saw the release of a number of technologically significant Nike high-top basketball shoes. The Air Command Force for David Robinson graced the courts in 1991. Charles Barkley’s Air Force Max CBs followed in 1993, which of course featured Nike’s much celebrated Air Max technology.
That late 90s is arguably also the Golden Age of women’s performance shoes. Numerous signature shoes for women were released by Nike, and Dawn Stanley’s Nike Air Zoom S5 was one of them. These Nike high-top basketball shoes were technologically advanced; sadly, they did not reach the legend status that they very much deserved.
The early 2000s mark LeBron James’s entry to the NBA. A celebrated high school player, he was immediately signed by Nike and was given his first ever signature shoes in 2003–the Nike Air Zoom Generation. His signature shoes in the roughly sixteen years that he’s with Nike has always been high-tops or mids or somewhere in between.
LA Lakers legend Kobe Bryant joined the growing Nike family at about the same time as LeBron, and his first few shoes were well-reviewed Nike high-top basketball shoes. These technology-packed kicks still get periodically revived up to this day.
The Low-Top Revolution
Kobe Bryant was determined to try something new with his fourth signature sneaker, which was slated to be released in 2008. His partner Nike designer Eric Avar remembers that Bryant particularly asked for the “lowest, lightest-weight basketball shoe ever.” It was a request that one would describe as unusual, especially that it came from a superstar who has been topping his games wearing high-tops for 12 years.
But when one gets to know Bryant’s story, his love for low-tops won’t really come as a surprise. Having spent much of his childhood in Italy, Kobe Bryant is also fond of football. He’s seen that soccer players tend to do a lot of cuts, drives, and quick direction changes. These, of course, are the types of foot movements that basketballers do a lot. But soccer players are usually seen in low-top cleats, and they don’t seem to experience lockdown and ankle protection issues in them. Bryant thought that if low-tops can support soccer players well, then they can support basketball athletes just as much.
Kobe Bryant’s decision to switch from Nike high-top basketball shoes to low-tops, though met with initial animosity, proved to be effective. Bryant and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers convincingly beat the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals, giving him his fourth championship ring.
The success of the Kobe 4 catapulted low-tops to popularity. The subsequent releases from the Kobe’s line were also much celebrated Nike low-top basketball shoes. They are widely worn not only by avid Kobe fans but also by other players in the NBA.
The rise of the low-top basketball shoes did not really kick basketball high-tops out of the limelight. The two shoe types, instead, just share it. Players choose which to wear solely based on personal preference and style. LeBron James for example, continued his illustrious line with high-tops, though low-versions of them are also released.
Notable Nike signature athletes who love low-top basketball shoes are Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Paul George. Durant’s KD line has been producing low-tops as of late. The KD 11, which debuted in 2018, is released originally as a low-top. Irving is an avid mid-top fan, but in 2018 he and Nike launched a special Kyrie line that produces only low-tops. Paul George, who joined the Nike family only in 2017, already has two major releases under his name as of 2018. Both of them are low-tops.
Nevermind the Cut, Focus on the Cushion
The height of a shoe’s collar has been scientifically studied by numerous researchers, and the results show that a high-top does not really protect the foot significantly better than a low-top. This means that choosing shoes based on preference is not really silly or risky. In fact, it looks like the only sensical thing to do given the said studies’ results.
With collar height now considered immaterial in determining a shoe’s performance, Nike and other shoe manufacturers have redirected their focus to other shoe domains where technological advances are better utilized and appreciated. The passing years have seen changes in the cushioning material used in Nike high-top basketball shoes and other footwear. Discussed in the subsections below are four of the most ubiquitous cushions from the All-American brand.
Lunarlon is a cushioning technology that is inspired by how astronauts tend to bounce their way around when they are on the moon (which by the way is called “Luna” by the Romans, hence the name of the technology). As such, this material is significantly lighter than the commonly used Phylon foam.
Lunarlon does the wearer good by evenly distributing impact energy along the full length of the shoe. This makes the ride far more comfortable and stable. When this technology is used together with Phylon, the result is a highly responsive setup that players, especially quick guards, will truly appreciate.
Besides basketball shoes, Lunarlon is also used in shoes for running, footwear for training, and sneakers for tennis.
The Nike Air technology has been with the company since the late 1970s. Wearers of shoes with this technology literally walk on air, as this type of cushion is basically composed of pressurized dense gases in sturdy polyurethane pouches. The Air-Sole units are usually placed directly below the heel.
The Nike Air technology first appeared in the Nike Tailwind, which was released to the running public in 1978. Because of the warm reception that the model got from runners, many of the Nike running shoes that follow featured Air-Sole units.
But the releases followed an odd trend. Nike’s Director for Cushioning Innovation observed, “Air-Sole units were becoming thinner and thinner to make the manufacturing process easier. We wanted to get back to injecting more air in to the sole to achieve a strong cushioning sensation under the foot.”
In the late 1980s, the brand made a complete turn. They launched the Air Max line, which was named after what it intended to do: maximize the use of the Air technology. Starting with the Nike Air Max 1, each release used bigger and bigger Air-Sole units, but less and less of the midsole material. In addition to making the units bigger, Nike designer Tinker Hatfield also made them visible through a transparent material in the midsole. This way, wearers can really see how the Air-Sole units work as they run around the court.
As if the Air Max units are not enough, Nike developed Zoom Air, marking yet another significant advancement for the Air technology. Aside from the usual pressurized air, the polyurethane pouches are packed with tightly stretched tensile fibers that compress upon impact and quickly snap back when the pressure is released. This results in an explosive energy return that makes it a lot easier for the wearer to drive to the basket and score.
The Nike LeBron 15 is among the better known Nike high-top basketball shoes that are tooled with the Zoom Air. In the LeBron 15’s case, the Zoom Air is coupled with a Max Air unit, resulting in a unique setup that delivers unparalleled cushioning and energy return.
The React technology is Nike’s answer to the call of athletes to have midsoles that do both absorbing and returning of energy. This technological breakthrough went through 2000 hours of testing. Results from such tests show that the Nike React indeed reigns supreme when it comes to energy return.
Nike Running’s Director of Advanced Footwear Ernest Kim says, “I want to emphasize this because we’re not comparing Nike React technology to some no-name foam that fell off the back of a truck somewhere; we’re comparing it to our latest Lunarlon and, even with the bar set that high, Nike React technology delivers that much more energy return with each and every stride.”
The Hyperdunk 2017 Flyknit is among the first Nike shoes that made use of the React technology. This high-top model debuted on the feet of GSW’s Draymond Green. It is widely regarded by bloggers and ordinary users alike as one of the Swoosh’s most reliable performance shoes to date.
What are the most well-reviewed Nike high-tops?
The Nike LeBron 15 is a well-reviewed shoe. Released in 2017, it features an upper that is made of innovative Battleknit. This material is practically just an improved version of the Flyknit, which is specifically made for The King LeBron James. Other well-reviewed Nike high-tops are the Air Max Audacity 2016 and the 2014 release of the Hyperdunk.
When can I get Nike high-top basketball shoes for sale?
High-tops, or shoes in general, tend to get cheaper the longer they are on the shelves. A common practice is to purposely wait out until retailers start offering rebates. The waiting time can last from a couple of months to almost a year, depending on how popular the shoe is.
How is Converse now?
Converse is still a pretty relevant brand, having been acquired by Nike in 2003. Recognizing that Converse’s identity rests in its simplicity, the partnership focused on re-branding that simplicity. Instead of insisting that simple is beautiful, they spoke of how simple can be turned beautiful by the wearers themselves through art and attitude. This resonated well especially with those whose artistic flairs are often misunderstood. This resulted in an influx of Converse sneakers that serve as blank canvases for their wearers’ unhampered self-expression.
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