Nike is definitely the top sportswear brand in the NBA today. The brand’s shoes and other sports apparel are worn by more than 80% of players including Kobe Bryant, who is widely credited for the sudden popularity of low-top basketball shoes in the game.
Having spent much of his childhood in Italy, Kobe Bryant is unsurprisingly a fan of football. He’s seen that soccer and basketball players share a lot in terms of footwork. Soccer players, like basketballers, tend to do a lot of cuts and quick direction changes. But unlike NBA athletes, those who play soccer are usually seen wearing low-top cleats, and they don’t seem to experience lockdown and ankle protection issues in them.
When it was time to create his fourth signature sneaker, Kobe Bryant was determined to start a revolution. Nike designer Eric Avar remembers what happened one day in 2008. Bryant particularly asked for the “lowest, lightest-weight basketball shoe ever.” It was an unusual request, especially coming from a high-top-wearing superstar who had been dominating the league for 12 years.
The move to switch to low-tops, though met with initial animosity, proved to be effective for Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers. They convincingly beat the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals, giving Kobe Bryant 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.
After Kobe’s retirement in 2016, Nike continues to expand the in-demand Kobe Bryant line. Many of them are low-tops that are loaded with reliable support features. The following are the ones that really stand out:
- Nike Kobe AD NXT 360. Improving on the previous model’s design, the AD NXT 360’s Flyknit upper is designed in such a way that it wraps the foot full circle. This is the very reason it has ‘360’ in its name. To further ensure foot security, the shoe has a drop-in midsole.
- Nike Kobe AD NXT. The Nike Kobe A.D. NXT has a glove-like fit due to its one-piece bootie construction. Aside from this, the shoe has other features that ensure a good lockdown. It has a no-tie toggle lacing system that helps make sure that the shoe securely grasps the foot. This is reinforced by a TPU-infused Flyknit shroud that is anchored on the sides by sturdy nylon strands. This shroud also enhances the shoe’s aesthetic appeal. Securely cupping the base of the foot is an external heel counter that is made of TPU.
- Nike Kobe AD. The Kobe AD supports the foot well because of the properties of its upper material. It is sturdy and dense, so it does not stretch too much even during hard cuts and quick changes in direction. It also has a lacing system that is reinforced with Nike’s Dynamic Flywire technology, giving it a well-appreciated one-to-one fit. At the back is a contoured heel counter that effectively eliminates the possibility of slipping.
High-Top Lovers at Nike
After Kobe Bryant’s exit, only four active NBA players remain at Nike: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and most recently Paul George. These four share an undeniable affinity with low-top basketball shoes. The subsections that follow discuss each of these athletes and the most successful Nike low-top basketball shoes associated with them.
LeBron James:The King and His Low-Tops
LeBron James is a three-time NBA champion who is widely regarded as the best player of the game today. He also has four regular season MVP and three Finals MVP trophies under his belt. After his first NBA All-Star Game appearance in 2006, LeBron Jame has also made thirteen more All-Star appearances. In three of those games, he won the coveted All-Star MVP title.
James has always been a Nike athlete. He now has sixteen signature shoes under his name. All of these shoes are initially released as high-tops or mid-tops. However, low-top versions of them are also made available months later. The following are the most recent Nike low-top basketball shoes in LeBron James’s stellar line of signature shoes:
- Nike LeBron 15 Low. The low version of LeBron James’s favorite signature sneaker owes its glove-like fit to the Battleknit material that compose its upper. The shoe also features Flywire, which is a lightweight technology that uses either Vectran or nylon filaments. When the laces are tightened, the Flywire cable cause the upper to grasp the foot better. This results in a stable and wobble-free fit.
- Nike LeBron 14 Low. The low version of the fourteenth Lebron shoe has a one-to-one fit because of the flexible woven fabric and mesh that compose the upper. The upper is reinforced by Flywire and a traditional lace-up closure.
- Nike LeBron 13 Low. The Nike LeBron 13 Low is loaded with reliable lockdown features. It has a standard lacing system that is effectively reinforced with Flywire. It also has a sturdy heel counter. The shoe also sports a lateral outrigger that keep the foot in place even during quick and aggressive sideward movements.
Kevin Durant and the Nike Low-Top KDs
Kevin Durant entered the NBA in 2007 when he was picked by the Oklahoma City Thunder (then Seattle Supersonics). He stayed with OKC until his free agency in 2016, when he decided to move to the Golden State Warriors.
In his first season with the Warriors, the team advanced and eventually won the Finals. The Warriors made it to the top again in 2018 when they crushed LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-0. Kevin Durant bagged the Bill Russell Finals MVP Award in both occasions.
Unlike LeBron James, Kevin Durant loves Nike low-top basketball shoes. In fact, many of his KD basketball shoes are originally lows. The following are just some of the most notable ones:
- KD 11. The KD 11 features a special type of Flyknit that is described as both comfortable and supportive. This low-top has an outsole that extends up to the sides, forming what Nike calls as ‘cupsole.’ This provides much needed stability for hard cuts and swift direction changes.
- KDX. The Nike KDX’s upper is made of zoned Flyknit that has areas of stretch and support. This shoe also has large laces that reinforce the fit of its one-bootie Flyknit upper. This is the shoe that Kevin Durant was wearing when he won his first championship ring as a Warrior.
- KD 9. The ninths KDs were the shoes that Kevin Durant was wearing in his first games as a Warrior. Its Flyknit upper gives it a supportive fit. Kevin Durant’s ninth signature model also has round shoelaces that can be adjusted to achieve the desired fit.
- KD 4. The KD 4 was the model Kevin was wearing when he led the Oklahoma City Thunder to victory in the 2012 Western Conference Finals. That victory is noteworthy because it marked the first time in 13 years that the West is represented by a team other than the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, and Dallas Mavericks. The fourth KDs are Nike low-tops that are kept secure by a standard lacing system. Each shoe also has an Adaptive Fit midfoot strap that is connected to the strobel board underneath the insoles.
Kyrie Irving and the Kyrie Low Line
Since he joined the NBA in 2011, Kyrie Irving made it to the NBA Finals twice. His first appearance was in 2015. His team made it again to the Finals in 2016, when they finally succeeded in garnering their very first NBA win in 52 years. In both instances, Irving and the Cavs came face-to-face with the Golden State Warriors, which was a powerhouse team that had at least five All-Star players in its roster.
The NBA 2017 Finals is again a bout between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs failed to defend their title.
In July 2017, or barely two months after the Cavs’ upsetting loss, Irving was traded to the Boston Celtics. This was a move that he himself requested reportedly because of his desire to step out of LeBron James’s shadow.
Just like Kyrie, his low-top line just stepped out of the shadow of the the much-celebrated mid-top Kyrie Irving basketball shoes. Two Nike low-top basketball shoes are released after the fourth Kyrie Irving signature shoes. These are the following:
- Kyrie Flytrap. The Kyrie Flytrap is an $80 shoe that features an asymmetrical burrito-type construction. The tongue and collar are padded to ensure comfort, especially when the laces are tightened. The lacing system is reinforced by a thick elastic strap that runs over the midfoot.
- Nike Kyrie Low. The Kyrie Low’s slanting laces, midfoot strap, and midsole work together to contain the foot well. The slanting laces pull the sides of the upper toward the center, securely enveloping the foot in between them. Besides reinforcing the laces’ lockdown power, the midfoot strap also supports the lateral side as the wearer makes cuts and quick direction changes. Together with the heel counter, the shoe’s drop-in midsole helps avoid slips and unnecessary side-to-side movements.
Paul George Basketball Shoes
A Nike signature shoe deal is a great achievement. The brand honors only the most elite in the league. In fact, Paul George is only the 21st athlete to get a signature shoe from the Swoosh in its three-decade history. He is an accomplished athlete who has been named to the All-NBA team fourt times. He has also played in five All-Star games.
The Paul George basketball shoes are originally low-tops. These are the following:
- PG1. The one-bootie upper of the Nike PG1 is largely made of mesh, so it is flexible enough to have a one-to-one fit. Fit adjustments are made possible by its rope-like shoelaces, which is effectively reinforced by a Flywire setup. The shoe also has a midfoot strap that enhances lockdown.
- PG2. Instead of the strap that the previous release had, the second Nike low-tops for Paul George relies on what Nike calls the dynamic wing for security and lockdown. The PG2’s lacing system features extended lace loops, resulting in a setup that is designed to satisfactorily deliver a locked-in feel. Further improving the shoe’s dynamic fit is its updated traditional tongue and inner collar.
How Effective are Nike Low-Top Basketball Shoes?
Any athlete assumes a serious risk of injury just by playing basketball. This sport just require a lot of running, cuts, and jumps that might strain the muscles of the feet and legs.
Conventional wisdom says that wearing high-top basketball shoes reduces the risk of injury. At face value, this statement makes a lot of sense. High-tops indeed cover everything, from the toes up to way above the ankle. However, there is no clear empirical evidence that support this claim. Numerous studies have been done, and their results generally show that the height of a basketball shoe’s collar did not even correlate with the possibility of getting injured.
With this, it appears that the tendency of players– professional, collegiate, or even amateur– to choose shoes based on style and comfort is not and should not be made an issue. If collar height doesn’t have any protective value, then players might as well wear the shoe that they are comfortable with or feel confident in
Of course, this does not really mean that manufacturers should just ignore shoe technologies altogether. Cushioning, traction, and fit are still functional domains that are independent of the protective capacities of the shoe’s collar height. Brands should just focus on these domains rather than obsessing over which cut is more practical than others.
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