Ballers and Tiaras: It’s the shoes that make the man

The right basketball shoe transcends performance on the court. Michael Jordan’s shoes didn’t make him a six-time NBA champion, but they did help make him a cultural phenomenon. To this day, the release of the newest Air Jordan often causes violence — even death — for those who fight for an exclusive pair.

In today’s NBA, a player can hardly be a superstar without a shoe deal. Although basketball players may try to sell us cell phones or home insurance, what a transcendent player wears on his feet matters more than just about anything else. With that in mind, this week, Gideon and I reflect on the basketball shoes that mean something to us.

Rohan Nadkarni: Before the Li-Ning contract, before the Jordan contract and before his first NBA title, Dwyane Wade used to roll with Converse. The brand made sense for him. Converse, lesser known than rivals Nike, Jordan or Adidas, paralleled Wade’s popularity. The Marquette star didn’t enter the 2003 draft with as much hype as Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James (who signed a giant contract with Nike), but his individual success soon eclipsed theirs when he won a Finals MVP in 2006.

I owned a pair of black Converse. I don’t think they were even part of the official Wade line. They were simple black shoes with the Converse logo and “D. Wade #3” written near the ankle. I still wore those things proudly as ever. D-Wade’s changed a lot since then. From his “Biscayne Wade’s” to his new Chinese shoemaker, he’s traded in humility for power. But those old Converse remind me of when Wade was the underdog, not on a superteam but instead a Superman, bringing down his opponents one miraculous play at a time.

Gideon Resnick: The first “basketball” shoes I owned were probably a pair of knockoff white Air Forces I got from Target. In seventh grade, there was this fascination amongst my friends with which shoes were real and which were not. Distinguishing leather from pleather was the same as distinguishing baller from poser. This problem was exacerbated by Pharell’s Ice Creams and Bapes, which had a ridiculous slew of replicas.

But when it comes to the classics, it’s all about Converse. Dr. J rocked the Converse Star Player in the ’70s, and it made a post-millennial comeback. When I was in middle school, though, Converse didn’t equate to vertical leap. Instead they were skate shoes, the black canvas high-tops Will Smith sported in “I, Robot.” As much as I try to replicate the Big Willie Style on a day-to-day basis, I have shied away from putting these kicks on, worried my calves would look like choked chickens. But there’s always time to face fears.