History of the Low-Top Basketball Sneaker

The low-top sneaker has an interesting place in the basketball world.

For years, basically since the incrust of signature sneakers, the higher cut reigned supreme. The general consensus was the ankle must be protected at all times and the taller the shoe, naturally, the more protection for the athlete. That line of thinking didn’t change until recently, when the low-top found its home among the minimalist “lighter, faster, stronger” ideology adopted by modern basketball players. Before that? Lows of all kinds were cultivated into the lifestyle category by sneaker enthusiasts around the globe. The Converse Chuck Taylor, the adidas Superstar, the lowered version of the Nike Air Force 1 and Dunk, all of them were considered fashion staples rather than performance options, relics of the old days when players were just lucky to have any type of wearable sneaker on their feet during games.

Air Jordan 5 Low Alternate '90
Jordan Brand

It wasn’t until Kobe Bryant and Nike designer Eric Avar created the Kobe IV did we see a change in the sneaker landscape. Suddenly, for many, the low-top basketball shoe was a viable option for players of all levels simply because the best player on the planet was wearing one. It was truly a turning point of both perception and acceptance for the low-top in the eyes of basketball players.

“It was pretty remarkable,” Avar said at the time. “Here was the greatest basketball player in the world telling me that he didn’t need all this stuff around his ankle. And he wanted to prove that to everyone from Nike to fellow NBA players to the consumer.”

Since 2008, the Low has been seen all over the league and has been incorporated into the mainstream by numerous brands. Several player exclusives, quickstrikes, and general release colorways later and the best ballers in the league–Kevin Durant, LeBron, Kobe, and James Harden–have all switched to low-cut sneakers at some point. Even the Jordan Brand is creating models for athletes that have a lower profile, most recently with the new Air Jordan V Low “Alternate ’90” releasing on January 30 at Champs Sports.

As 2016 takes shape, don’t expect this trend to change. Low-top silos are current staples of streetwear, representing minimalist design. Professional basketball players are intrigued by the concept for different reasons. As long as you can prove a smaller, lighter shoe can protect your ankle, why not give yourself a foot up on the competition?

Before the latest Jordan V retro releases–which, ironically, is part of a collection that imagines what Michael Jordan would’ve worn with the Bulls back in the day had they had player exclusives–take a journey with us. We’re breaking down some of the low-top gems that changed the way we look at basketball shoes forever. This is a History of the Low-Top Basketball Sneaker.

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Converse All Star Low

adidas Superstar Low

Nike Bruin

Puma Suede Clyde

Air Jordan 2 Low

Nike Air Lambaste

Air Jordan 11 Low IE

Nike Air Jet Flight

Air Jordan 17 Low

adidas Gil Zero

Nike Zoom Kobe 4

Nike Zoom KD 4

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illustrations via Marcus Allen // @marcusallen