List of the Top 12 All-Time Sneakers
Despite fashion changing with the likening for more designer and high-end brands, the people have been still embracing the typical streetwear that has been acceptable for all. In the opinion of the content provider, and in no specific order we breakdown the top sneakers of all-time. It should be noted that each region of the country embraces different styles and have varying cultures, especially in years before social media made fashion so widespread.
Top 12 Sneakers
Jordan Retro 1
The Air Jordan 1 was released in 1985 and has been credited by many as the shoe to kickstart sneaker culture as we know it today. Designed by Peter Moore, Nike took a chance on a rookie Michael Jordan giving him a signature shoe, and with the help of his parents and his agent, were able to snatch him away from competing brands.
But all that effort would quickly pay off, as the Air Jordan 1 would start to fly off of shelves after Nike’s “Banned” campaign. This came about because the NBA had sent Nike letters threatening to fine Jordan if he wore the Bred colorway of the Air Ship or the Air Jordan 1 again. As well as making compliant colorways for him to wear, Nike would make a “Banned” ad campaign stating that the NBA had thrown the Air Jordan 1 out of the game. The ad would then go on to say, “fortunately, the NBA can’t stop you from wearing them.”
Air Force 1
Air Force 1 Named after the infamous presidential plane, the Air Force 1 was designed by Bruce Kilgore and released in 1982. It would be Nike’s first basketball shoe to contain their Air cushioning, and the sneaker would soon take off thanks to stars like Moses Malone and Jamaal Wilkes rocking it in on the hardcourt. Nevertheless, the shoe would be discontinued in 1984, before pressure from retailers, particularly in Baltimore, would cause Nike to bring them back just 2 years later.
To think that the Air Force 1 now reportedly makes around $800 million in revenue for Nike every year, it’s safe to say reviving the model was the right call. Since then, the shoe has spent coming up to four decades as one of the biggest sneakers in the world. Having been worn by the Notorious B.I.G, Nelly, and more recently Travis Scott, the Air Force 1 has transcended beyond the standard lifespan of a shoe’s popularity. A pair of fresh Air Forces will always be cool.
Jordan Retro XI
Universally heralded as one of the best Air Jordans, and sneakers, to ever exist, the Air Jordan 11 is even Michael Jordans favorite model. With a phylon midsole and a carbon fiber plate, the Air Jordan 11 offered Jordan some serious new technology for his return to the NBA, but its patent leather detailing on the upper also made the shoe look great too.
This would give the sneaker a smarter look, in keeping with MJ’s love of luxury items, like cars and wines. And there was of course the shoe’s appearance in Space Jam in 1996, cementing it into the memories of millions of children who grew up in the ’90s. Nowadays, the Air Jordan 11 is brought back in its original high-cut every holiday season, often as one of the most anticipated releases of the year.
Air Max 95.
The Air Max 95, as the name suggests, was released in 1995, building on the legacy created by the Air Max 1 that came out 8 years earlier. Designed by Sergio Lozano, the shoe was inspired by striations in rocks, caused by erosion over time. Think of the Grand Canyon, and how it has horizontal lines running around the sides, and then take a look at the stripes running down the sides of the Air Max 95.
However, not only would the 95 feature an innovative upper, but the sole would also bring a visible Air unit to the forefoot, as well as underneath the heel. 26 years later, colorways like the Air Max 95 Neon and Solar Red are still creating the same excitement they did when they were first released.
Air Jordan VII
Another Tinker Hatfield design, the Air Jordan VII took similar cues from the Air Jordan VI, but instead of being influenced by Jordan’s car collection, its inspiration came from a random poster. The poster in question was an Afropop Worldwide radio show ad, which used striking West African patterns that instantly caught Hatfield’s eye. As a result, the sole and tongue of the Air Jordan VII would feature a similar graphic to the poster, and the look would ultimately be a large factor in the shoe’s success.
On the court, however, is where the Air Jordan VII really shined. Not only would Michael Jordan take home the MVP, 1992 Championship, and Finals MVP in the Air Jordan VII, but he would then travel to Barcelona to participate in the 1992 Olympic Games. There he would win gold in the basketball as part of the US Dream Team, and what would be on his feet? An Olympic-themed colorway of the Air Jordan VII of course! Unsurprisingly, they’ve been highly sought after ever since.
The Air Jordan XII is a timeless silhouette designed by Tinker Hatfield, that was first released in 1996. It took inspiration from the Japanese rising sun flag and used much more of a boot-like upper, which has given it a reputation as one of the most durable Jordans ever made. Colorways such as the Cherry and Taxi XIIs have also aged extremely well over the decades and have been brought back by popular demand multiple times.
The most important colorway to this shoe’s legacy was the Flu Game XII. The Air Jordan XII “Flu Game” was the sneaker that Michael Jordan would wear whilst scoring 38 points against the Utah Jazz to win game 5 of the 1997 NBA finals. What made this more impressive was that he did so whilst reportedly having a 103-degree temperature, which resulted in him having to be carried off the court. Not only would the Bulls go on to win the Championship that year, but in 2013, Jordan’s game-worn pair of Flu Game XIIs would sell for $104,000 at auction.
Air Max 90
As the name suggests, the Air Max 90 was released in 1990, however originally under the name the Air Max III. Another of Tinker Hatfield’s masterpieces, the Air Max 90 would feature a larger window to showcase its Air unit and bright TPU accents around the shoe that perfectly reflected the style of the 90s. Three decades later, the Air Max 90 is still a fan’s favorite, but it’s also been a prime target for Nike’s experiments.
From Zoom and Lunarlon to FlyEase and FlyKnit, the Air Max 90 has been updated countless times thanks to its versatility, and its ability to be remixed and changed, and yet remain instantly recognizable. It’s these qualities that have also drawn big names like Virgil Abloh, Kaws, and Patta to the shoe, whose collaborations with Nike and the Air Max 90 model have been snatched up by sneaker fans worldwide.
Nike Air Uptempo
To this day, there has never been another sneaker quite like the Air More Uptempo. Designed by the legend Wilson Smith, the Nike Air More Uptempo refused to shy away from branding, and instead embraced it. The shoe featured the word “AIR” written in large bubbly letters across the entire upper, sitting atop a full-length Air unit.
It made its way onto our TVs thanks to Scottie Pippen rocking the shoes during the 1996 NBA Finals, and during the 1996 Olympics, but that wouldn’t be the last time we would hear about the shoe. A high-profile collaboration with Supreme, as well as music sensation Billie Eilish wearing the sneakers, would cause the Air More Uptempo prices to soar over two decades since its original release.
Off the back of two high-cut Jordan models, the Air Jordan 8 would continue in the same vein, being bigger and bulkier than any other Jordans that came before it. As well as its large build though, the shoe would also be recognizable for its furry Jumpman logo on the tongue, and its two straps that would cross over the midfoot of the shoe.
On the court, Michael Jordan would rock the 8s on his way to his third NBA championship, and first 3-peat, before retiring to play baseball. Although he would return to the NBA not too long after, the Air Jordan 8 would be the last Jordan to use the same design language as the 6 and 7, with the following models taking on a very different approach.
Nike Air Trainer Huarache
The Nike Air Trainer Huarache saw the popular Huarache model meet the Air Trainer, to create a shoe that was ideal for all exercising needs. Created by both Eric Avar and Tinker Hatfield, the sneaker was released in 1992, a year after the Huarache. The shoe featured a classic leather upper, but with a neoprene bootie built-in underneath providing unheard-of comfort for the time. But the most iconic detail was the midfoot strap.
While its original purpose was to offer some stability and lockdown, the strap had made much more of a lasting impact in terms of sneaker fashion. The model would be brought back over two decades later, to the joy of those who were around when it first debuted.
In 1997, Nike would release the Air Jordan 13, featuring their latest Zoom technology and a midfoot carbon fiber plate. Stylistically, it would take inspiration from Jordan’s “Black Cat” nickname, hence the Jumpman logo on the ankle resembling a panther’s eye. In the next few years, the Air Jordan 13 would be present on the feet of Michael Jordan during the 1998 Eastern Conference and NBA Finals. But movie star Denzel Washington would also help popularize the shoe, wearing them in Spike Lee’s 1998 movie “He Got Game”. It’s therefore unsurprising that with such a prominent mark on late ’90s pop culture, the shoes would be extremely successful.
Nike Air Foamposite
Possibly one of the most controversial, yet revolutionary sneakers to ever release would be the Nike Air Foamposite. Made in 1997, the Foamposite was created by Eric Avar, and featured a molded plastic upper that would not only require the help of Korean car and TV manufacturer Daewoo to make but whose molds would cost Nike $750,000 each!
The groundbreaking design not only hinted at Sneaker’s impending increased use of plastics but would also turn heads on the feet of Penny Hardaway and Mike Bibby. However, it would be 15 years later when the Foamposite craze would finally hit its peak. In 2012, the Galaxy Foamposite was so anticipated that for people’s safety, its release had to be canceled. The pairs that did get into the hands of the public would go for thousands of dollars, and one sneakerhead would even offer his 1996 Chevrolet Cavalier in exchange.
Honorable Mention Top Sneakers:
Adidas Shell Toe. Adidas’ staple brand as the appearance of the shell toe has been around since the late 1960s. Not until the 1980s did the popularity of the Adidas shell toe truly come to form, especially with help from legendary hip-hop group Run-DMC.
Timberland. Obviously not a sneaker, but one of the most popular footwear in places like New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, and dozens of other cities throughout the East Coast and the Midwest. For generations the Timberland has been the go-to in many cooler climate places, and not necessarily during the winter.
Chuck Taylor. One of the most popular ‘hood shoes of all times and a West Coast classic as Chuck Taylor’s popularity has been around for generations and continues to still be trending, but only in a few places where the Chuck Taylor has centered around its culture.
Nike Cortez. Another West Coast classic as the very underrated Nike Cortez is very simple but still has enough attraction to make it a popular and respectable sneaker. Released during the early 1970s, the longevity alone should prove the Cortez is one of Nike’s finest.
Jordan Retro III. One of the most simplest retro Jordan releases to come out, and widely known for the cement design. Despite its simplicity, the the Jordan Retro 3 has has stand the test of time to become one of the Jordan’s most iconic releases.
Yeezy Boost 350. There are hundreds of opinions on the sneaker and footwear of Kanye West’s brand, but the ones that are the most presentable and has the least bad reviews are the Yeezy Boost 350. The are multiple versions of the Yeezy Boost 350, with V2 being more popular, this style of Yeezy is easily the only pair that can transitioned to people outside of diehard Kanye West fans and supporters.
Puma Classics. Making a comeback due to a strong campaign with the help of the numerous hip hop artists, especially the late Nipsey Hussle.
Jordan Retro VII. Another fan favorite of the ever-popular Jordan Brand that was released in 1992. Still popular now, but when it was first released the Retro VII was seen every, from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air to the top hip hop artists of the time rocking a pair.