For those unfamiliar with it, sneakerhead culture can seem like a whole, strange world unto itself. It’s actually fairly simple to describe though. This is essentially a culture of untold thousands of sport, art, and culture fans who follow and collect athletic shoes almost like investment items — and do so with passion.
Just a few years ago we remarked on sneakerheads waiting for hours to pick up limited-edition Yeezy kicks. An entire episode of the HBO show Entourage was dedicated to the the character Turtle’s quest for a rare release by a reclusive shoe artist. And it’s fairly routine for shoe and apparel shops to sell out of new Air Jordan releases within minutes of opening in the morning.
It’s a busy, competitive, and ultimately fascinating sub-culture where art, fashion, and sport blur together. What’s most interesting about it all from the outside looking in though is which shoes stand the test of the time and remain revered collectors’ items and lasting talking points. And typically, the shoes connected directly to NBA players are the ones people remember most fondly. The following are some of sneakerheads’ favorites.
The following are some of sneakerheads’ favorites:
Air Jordan 3
There absolutely have to be some Jordans on this list, and while it’s difficult to narrow them down, the edition that has to be included is the Air Jordan 3. As a prominent reseller started in another look at some of sneakerheads’ favorites, this as the model that saved the brand early on and helped to cement Michael Jordan’s legacy in footwear. The Jordan Brand would go on to be an unparalleled force in athlete-specific apparel, with Air Jordan shoes still representing the gems of the sneaker world — even 18 years after Jordan himself retired from professional basketball.
Nike Penny 2
Somewhat strangely, there may be a whole generation getting to know Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway as a basketball coach rather than a player. Hardaway wrapped up an injury-plagued NBA career in 2007, more or less disappeared from the public eye for a while, and resurfaced as a prominent high school coach. He was then hired by Memphis — his alma mater — and quickly declared the “godfather” of basketball in his hometown. Now he’s in the midst of trying to revitalize the program he once starred for.
In his earlier playing days though, Hardaway was about as exciting and beloved a player as any. He was a high school phenom, a college standout, and an NBA All-Star before knee injuries caught up to him. Hardaway’s peak, however, lined up with the early days of popular player shoes as we know them today, and the Nike Penny 2 proved to have staying power. It’s still got an active market online, and is instantly recognizable to true sneakerheads.
Adidas T-Mac 1
Tracy McGrady’s career arc wasn’t entirely unlike Penny Hardaway’s. He was a high school phenom and an explosive NBA talent. Some in fact see him as one of the most talented players of all time. Like Hardaway however, McGrady had an unfortunate run of injuries that stunted his career. McGrady has taken the route of becoming an NBA analyst rather than a coach, but like Hardaway he did leave one iconic shoe in his wake, despite an abbreviated career. The Adidas T-Mac 1 is an extremely distinctive shoe — not quite as renowned as top-tier Jordans or even the Penny 2, but still cherished for its unique quality and association with McGrady’s otherworldly prime.
Allen Iverson is yet another former NBA star who may look quite different to younger generations than to those who watched him play. At the height of his powers in the early 2000s, Iverson was known as a rebellious spirit and All-NBA talent — a killer on the court who changed how the game was played and how stars branded themselves. Now, however, Iverson comes across as a much more “chill” figure. He’s become a sort of on-and-off informal advisor for his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, and has also joined the ranks of athlete poker enthusiasts, making a habit of appearing at high-stakes tables and knocking elbows with the card pros. In other words, he seems very much like an ordinary ex-pro athlete.
For those who have this impression though, rest assured: Iverson was a big deal as a player. He developed a one-of-a-kind image as well, which helped to make his name- branded shoes exceptionally popular. Today, the Reebok Question — a play on his nickname, “The Answer” — remains a sneakerhead favorite.
Jordan Concord XI
As mentioned above, it’s hard to parse through the Air Jordan collection and pick out the best of them, because almost all of them are revered among sneaker enthusiasts. That said it’s hard to leave out the Concord XI. This shoe — particularly in its classic black-and-white — is about as recognizable as any athletic shoe in history.
Air Jordan XXXIV “Noah”
With this last pick we’re cheating a little bit, because the Ai Jordan XXXIV “Noah” edition is essentially brand new, and thus hasn’t had time to develop a true following. One of the player exclusives for second-year NBA player Zion Williamson, the shoe is the result of a charming story. Basically, Williamson was meeting with the design teams from Jordan to work up some shoes, and together they decided to use the crayon drawings of Williamson’s younger brother Noah as inspiration. The result is a somewhat haphazard but oddly appealing design that stands out as one of a kind.
Beyond the sweet story though, we’re including the “Noah” here because of its potential. Williamson is well on his way to becoming a legend in the NBA in just his second season. Should he have the career he’s setting the pace for, an early-stage player exclusive this unique will age extraordinarily well.
Even these shoes comprise only a glimpse of the sneakerheads’ world. But if you’re one to enjoy niche collectibles, or you need a gift for a sport or style fan in your life, they’re worth knowing a bit about.