SNEAKEROLOGY: The Most Innovative And Important Athletic Shoes Ever

Air Jordan

To this day, the sneaker remains one of the greatest forms of self-expression.

It’s also an excuse to get a leg up on the athletic competition.

The shoe landscape has changed dramatically over the years thanks to scientific and fabric innovations.

It began with an all-canvas shoe. It’s developed into “flywire” and “lunar” technology.

How did we get here? And what are some of the transcendent athletic shoes of our time?

Converse - Chuck Taylor All-Stars (1917)

The All-Stars were the first mass produced basketball shoe, beginning all the way back in 1917. Designed by basketball player and shoe salesman Chuck Taylor, the canvas and rubber shoes are as popular as ever - just not on the court.

Adidas - Superstar (1969)

Nicknamed the 'shelltoe,' the Superstar dominated the 1970s shoe scene. It was the first low-top basketball shoe to feature an all-leather upper and was worn by stars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Superstars quickly crossed over from the courts to the streets when Run-D.M.C. began wearing the shoes. They remain one of the major influences in sneaker culture.

Nike - Cortez (1972)

The creation of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, the Cortez is known as Nike's first iconic shoe. Bowerman knew athletes needed a better cushioned shoe to counteract pavements, and he discovered it with the first full-length foam midsole. Variations are still reissued to this day.

Adidas - Stan Smith (1972)

Adidas approached Stan Smith, an American tennis star, to endorse this unique look, substituting perforations for stripes. It remains the biggest-selling tennis shoe ever.

Nike - Blazer (1972)

A popular lifestyle sneaker today, the Blazer originated on the court. It was one of Nike's first shoes to incorporate the big swoosh and was quickly made famous thanks to George 'The Iceman' Gervin's endorsement.

Puma - Clyde (1973)

Puma and Walt 'Clyde' Frazier made sneaker history by creating the first ever signature shoe. The recognisable suede shoe looked great on and off the court - just like Clyde.

Nike - Waffle Trainer (1976)

Another experiment by Bowerman pouring a urethane mixture into a waffle iron created a nationwide running fad. The shock absorbent material crafted the Waffle Trainer's outsole and the cushioned material was quickly imitated by sneaker companies everywhere.

Nike - Air Force 1 (1982)

This may remain the most recognisable sneaker ever. We can all thank Nelly for that. The AF1 was the first shoe to feature Nike Air technology throughout its sole and even remained Rasheed Wallace's basketball shoe of choice until his retirement.

Nike - Air Jordan I (1985)

This shoe will live in infamy. Jordan's first signature shoe was banned from the NBA for not matching the on-court dress code - but he didn't care. Jordan continued to wear the sneaker and was fined $5,000 per game.

Nike - Dunk (1985)

Nike created the Dunk with multiple colorways in hopes of marketing it to university and college basketball teams. But it wasn't until the Dunk's re-release in 1998 that it rose to popularity - but not on the courts. Hundreds of variations later, the Dunk remains a popular street shoe - especially among skaters.

Converse - Weapon (1986)

This shoe put Converse on the basketball map in the 1980s. Its leather construction throughout was a favourite of endorsers Larry Bird and Magic Johnson - the two best players of their era.

Nike - Air Max I (1987)

Nike always dared to be different and the Air Max did just that. The first shoe to show a visible air unit sold over one million pairs in its first year. It was also made famous by a commercial featuring the Beatles 'Revolution' - the first and last time a Beatles song ever appeared in an advertisement.

Reebok - Shaq Attaq I (1992)

The Reebok 'Pump' is one of the most famous shoe innovations of all-time and remains a popular look in the streets. But its incorporation into Shaquille O'Neal's first signature shoe took the design to another level. Shaq took home the Rookie of the Year award in this Orlando Magic colorway.

Nike - Air Flight Huarache (1992)

Famed Nike designer Tinker Hatfield produced this unique creation featuring a cut-out upper and cushioned sock sleeve for your feet. The 'Fab Five' put these on the map during their historic NCAA basketball run.

Reebok - Shaqnosis (1993)

A hypnotic foray into the sneaker world, this Shaq signature shoe is still one of the most unique and talked about shoes to date.

This shoe's innovation isn't about the features. It's about Converse's amazing marketing plan. The signature sneaker of Larry Johnson, aka 'Grandmama,' featured 'React' cushioning, made of a gas and gel mixture.

Nike - Air Jordan XI (1995)

Many call it the most beautiful basketball shoe ever created. Tinker Hatfield actually designed this while Jordan was still playing baseball. The convertible-inspired design broke ground with its patented leather strip and clear rubber outsole.

Reebok - The Question (1996)

Allen Iverson's first signature shoes may be Reebok's best-selling shoe ever. Hexalite technology provided extreme comfort and numerous colorways to provide something for everyone. This shoe launched a long-standing marriage between Reebok and 'The Answer.'

Fila - Ninety6 Grant Hill (1996)

A major challenger to the 'Big 3,' this Grant Hill signature shoe was a 1990s classic. The most interesting innovation? A Velcro heel strap.

Nike - Air Foamposite (1997)

This futuristic looking shoe featured the nearly indestructible Foamposite material. Buyers originally bawked at the $200 asking price, but now it's making a comeback. The shoe can be seen almost everywhere these days, at least in the New York City streets.

Nike - ID (1999)

This revolutionary service allowed customers to completely customise and personalise some of their favourite Nike shoes. Nike ID let online customers choose uniquely-styled colorways and fabric, and even add your name.

Nike - Shox BB4 (2000)

Nike spent 16 years developing the 'boing' technology featuring cushioned rubber columns. Vince Carter famously wore this pair when he leaped over 7-footer Frederic Weis - still one of the most talked about dunks of all-time.

Nike - Zoom Kobe IV (2009)

This Kobe-inspired shoe brought the quicker, faster low-cut sneaker back to the courts. It was also the first signature shoe to feature the company's lightweight Flywire and Lunar technology - now a Nike mainstay.

Nike - Air Mag (2011)

The self-lacing shoe of Back to the Future legend was rumoured about for years. It's finally here. Featuring a rechargeable illuminating system, the Nike Air Mag is part of a joint venture between Nike, eBay and the Michael J. Fox Foundation. 1,500 pairs are being auctioned off with all proceeds going directly to the foundation in search of a cure for Parkinson's disease.

Now that you've seen the shoes, what about the commercials?

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