Performance Basketball Shoe Buying Guide
The game of basketball can be very demanding on shoes. Basketball shoes are made to withstand the rigors of the game, from cutting, jumping, landing, and running. The more elite a player is, the more features and support they may need.
This guide will walk you through the selection process for a great pair of basketball shoes, whether for you, a gift, or for your child. Make an informed choice that will stand up to the demands of the best sport on Earth.
Types of Basketball Shoes
- High tops – The term high tops refer to the height of the collar of the shoe. High tops will cover the entire ankle, however, they do not provide much ankle support. The higher collar can make a player feel more secure in the shoe, while also providing more lacing up the front of the foot to the bottom of the shin.
- Mids – These shoes are not as high as the high tops, but still give a little more coverage than a low top. The majority of modern basketball shoes are mid-tops. Mid-top’s popularity comes from being less restrictive than a high-top, and having less material, they are also lighter in weight.
- Low Tops – These shoes are similar to a running shoe in height, but still provide all the support necessary for playing basketball. The collar height of a shoe does not contribute to ankle support, so low tops are a viable option if you or your player needs a full range of motion and the least amount of weight.
When shopping for a shoe, the collar height is only important to a player based on taste and comfort. The collar height may also affect styling, but this also is attributed to taste.
Features to Look For
Now we want to take a look at what these shoes are made of and why they are specialized for the sport of basketball. You or your player will want a variety of different features and the shoe manufacturers provide a very wide range of builds and styles to fit your needs.
Basketball shoes are made of many different modern materials that provide support and structure, while also being lightweight and breathable. The upper portion of the shoe can be made of a few different materials like:
– This material consists of very tightly woven threads that allow for the lightest weight and highest amount of breathability. It is the most modern and most expensive material on the market today. This material can stretch and isn’t as durable as other materials. Other names for this are Flyknit(Nike), PrimeKnit(Adidas), and Threadbourne(Under Armour).
– Leather used to be the primary building material for basketball shoes, however, the cost of sourcing leather and the weight have led manufacturers to use much lighter and less expensive materials. Sometimes leather is still used as accent pieces on some shoes to this day.
– The majority of shoes are made from this material. By using threads of plastic/nylon, manufacturers can create a strong fabric or mesh that can also be very breathable.
– Usually used in high wear areas of the shoe, this material is solid and very plastic-like with zero breathability. This material is also used as a full upper portion of very low-cost shoes due to its low cost and durability.
If cost is no option, then a woven textile will give you everything you could want from a basketball shoe. However, the Woven poly mesh is the most popular material used by the manufacturers and makes for a very good shoe upper as well.
With the advent of modern basketball socks, that wick away moisture, the breathability of shoes comes down to preference these days. Not all players require a breathable upper on their basketball shoes.
There is a myriad of different cushion types and every manufacturer has its own trademarked cushion. These cushion types can vary widely in the way they protect the foot from impact or how close they allow the foot to be to the floor.
Generally, the more cushion, the higher the foot is raised above the floor, limiting a player’s “feel” of the court below them.
We will discuss this a little more in the by position section, but faster players generally like more “court feel” and larger players like more cushion for pounding in the paint.
Here are some examples of cushion types:
Airbag – This type of cushion is a pod of compressed nitrogen air that rests underneath the foot to provide bounce back and cushioning. Some examples include Nike Air Max or Nike’s Zoom.
Proprietary foam – This cushioning system is a blend of different foams that a manufacturer has developed with their own signature formula. Some examples include Adidas Boost or Bounce, and Nike’s Lunar and React foams.
Polyurethane – This cushion isn’t used as much anymore, but it is still in very low-cost shoes. It’s a foam derived from plastics that is generally less cushion and less durable than modern foams.
This is the area of most concern and preference for players. The cushion is an integral part of keeping the foot cushioned and ready for play. The constant running and jumping in basketball means that most players need a good cushioning system.
Basketball shoes offer a lot of features that are specific to this sport and these shoes. Whether it is a heel cup or lateral outrigger, these shoes have to offer a lot of support to keep the foot situated on the foot bed of the shoe. Here are those support features broken down:
– This hard plastic “cup” in the heel of the shoe keeps the player’s heel in place during all of the movements in basketball. A shoe without this feature is not good for playing basketball.
– This feature is placed on the outside of the midfoot to provide stability and keep the foot from turning over during lateral movements or cutting. Shoes may have more or less protrusion in this area, but ultimately it can be a personal preference on how much is needed.
– Most basketball shoes provide laces that hold the foot down onto the footbed. This has also been accomplished on some shoes with straps, zippers, or even drawstring-type systems. Most systems work well, and with good fit, they will keep the foot secure in the shoe.
Wide, Flat Base
– This support feature makes sure that the traction and foot are always in contact with the court. The more traction that touches the court allows for greater maneuverability and keeps the foot from turning over during hard cuts or coming down from jumps.
All basketball shoes should have these features to some degree. While they can be a preference, we recommend buying a shoe that has all of these features to maintain safety and protection on the court. Your feet or your Player will thank you!
Traction is determined by the pattern and the type of rubber on the bottom of the shoe.
While looking at a traction pattern will not give you the full story of how it will perform, there are some rules of thumb to go by.
Solid rubber is generally better than translucent rubber.
Wider grooves in the pattern don’t allow as much dust and dirt to accumulate.
Read reviews of the players before on how the traction performed, there is no way to know otherwise.
Thicker and deeper grooves will be better for outdoor play.
The deeper grooves will allow for more durability and stand up to the rigors of playing on asphalt or concrete.
These tips will help in the decision-making process. Traction is a key part of a shoe because it is the only contact the player ever gets with the court, and bad traction leads to slipping and the risk of injury.
Shoes By Position
The position that you or your player plays could have a very large impact on the type of shoe you purchase or the features they may desire. We have broken down rules of thumb for each position, but make sure you ask your player what their preferences are as well.
This position requires a lot of speed and lateral movement. The player here will demand “court feel” that allows them to make transitions and cuts faster than a deeper cushion system generally allows. Point guards spend most of their time running and less time jumping, so less cushion is usually preferred.
Look for a shoe that offers a wide flat base with an aggressive lateral outrigger. Good traction is essential to good play at this position.
This position is is very quick and makes a lot of lateral movements including cuts and turning quickly around screens. This position is also known as the “high flyers” and spend a lot of time in the air, whether shooting jumpers or driving and finishing around the basket.
Look for a shoe with a good balance of cushion and lateral support. Traction is also a key factor for this position.
Power Forwards and Small Forwards, are usually larger(taller) than shooting guards and require some of the same features. However, this position may require more paint presence and more jumping to acquire rebounds or to block shots.
Look for shoes with a good balance of cushion and lateral support. These slightly larger players may require more cushion than the shooting guard for comfort and jumping. Traction is very important for this position as well.
This position is for much taller and stronger players that will require more support from their shoes. These support features usually mean a more solidly built shoe not made of woven threads. These players also generally prefer mid or even high-tops.
Look for shoes with a lot of support features and great cushioning. Traction is important but less so with the less demanding amount of lateral movement at this position.
Centers are the anchor that holds teams together, and they are generally the largest players on the court. The height and weight of these players demand a shoe with the best cushioning and support features. Woven shoes are more likely to get “beat up” and stepped on reducing their long-term durability.
Look for a shoe that gives the most support and cushion to withstand the impact and more bodyweight. A lot of times these players demand a mid or high collar. Traction is important, but these players don’t spend as much time making cuts or lateral movements.
Fit is one of the most important aspects of a basketball shoe. If a shoe is falling off or too tight, it will not allow the player to do what comes naturally when playing. While on the court, the right basketball shoe will go unnoticed by the player and become a part of their game.
Try to have your foot or your player’s foot measured before trying on any size. This will give you a baseline on where to start. Many brands have different ideas of how shoes should be sized, so even if you are a measured 10, you could go up or down half sizes to get the right fit.
Make sure the toe has about a thumb’s width of space at the end of the shoe. This allows a little bit of “wiggle room” and makes sure the shoe isn’t too tight.
Some players may prefer a “one-to-one” fit where the toe meets the end of the shoe.
If you are buying for a child, don’t buy shoes that are too big that “they will grow into”. A shoe that is too big on a child will need to be laced tighter to keep it from falling off and may be uncomfortable.
It won’t be cost-effective if your child complains about the too large shoe and refuses to wear them.
The same goes for making sure your child hasn’t grown out of their older shoes. Make sure to keep an eye on the length and traction of old basketball shoes, especially if they play outdoors a lot.
When trying on shoes, make sure that the player can have a full range of motion, but be “locked-in” to the shoe. Modern shoes should not pinch or have pressure points on the foot.
If ordering online, make sure to measure the foot first, then read reviews from multiple sources to get an idea of how the shoes will fit. These reviews can also tell you whether the shoe sizing is different from the actual measurement.
Fit is extremely important and we want you to be safe and comfortable on the court, make sure your shoes fit properly!
Basketball Shoes Buying Guide by Age or Gender:
- 0-10 years old – This age group includes all shoes up to size 3. These shoes do not have the same technology as their adult counterparts and nor do they need them. Kids in this age group do not need nearly as much support and cushion as larger adult players. Keep this in mind when spending for this age group, they do not need expensive signature shoes, and the money is not being used for technology on those sneakers.
- 11-18 years old – This age group starts to get into the adult sizes and adult technologies that we discussed above. Although these kids will not be elite-level players until their later teens, they will start to appreciate the more advanced features of the shoes by age 14-15.
- 18 and up – These players will appreciate all the features of the shoes and will also appreciate a signature shoe with an NBA Player endorsing it. As players age, they will need more cushion to protect their knees and joints from wear and tear.
Learn How to Make it to the NBA with our guide.
Women’s basketball shoes carry the same technology as men’s shoes, but the sizing system is different. If at all possible, when buying a female player a shoe, try to stay with women’s sizing. Although the men’s shoe may fit, women’s shoes run a little bit narrower to support ladies’ smaller feet.
Women’s sizes equate to 1.5 sizes down from Men’s.
For example: If you wear a ladies’ size 7 you would wear a Men’s size 5.5.
There are a lot of brands that make and sell basketball shoes, which makes your decision making process even more difficult. A lot of shoes have a name attached to them, which may make the shoe more desirable to some. While NBA players name may make the shoe more expensive, it can also tell you a little about how that shoe may perform.
Here are the major brands and what they offer:
– The largest manufacturer of sporting goods in the world is also the largest manufacturer of basketball shoes. This also includes the Jordan Brand, although they are usually treated as separate entities.
Nike shoes include technology like Zoom Air, Air Max, Lunarlon foam, React foam, and older foams like Phylon. Nike has every position covered and has the largest variety of shoes on offer.
They sell in places like department stores, specialty shoe shops like Foot Locker, and online in stores like Eastbay.
Nike also has many athletes signed to contracts for Signature Shoes. Signature shoes are shoes that the NBA player may have had a hand in designing and wears throughout the season. This is mostly a marketing thing, however, the technology and types of shoes the player wears may apply to you if you play the same position.
– The second-largest basketball shoe brand is Adidas and they have technologies like Boost foams, Bounce foam, and to a way lesser extent, Cloudfoam. They are sold in department stores, specialty shoe stores like Foot Locker, and online in stores like Eastbay.
Adidas has fewer signed professional athletes, but still offers a good range of shoes for all playstyles.
– Under Armour is an up-and-coming brand and hasn’t been in basketball for as long as the bigger brands, as such they don’t offer as great a range of shoes. They are still sold in all the major outlets that the other brands are.
Under Armour has technologies called Hovr, Charged, and it all started with their Micro G foam.
Under Armour also has a few NBA Players that have signature shoes as well including Stephen Curry.
There are a lot of smaller brands out there that do offer great shoes. It may take a little more research, but they compete on price and sometimes even on technology. Keep an eye out for brands like:
These brands are smaller but can offer some very compelling sneakers.
Basketball shoes are expensive by nature because they usually offer the best technology a brand has to offer at the time. While you can find some very inexpensive alternatives, they do not offer as much in the way of technology and durability.
You don’t always have to buy the newest and hottest models though. Last year’s model will have big discounts and be almost as good as the new one. Basketball shoes do get good discounts as they age and you should start there for the best deals.
Basketball shoes can start as low as $30 all the way up to as much as $225, although being more expensive doesn’t always make them better. Some of the highest-priced basketball shoes are Retros that are older designs that are reissued and re-released.
Try not to purchase Retro Basketball Shoes for a modern player, there are better modern technologies available and these shoes are made with casual wear in mind.
Price is always important, but also consider the comfort, technology, and stability that you or your player may need.
Best Online Retailers
Eastbay – Eastbay.com is one of the first online sporting goods stores and also one of the best. Eastbay has been a subsidiary of Foot Locker since 1997. They have great customer service and are quick to ship your shoes to your door. Exchanges are easy in case you ever get the wrong size or fit. We highly recommend Eastbay.
Finish Line – Finish Line is a retailer with over 950 stores in malls across the U.S. They are extremely competitive on price and almost always have an excellent selection of basketball shoes. You could easily exchange shoes bought online in-store, and their customer service is always great. Make sure to Shop FinishLine.com!
Amazon – Amazon is the largest online retailer in the U.S. and they have a decent selection of basketball shoes. Their customer service is unmatched and is extremely easy to work with on exchanges. While they may not have the latest and greatest shoes, they have a good selection of models for any budget.
Basketball shoes are the player’s only point of contact with the court, and by nature, courts are very hard surfaces. This means that for a shoe to perform well, it must have good traction, a wide base, good cushioning, lateral support, and an overall solid support system.
Don’t be overwhelmed by all of the choices available. Use our guide to get you up to speed on all of the terms and what are the most important aspects a player looks for.
It can be an important and expensive decision, but you don’t have to buy the first shoe that comes along.
With this guide, you will be on your way to the perfect pair of basketball shoes for this season and maybe next!
If you have any further questions on how to find shoes for you or your player, don’t hesitate to comment below. Let us know what you picked up and if the guide helped!