Written by Brandon Edler
It’s Selection Sunday, which means you’re already stressing your office bracket and putting in PTO days so you can clown with your friends at B-Dubs the first two days of the tourney. Every year we get new upsets in college hoops, and timeless games we will make our kids watch on ESPN Classics some day. Aside from the match-ups, college hoops has been the stage for some of the most iconic sneaker moments. With brands focusing on team concepts and keeping kids happy in hopes of signing them after they declare for the league, the college level has had plenty of shine. Check out the Most Iconic Sneaker Moments in College Basketball History…
In 2000 it was Reebok and Iverson that owned the hardwood floors at The Final Four. With Michigan and Wisconsin meeting in the Semi-Finals, you couldn’t catch a player in anything other than AI’s NBA debut shoe. It’s not like Nike has always owned the main stage, but it definitely felt like it. The significance behind The Question being a staple on the court was how many players wanted to rock them even though the model was four years old—just long enough for a shoe to lose its cool factor, and not old enough for that true retro feel. Further proof the shoe was going to always be timeless and Iverson’s persona was always going to get respect with other players.
Nike Air Unlimited
Regardless of how you felt about Duke, you couldn’t front that their influence on America was almost as powerful as the Fab Five’s. You circled that Duke Starter jacket in your Eastbay, Tupac was rocking it, and so was everyone else that considered themselves stylish in the early ’90s. The Air Unlimited was unlike anything Nike had done at that time. The four cross-straps looked street and Grant Hill was the poster boy for sportsmanship—the perfect juxtaposition.
Before the Jordan line really popped, it was the Converse Weapon backed by a gang of NBA players like Magic, Bird, Isiah that were on the feet of damn near every non-Nike and adidas school. The shoes came in a mix of collegiate colorways and were so popular that many teams rocked them for all four years (yeah, that used to happen), including Gill and the Flyin’ Illini squad.
Nike Air Force STS
The chunkier the better. Before he was “Grandmama,” Larry Johnson was The Capo on UNLV’s “Runnin’ Rebel” squad. During their 27-0 perfect regular season in 1990-1991, the UNLV team favored the Nike Air Force STS, which featured an unusual high-cut silhouette and large branding on the heel and tongue. The Rebels were later upset by the Duke Blue Devils in the Final Four, but LJ’s kicks never took an L.
Air Jordan XI “Concord”
We know, Jordan made the Jordan XI iconic—it didn’t need Iverson’s help. True. But Iverson was one of the most exciting college players of all-time, those Kente-cloth Georgetown uniforms are still the greatest, and you copped a McDavid ankle brace when you were nine just to look like AI. Yeah, it was Mike’s shoe, but if you never watched pro hoops you would always though those joints were made for just AI.
Converse Pro Leather
It’s kind of wild to remember Jordan in anything other than, well, Jordans. The Converse Pro Leathers were such a dope sneaker in the early ‘80s, using a stylish cut and clean aesthetics that was favored by numerous players on the court. In ’82, MJ led the Tar Heels past the Hoyas in the national title game 63–62 by leaping over the competition in his Converse Pro Leathers.
Nike Air Foamposite One
Before social media and everyone knowing what was going on within seconds of it taking place, Bibby and the ’97 Zona squad had every sneaker fan going nuts. During the NCAA Championship Title Game, Mike Bibby (Bibby actually started wearing them in the Sweet 16) and Jason Terry broke out a Nike basketball shoe no one had ever witnessed. Arizona knocked off another one seed for one of the greatest title runs, but The Foams stole the show. Check out our man, Miles Simon breaking it down on Twitter a few years ago.
Be True To Your School. Sounds like an episode of Saved By The Bell, but it was actually the iconic slogan for Nike’s Team Basketball sneaker. You might be more used to Nike Dunks you skate in, but in ’86 these were a must on the hardwood. Nike’s exclusive deals with some of NCAA Basketball’s premier schools was just the beginning of how your alma mater’s on-court style was just as imperative as how many nets they cut down in March.
’85 was a good year for Nike Basketball. The Nike Dunk team concept was a move that made The Swoosh a powerhouse in college sports, but it was catering to the grimiest squad with its own shoe that kept giving Nike more credibility in the game. Watching Ewing block every shot, legal or not, and The Hoyas bully opponents every night gave the Terminator and the team a place as one of the best in college hoops.
Nike Air Force Max
Nike’s visible Air units were a must on the courts in the early ’90s. The Air Force Max was donned by Chris Webber and The Fab Five at Michigan and changed basketball style on every level, even influencing Jordan to go all black for the playoffs. The nubuck leather and thick outsole were mad durable, and the mid-foot strap made you look tough even if you only shot jumpers. If you grew up in the ’90s, odds are you still emulate the look at your old man rec league when you put up four points and four boards a game. It’s all g, it’s the nostalgia that matters most.
If you liked The Most Iconic Sneaker Moments in College Basketball History, check out this Final Four Kobe Sample.
Respect the past. Share your knowledge. Empower the youth.
The definitive resource for sneaker history & info from the past, present, & future.