Before the ball drops and 2012 comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back at what was a tremendous year in sneakers. It was a special year featuring many classics of old being retro’d, older lines being brought back from the dead, and innovation and technology advancing the kicks of today’s basketball player. It’s hard to narrow down my favorite shoes of the last 12 months when so many classics, both new and old, hit shelves, but I was able to narrow it down to 10 selections, based on a combination of importance, innovation, and most of all, personal preference. Without further ado, here are my top 10 basketball sneakers from 2012.
#10 – Reebok Question
The mantra ever since Swizz Beatz became involved in the front office at the company since 2010 has been “Reebok back” after the brand has fallen behind the likes on Nike and adidas in recent years. Well, the movement hit it’s biggest peak in May when the retro many fans had been waiting for finally returned to select stores, the Reebok Question, A.K.A. the very first Allen Iverson signature shoe. Originally dropping in AI’s rookie year in 1996, the Questions are right there with the Pumps as the most popular Reebok sneaker of all time. Releasing the shoe back to a hungry market that was as exact a copy of the original you could get, down to the pearlized toe and all, helped re-introduce Allen Iverson to a younger fan base who wasn’t around to see him cross up MJ in these and is less familiar with his game. My favorite part of this shoe’s comeback was the return of Iverson himself to the mainstream. He appeared in the Red and White colorways in Swizz’s music video for Street Knock (with the hip hop mogul wearing the kicks around his neck) and returned to Philly the day before the sneaks released before a Sixers-Celtics playoff game in the Eastern Semis.
Iverson’s importance to Reebok’s brand through the legacy of his shoes is incredibly important and the Question’s return helped signal that Reebok is ready to reclaim their voice in the sneaker world. The line put out four other colorways, including the original blue and whites, but the red and white classic is just what Reebok needed-as did I. No AI fan cannot go without this pair and with a limited release before Reebok was going to put it “back in the vault”, I woke up at 6 AM and waited in my car for four hours to make sure I got a hold of these. Was absolutely worth it.
#9 – Nike Air Penny V
Michael Jordan is the king of retro sneakers, but if you had to name a runner up, be it a distant one, it’s easy to point to the player that was considered his heir to the Nike thrown in their playing days, Penny Hardaway. Back in the 90’s there were few if none players cooler than Anfernee and while injuries derailed a career that could have ended up placing him amongst the all time greats, people to this day show great respect for what he did on the court, and what he wore as well. Retros for Penny signatures always sell well, with the crown jewel of his lineage being the Foamposite One. So Nike, in stunning fashion, resurrected #1’s shoe line from the dead and created a new sig for Penny using today’s sneaker technology, the Air Penny V. Hardaway now joins MJ as the lone athlete to have a new signature sneaker created after retiring. Not only that, but the shoe looks amazing! Unique colorways like the Dolphins got scooped up by fans of the 1-Cent line, while my personal favorite is the one representing Penny’s days in Phoenix, the black, purple, and orange Suns model. All fans can hope for in 2013 is for the Magic to continue*. Hey! And maybe we can get Chris Rock back for a Lil Penny return!
*See what I did? Magic… Orlando…
#8 – adidas D Rose 3
Putting a signature shoe of a player who may barely even play in it is uncommon, but consider me a fan off what’s happening with Derrick Rose’s line. The D Rose 3 is such a vast improvement over his first two sneakers and in my opinion, the best adidas player shoe since the T-Mac 2’s. Not to mention, the three stripes have come up with an awesome ad campaign to build up the shoe, even with the 2011 MVP kept off the court through the rest of his rehab for a torn ACL.
I’ve gone back and forth countless times about which colorway I like more, the red and blacks shown above, or the grey, black, and reds here. Eitherway, it’s a hot shoe and a big step up for the future of adidas as they hope to try and equal they playing field with the all powerful swoosh.
#7 – Nike LeBron 9 Low “Summit Lake Hornets”
The moment I saw these shoes for the first time, the first thing that popped into my head: Charlotte Hornets. This obviously makes sense because the shoes are modeled after LeBron’s AAU team from which the name comes which had it’s team’s colors based off the former residents of the Queen City. The Summit Lake’s always get a colorway on LeBron’s line each year since the VII first dropped, but the 9 did it best. While I’ve yet to see this shoe listed on any other “Top of 2012” lists, the reason I have it on mine is the standout ability of the colorway and the silhouette of the piece. While this shoe followed the “Summit Lake Hornets” high top that released a month before in an inverted color scheme, what I loved about these was the standout of the teal mixed with the sleekness of the shoe. While the full shoe was nice, it was a bit bulky for my taste, yet the lows were smooth, clean, and had no unnecessary material. Plus, if you want a shoe to catch people’s eyes, I argue there wasn’t a better pair of basketball kicks than this for that purpose this whole year.
# 6 – Air Jordan VI “Olympic”
In honor of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Nike and Jordan Brand went all out retroing classics from past Olympics and the feet of their athletes. While the 1992 “Dream Team” was a huge topic of discussion this summer, and the VI being the model worn by MJ in his historic 91-92 season, where he won his first NBA Title, this shoe was never worn by Michael in Barcelona, as he had moved on to the also retro’d Air Jordan VII. Instead, the VI was brought to the Olympic Games by Ray Allen when he played in 2000 for the USA in Sydney. Yet, they weren’t made available to the public past very limited quantities and people salivated this July when they were brought back after 12 long years. The VI was my favorite model I didn’t have a pair of before this year and after copping this release, I gladly go into 2013 with a pair. No small color change on the midsole could’ve messed these beauties up for me.
# 5 – Nike Hyperdunk+ 2012
We have come a long way from Chuck Taylors, haven’t we? The Nike Hyperdunk+ 2012 has changed the way technology and innovation will be used in basketball shoes forever. A shoe that measures vertical, speed, and physical activity, while bringing along the lightest and sturdiest material, and the top of the line footing and padding for explosive play… There’s not much this shoe can’t do! The harshest knock against a shoe like this, and the lone reason I don’t own one yet, is that while the basic 2012 model retails at $140, if you want a shoe that can be equipped to keep track of your stats, it jumps another $20 in price, and if you want the actual means to get the technology necessary to track your info, you need to buy an $80 sports pack. That’s putting the top end of the shoe at a $240 price tag. Tough for a casual intramural baller to justify spending. But for the legit gamers, this shoe shows the future of what is possible in a sneaker and breaks the celling for other means of advancement. The possibilities are endless and the minds at Nike prove once again why they’re ahead of the curb in the sneaker game today.
#4 – Ewing Athletics Ewing 33 HI
The return of the Penny Hardaway line was surely something special, but the greatest sneaker resurrection of 2012 was clearly the return of Ewing Athletics. In 1989, star center for the New York Knicks Patrick Ewing broke off from adidas after establishing himself as a force in the NBA and instead of signing with another company, decided to simply start his own. In doing so, Ewing Athletics was born and so was a legend, the shoe Pat wore for the majority of the 89-90 season, the Ewing 33 HI. In 1996, the company folded and faded away into people’s distant memories. But thanks to a cult following on this great thing called the Internet, fans who held their allegiances strong were able to reminisce and hope one day, the Ewing line would come back. 16 years later, the company was revived through an individual effort and Patrick’s personal blessing. Fans of old were ecstatic while new fans were able to learn about the brand and become excited by the move as well. The 33 HI returned in four colorways that sold out instantaneously. My personal favorite, the blue suedes, sold out in less than five minutes on the store’s site I bought them from, as only 33 shops in the US* got the kicks. They may be the biggest sneakers I’ve ever owned and I have no clue how anyone ever played ball in them, but with Ewing being my favorite player growing up, these are a proud addition to my collection. Complaints about the quality used from reviewers on the Internet have hurt the buzz of the sneaker slightly, but nothing can keep down arguably the greatest return of 2012.
*Fitting for Patrick’s number.
#3 – Nike LeBron X
A shoe fit for a king with his crown. No one this year in sports had a better 365 days than LeBron James. His third MVP. His first NBA Championship. The Finals MVP. And to top it all off, leading Team USA to a gold medal in the Olympics. Only the finest is worthy of LeBron’s footing after his accomplishments and that’s exactly what lead designer Jason Petrie gave him. Petrie has been the guy behind the LeBron signature who lead the shoe to it’s prolific rise ever since the LeBron VII and has provided James’ tenth model with the luxury of a king. Using Nike+ technology like the Hyperdunk, different models of the shoe were set to release at different prices. The outside media freaked out hearing the Nike+ set shoe would be as high as $310, but backed off when the price went listed at $270 and that there were cheeper models available. The Nike+ enabled went for $200, while the regular shoe released for $180. The shoe debuted on the biggest stage in arguably all of basketball, laced up for the Olympic Gold Medal Final vs Spain. Then, colorways upon colorways of the shoe released, with none as nice in my opinion as the Prisms shown above. Two years ago, Nike was in panic mode with their top star all of a sudden turned into public enemy #1. Now, LeBron is golden, the pride of the NBA once again, as his shoes are the class of the NBA.
#2 – Nike KD IV
Technically, this shoe originally released in 2011, but with new colorways coming out in 2012 through September, it’s impact was felt in this calender year as well. While LeBron has the finest technology and materials in his kicks, the strides made by Durant’s forth shoe accelerate it over the X. Ever since pairing up with Nike, KD has done all he can to keep his shoe’s costs down and make them more affordable to kids who want to wear their favorite players shoes. As result, Nike had unfortunately cut back on the amount of innovation in the line previous to the four because of limited resources. Yet, lead designer Leo Chang created what is considered by many sneakerheads to be a masterpiece that at a retail price of only $95, doesn’t only look good on the court or the street, but is easier on the bank account. As result, Durant’s shoe FLEW off shelves before fans knew what hit them and sold out in an instant. My favorite of the IVs, the Galaxy colorway worn by Durant at this year’s All Star Game, sold out online on Nike’s website in barely four minutes, thanks to a reflective upper and a glow in the dark sole. With other designs like the Gold Medals, the USAs the Aunt Pearls, and the slept on Easters, the shoes kept coming and people kept buying. So much that even someone like myself who’s favorite player in the NBA is Durant and loves sneakers could not get a single pair of any of the releases. When I look back on 2012, the KD IV will be the shoe that got away from me and one that I am already awaiting the retros for that probably won’t come for another 15, 20 years.
#1 – Reebok Answer IV
A shoe I will never have to wait for again to eventually re-release though is my all time favorite basketball shoe and one of the reasons I fell in love with sneakers in the first place is the Reebok Answer IV. Now… I’ve looked through a lot of top 10 lists and have yet to find these mentioned on a single one, but that matters nothing to me. The moment I found out Reebok was bringing back the Answers, my year in sneakers was made. Iverson shoes start and close out my top ten this year and for good reason. While the historical importance of the Questions was noted above at #10, the personal importance of these right here to me are unparalleled. Allen Iverson wore these in the 2000-01 season, the year he won the MVP and led the Sixers to the NBA Finals. They’re also the shoes he wore for one of my favorite moments in one of the greatest games I had ever watched as a kid.
Iverson finished Game 1 with 48 points, good for the 6th most in any NBA Finals game, and handed the Lakers their first and only loss of the ’01 postseason. His performance all season long was amazing to watch. I can trace any old highlight though to that season based on what AI has on his feet. I remember initially thinking the new this shoe was gross and didn’t like it at all. Now, it’s my favorite sneaker of all time. The beauty of the different colored leathers meshing together… The presence of AI’s face on the sole underneath the text “Only The Strong Survive” from his ever famous tattoo… The look of the I3 on the sides of the shoe jetting out from the midsole… It’s awesome. I bought an all white version in ’01 and the black and white above in ’06 in a size 12 that I tried to fit my size 14/15 foot (depending on what brand) in to this day, just to wear them.Now, I have both the colorways shown above and cannot wait to see what Reebok send out for 2013 from their line. Iverson is the closest player any of the major brands has to someone like Jordan to Nike, and after years of hoping The Answer would get his due retro treatment, I couldn’t be happier to see it happen. For the excitement and spark I felt getting another chance at this shoe, the Answer IV is my sneaker of the year from 2012. Let’s hope 2013 brings us even better releases!