Ahead of this upcoming NBA season, we’re taking a look at the best of a very long list of SLAMKICKS-approved footwear giants.
This story and so much more is featured in the latest issue of KICKS 26. Get your copy here.
As sure as the sun rises in the eastern sky, P.J. Tucker is back on our First Team. There’s nobody in the League more versed, more versatile and more willing to play in any pair. He cemented himself long ago on this list, yet he keeps on proving himself over and over.
James Harden is a fairly uncommon human being in general. He did, after all, help to rewrite the NBA rule book with his singular style of play. His seventh signature silhouette, the best of the 2022-23 campaign, is particularly exceptional. It’s got a funky shape, it’s got an upper that looks like a puffer jacket, it’s full of the best tech the Stripes has to offer and it had incredibly hard colorways throughout the season.
It’s not a shot at P.J. to say with confidence that DeMar DeRozan has the best Kobe collection in the League. As has been printed in these pages many times, he’s played in every Nike Kobe silhouette throughout his career and continues to add Kobe PEs that look more like art pieces than sneakers to his collection.
Before his signature sneaker debuted on Christmas Day 2022, Ja Morant had been hooping in high quality Kobes and original versions of the early Kyries. Then he stomped into the signature game with a handful of unique colorways. And because he moves differently than just about everybody in the League, there’ll be more originality in his future.
The best shooter ever had variety in 2022-23. Curry 10s, FloTros of the 1 and 2, some sprinkling of the 4 FloTro all got court time with No. 30. There aren’t many others who tell stories with their footwear like Stephen. His nonstop commitment to the underrated and underrepresented often gets communicated through his footwear.
Flavor after flavor after flavor. LeBron James’ 20th season will be remembered for the multitude of colorways he played in. Both the Nike LeBron 20 and the Nike LeBron NXXT Gen appeared under the bright lights in equally subtle and outrageous makeups, night after night.
Even though his signature line has wrapped up, Paul George didn’t miss a step. Each game brought a new chance for him to show off his unexpected appreciation for basketball sneakers, like, for example, wearing the “All-Star” Nike Kobe 6 while playing in the City of Angels. You get the connection?
Malik Monk very much understands how to properly apply hues to footwear. All of his Kobe PEs, be it 5s or 6s, are consistently fire. None of them are really that similar, either. There’s a ton of variation from pair to pair, with browns and blues and purples and blacks and pinks
showing up throughout his stable.
Look, let’s be honest here, yeah? Kobes are this generation’s Jordans. Trey Lyles has a stockpile of rare heat that he’s amassed over the years and most of them aren’t protros. He’s on this list because he consistently hoops in heavy hitters from the game’s most cherished line, oftentimes reminding people about pairs or colorways they’d previously forgotten.
Another visual storyteller, Jayson Tatum started the season with many versions of the Air Jordan 37 and Air Jordan 38 Low that let the public in on what matters most to him. Once ASW rolled around and he got to unveil his first signature with Jordan Brand, the storytelling door flew clean off the hinges. Tatum tells us a whole lot about himself without ever saying a word.
MVP: P.J. Tucker
LeBron James only has four MVPs. Michael Jordan only has five MVPs. What in the hell is good with that? That’s not the truth. Both deserve a minimum of 10. In the context of basketball sneakers, P.J. Tucker is LeBron. He is MJ. In our pages, he will continue to get his shine until he hangs up his sneakers for good.
We’ve called him a lot of things over the years, like the Michael Jordan of wearing Jordans. We’ve compared his conquering of basketball footwear to passages in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Now that we’ve finally gotten him on the cover and had a chance to listen to him speak openly about sneakers, he’s the MVP because he loves it all more than anyone else. We hear you, P.J.
Rookie of the Year: Jalen Williams
The list of Stripes silhouettes that Jalen Williams played in is mighty long. It includes the Harden Vol. 7s, Crazy 97s, Dame 5s, Top 10 2000s, D.O.N. 4s, Agent Gils, Harden Vol. 4s, D Rose 1.5s and Dame 8s.
Williams maintained a steady rotation throughout the season, varied with many colors. He seems to be a student of the sneaker game. He joined the likes of Tracy McGrady, Nick Young and Jaylen Brown when he rocked mismatched adi joints. The young star popped out to All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City with one white Harden Vol. 7 and one pink Harden Vol. 7. His name will most definitely show up again in these pages next year.
Most Improved Player: Paul George
The Swoosh decided to end Paul George’s signature line at the PG6. It went out with a bang, concluding after the drop of his collab with Hot Wheels.
The ending of one thing is the beginning of another. Freed up from being required to play in his latest signature model, PG hit the ground running by wearing Kobe 4s, Kobe 5s and Kobe 6s. He dug into the closet for the return of the PG1, the PG2 and the PG2.5. Strategically, he secured this spot when he played in the “Draft Day” Kobe 4s in Charlotte. That was a wakeup call signifying there was another knowledgeable sneakerhead ready to show out.
LeagueFits Arrival Sneaker of the Year: Russell Westbrook
Michael Jordan’s retirement in 1998 gave the first class of Brand Jordan athletes the full sneaker spotlight. They were getting to play in retro colorways made just for them. Guys like Ray Allen, Derek Anderson, Vin Baker, Eddie Jones and Michael Finley are the reason every sneakerhead knows what PE (player exclusive) stands for. Retro PEs continued for the next couple of Jordan athlete generations, with guys like Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson gaining fame for their heat.
But Jordan Brand changed up the overall thought process a few years back. Retro PEs are far more rare now.
Their scarcity is why Russell Westbrook’s Air Jordan III colorway is getting the nod for the LeagueFits Arrival Sneaker of the Year. Seeing these IIIs in the wild is like seeing the Loch Ness Monster finally reveal itself.
Best of the Brands:
adidas Harden Vol. 7
Jordan Tatum 1
New Balance TWO WXY v3
Nike LeBron 20
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