The Best Basketball Sneakers

Guard Sneaker Talk Featuring DII Point Guard, Tobin Karlberg

Article by: Joey Carreon
Karlberg 1

Choosing the right tool for the job is a necessity — this is especially true for basketball sneakers. Just like how a ballerina wouldn’t opt for a pair of combat boots in lieu of ballet shoes, most hoopers approach choosing basketball sneakers the same way.

Choosing the right tool for the job is a necessity — this is especially true for basketball sneakers. Just like how a ballerina wouldn’t opt for a pair of combat boots in lieu of ballet shoes, most hoopers approach choosing basketball sneakers the same way.

Nowadays more than ever, a variety of basketball sneakers have flooded the market with each sneaker varying as much as basketball players themselves, coming in all shapes and sizes.

For example, LeBron James’ signature sneakers with Nike have always reflected his own game: strong and explosive. Meanwhile, other lines like that of Damian Lillard’s prioritize speedy, responsive sneakers that cater to Lillard's quick, shifty play. Regardless of level, there are certain sneakers that cater to certain players’ needs.

University of Alaska Anchorage point guard, Tobin Karlberg, is quite particular with what he laces up before hitting the court. The former Grace Christian School standout and current UAA junior prioritizes sneakers that cater to his game as a speedy, up-tempo point guard that likes to run in the open court.

“As a guard, I’m less concerned with having shoes with strong ankle support, and more concerned with hoop shoes that resemble running shoes that allow me to get up and down the floor and move quickly with comfort,” Karlberg said.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s signature sneaker with Nike, the Zoom Freak 1, checks all the boxes for Karlberg as his weapon of choice. The Freak 1 features a low-top silhouette with a synthetic upper to keep the shoe lightweight, yet durable. The shoe also features Nike’s Zoom Air technology, which provides a responsive, bouncy cushioning setup.

“I actually just got the Freak 1’s about a month ago, but they’ve become a staple shoe for me in my rotation. They are perfect for me because they’re light, not bulky, and they have great traction!” Karlberg said.

Giannis 1

Since releasing in July 2019, the Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Zoom Freak 1 signature sneaker has become a common choice for even his NBA peers — shown by Ja Morant rocking the “Multicolor” colorway. (Photo courtesy of Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

With the emergence of Kobe Bryant’s first low-top sneakers with Nike starting with the Kobe IV in 2008, most guard-friendly sneakers nowadays offer the same low cut and allow players to remain low-to-the-ground yet responsive — like the Mamba himself.

But do not fret, gone are the days when low-top sneakers implied a lack of ankle support. Inspired by soccer cleats, Bryant pushed the envelope of what a successful basketball sneaker could be when helping to design the industry’s first mainstream, low-top hoop shoe.

“Kobe was adamant. From a functional standpoint, he wanted to prove that you can create a high-performance, low-top basketball shoe,” prolific designer and Vice President of Design Innovation for Nike, Eric Avar, said.

And prove that point he did, as Bryant’s Kobe IV catalyzed a new era of basketball sneakers: low-cut, low-to-the-ground, yet high in functionality.

“For a long time, I would almost only wear Kobe’s shoes made by Nike, but as I’ve progressed I have started to branch out and wear whatever shoe feels good and fits right. With that being said, you won’t catch me wearing any brand other than Nike’s on the court,” Karlberg said.

Not only is sneaker-technology a big deal for a high-level level player like Karlberg, but often sneaker choices are bound by brand loyalty, style and colorways, or a mixture of both.

Choosing the right basketball sneaker for you does not have to be a stressful endeavor. In fact, for most hoopers including Karlberg, fawning over and choosing the latest sneakers is a pastime as fun as the game of basketball itself.

“I enjoy shopping consistently for new shoes often and I have picked up three new pairs of hoop shoes in the past couple of weeks,” Karlberg said.

“For me, it’s not only a necessity to have new and fresh on-court shoes, but it’s also something I enjoy looking and shopping for. Playing multiple times daily requires me to have enough shoes that I can trust to rotate through. Having multiple reliable pairs makes it so that I never have to start playing in a sweaty pair of kicks.”

In a game as heavily intertwined with sneaker culture and pop culture at large, most every hooper worldwide, regardless of age or skill level, are like Karlberg in that their choice of basketball sneaker relies on a bevy of factors.

Whether you’re the type of hooper to chase the most exclusive colorways and collabs or the type of hooper to stick that one ‘ol’ reliable’ pair, choosing a basketball sneaker ultimately boils down to what a player wants to wear and feels their best in.

Joey Carreon

Joey Carreon

Joey Carrreon is a Filipino-American journalist from Anchorage, Alaska whose work can be found in the Anchorage Daily News, The Spenardian, and The Northern Light.

Joey graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and public communications and is passionate about basketball, food, pop-culture, and the oxford comma.