We always debate over how ball players of the past would hold up against our soon-to-be legends of today. While NBA fans did get a glimpse of MJ versus Kobe, not both players were in their prime, so the need continues to go unsatisfied. Could Nique have out-dunked Blake Griffin? Would Bernard King give Melo 40? Obviously we’ll never know (unless scientists get their act together and make with the time machines already, it’s 2013) but it would be interesting to see if the stars of the past would have had an on-court advantage with better technology on their feet. Sneaker Report has rised to the call, here are 25 Classic NBA Players and the Sneakers They Should Have Worn.
Written by Terrence Watson (
No. 25 — Tom Chambers
What He Wore: Nike Air Force II
Should Have Worn: Under Armour Charge BB
Tom Chambers could fly back in the day and even though he did it in various kicks, the Air Force II being one of his staples. If Chambers could hoop today the Under Armour Charge BB, it would be a perfect match thanks to the security and stability they provide for players taking flight.
No. 24 — Kevin Johnson
What He Wore: Converse React Pandemonium
Should Have Worn: adidas Rose 2.5
John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and every guard six-foot-four and under are cut from KJ’s cloth. He was high-octane when it came to scoring and dished assists with the best of them (nearly 18 ppg and 9 apg. for his career). The dude had bounce and explosiveness, much like Rose does today. The Sprintweb technology and EVA midsole could definitely handle this little dude with lift.
No. 23 — Bernard King
What He Wore: Converse Weapons
Should Have Worn: Jordan Brand Melo M9’s
The connection is there, the lineage is there, the buckets are there. Carmelo Anthony is basically Bernard King 2.0, so the logical choice to have King get crazy in is the Melo M9. King was known for his elite-level footwork and the M9 is catered towards players on the low-block because of its attention to cushioning and responsiveness.
No. 22 — Bob Cousy
What He Wore: PF Flyers
Should Have Worn: Crazy Light II
Man, it’s amazing to think of what players pre-1980’s actually hooped in. All those stories your grandpa tells you of bloody socks and broken toes during his time are probably true. Well, except for that one about him playing in a pick-up game with Chairman Mao. That probably never happened. But if the Hardwood Houdini could step into a pair adidas Crazy Lights, he’d feel comfort and cushioning on those dogs and could concentrate even more on the game.
No. 21 — Nate “Tiny” Archibald
What He Wore: Pro-Keds Royal Plus
Should Have Worn: Under Armour Micro G Torch
Tiny Archibald was bad, cold, mean and good enough to bring the Rucker to the league back in the 70’s. He led the NBA in scoring and assists in the ’73 season (34 ppg and 11.4 assists) hooping in Pro-Keds. Known to get to the basket, a pair of Under Amour Micro G Torch’s could have served him well on his way to the rim and the Hall of Fame.
No. 20 — Walt “Clyde” Frazier
What He Wore: Puma Clyde
Should Have Worn: Nike Hypergamer Low
There may have not been a more popular, pre-Nike Air signature basketball shoe than the Puma Clyde. The smooth accents matched the smooth on-court operator. Clyde was a combo guard before people even used the term. When swishin’ and dishin’ was his occupation, not many could do both like he could. If Clyde got his own Hypergamer PE, we're pretty sure Nike could throw on some leopard or cheetah print accents to go along with the herringbone outsole Frazier would use to shake-n-bake his defenders.
No. 19 — Bill Walton
What He Wore: adidas Rebound
Should Have Worn: Ektio Breakaway
NBA fans were robbed of watching a true legend in his prime. Bill Walton was prototype of the modern day big man: Ran like a Gazelle with quicker foot-speed than most and an outlet pass that only Kevin Love could mimic. Unfortunately, all of his gifts couldn’t fight nature. His was so injury-prone that he never got the chance to reach his full potential (true despite winning two NBA titles and an MVP in 1978). Had he worn the Ektio Breakaway, specifically designed to protect your ankles with their anti-rollover bumpers for maximum stability, the NBA’s first Dead Head could have rocked out for a longer time.
No. 18 — Jerry West
What He Wore: Chuck Taylor Low
Should Have Worn: Kobe 8 System
Jerry West and Kobe Bryant will be locked in history together. There’s a story about West watching Bryant work out with an assistant, basically playing one-on-one and saying to said assistant afterwards that Bryant was the most talented 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Bryant, who spent his formative years in Italy while his dad played pro ball there, would have his grandpa send tapes of players so he could study them. His favorites? Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Since Kobe stole some of West’s moves (peep Kobe’s hard dribble pull-up, that’s all West) it’s only right that West attack offenses in the lightweight cushioned structure of the Kobe 8 Systems.
No. 17 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
What He Wore: adidas Abdul Jabbar Hi
Should Have Worn: adidas Flight Path
Kareem had one of the first signature shoes that would still hold up today—aesthetically. If "The Captain" hit the court today, he’d need something that was simple in design and heavy on function from adidas. If there’s any modern day big man that’s all about results and less about retail, it’s Tim Duncan. His shoe of choice (the adidas Flight Path) is all about comfort for such big frame. That skyhook would go well with them too.
No. 16 — Clyde Drexler
What He Wore: KangaROOS
Should have worn: Li-Ning Way of Wade
Arguably the second best shooting guard of the 90’s, Clyde Drexler stood out (even with MJ in the mix) by his choice of shoes. The kangaROOS were eye-catching in the away-red that Drexler proudly wore. The comparisons to him and the Flash have always been there in the ways they score. Now Drexler can keep up his attack up in Wade’s shoes with the predominantly leather upper.
No. 15 — Oscar Robertson
What He Wore: adidas and Converse
Should have worn: Nike LeBron IX
Oscar Robinson was ahead of his time. About 30 points, 11 rebounds and 12.5 assists ahead during his second year in the league ahead. Watching Oscar is like watching Peyton Manning on the gridiron today. He knows what he wants to do, how to manipulate the defense, slow the game down and control everyone at his own pace. He is five-steps ahead at all times. And for each of those steps to truly be protected, we’d put The Big O in the LeBron IX. For a player who combined speed, agility and muscle to become the first unguardable wing, a shoe that’s secure and has great traction would be the way to go.
No. 14 — David Robinson
What He Wore: Nike Air Force 180
Should Have Worn: Nike Zoom Hyperdisruptor
There were big, strong and nimble post-players before David Robinson, but no one possessed all three qualities quite like The Admiral. Aside from their cool look, the Nike Air Force 180 were all about power and padding. Put No. 50 in the game today with the Hyperdisruptors and he can have his power and style, in addition to lockdown, traction and a lightweight feel all in one shoe.
No. 13— Karl Malone
What He Wore: L.A. Gear Catapult
Should Have Worn: Nike Air Max Hyperposites
Karl Malone is definitely a love-or-hate-him kind of player. There really was no inbetween when it came to the Mailman. Like him or not, everyone understood he was going to rebound, score and defend like a beast. In the Nike Air Max Hyperposites, Malone could own the paint and not feel a thing. They might even help if he was working out in the mountains.
No. 12 — Shawn Kemp
What He Wore: Reebok Kamikaze II
Should Have Worn: Air Jordan Super.Fly
Not that the Reign Man needed anything besides his “oh shit, did you see that?” dunks to get attention, but the Reebok Kamikaze’s are one of the better things he leaves behind in his NBA legacy. Unquestionably a top 5 dunker of all-time, if Kemp were playing today he’d be right alongside the current rim cranker on sportscenter’s Top 10 countdown, Blake Griffin in the Air Jordan Super.Fly. The Hyperfused upper is both strong enough and light enough for Kemp keep his status as a superior dunker.
No. 11 — Patrick Ewing
What He Wore: Ewing Athletics 33 Hi
Should Have Worn: Nike Hyperdunk
There’s a stigma about big men: they can’t sell sneaers. Well Patrick Ewing ain’t about your stigmas. Not only did he rock his own signature shoes from his own brand, they actually built a following and had a highly anticipated rerelease. But if the Knicks great had a chance to play today, his arch nemesis has the perfect pair for him. The Nike Hyperdunk is sturdy, much like the sneakers of the 90’s but with the Air Max unit to provide Ewing with the ultimate cushioning.
No. 10 — Scottie Pippen
What He Wore: Nike Air Max Uptempo 97
Should Have Worn: Nike Air Max Hyperaggressor
Pip had his own signature shoe, but six-time NBA champ came into his own sporting the Air Max technology. People may not remember, but back when in the NBA B.L. (Before LeBron) it was near consensus that Scottie was the best small forward ever and he’s still considered arguably the best defender ever to lace them up. Playing in the Hyperaggressor would give him that same cushion, plus a better sense of traction than the Air Max Uptempo.
No. 9 — Julius Erving
What He Wore: Converse Pro Leather
Should Have Worn: Nike LeBron IX
Dr. J was the first person to come into your living room and dunk on people in ways never before seen outside of summer basketball in New York City. With so much air underneath him, Erving needs something comfortable to land on and that’s where the LeBron IX’s combination of Zoom Air and the Max 180 Unit could help the Doc keep healthy while hooping.
No. 8 — Dominique Wilkins
What He Wore: Reebok Pumps
Should Have Worn: Jordan 2012
Describe Dominique Wilkins in one word. Go! Well, did you think dunk, jam or jump? Pretty sure anything you could come up with related to flight. ‘Nique and MJ went at it in the 1988 dunk contest, but if he was balling in this day and age, the Jordan 2012, with its Nike Zoom unit, might help him get over losing to MJ in Chicago that year. Surely Jordan Brand would hook him up with an ill white, red and yellow PE.
No. 7 — Larry Bird
What He Wore: Converse Weapons
Should Have Worn: Nike Zoom KD V
Pay attention to just how KD scores. Dude is six-foot-nine, loves to face up and poses a match-up problem because no one can stop a small forward that can shoot from 33 feet and in. One might wonder what does this have to with Bird rocking the KD’s? That Zoom unit may help soften Durant’s landings post-dunk, but Bird is built differently. That same cushion system would take the pressure off his knees when he lands from taking jumpers.
No. 6 — Shaquille O’Neal
What He Wore: Reebok Shaqnosis
Should Have Worn: adidas adiPower Howard
Who’s the real Superman? Well, Shaq has the numbers, wins, actual post moves, rings, MVP’s, and if they were both playing in the same era he’d probably have a sneaker deal with adidas, playing in sneakers with the ALIVE cushion system that molds to the feet of its wearer. Don’t feel too bad for Dwight, he’s still got the Dunk contest.
Sorry, Laker fans.
No. 5 — Magic Johnson
What He Wore: Converse Weapons
Should Have Worn: CP3.IV
No point guard had ever taken command of the league the way Magic did and no one has done so since he left the game. His career averages of 19.5-11-7-2 are tough to imagine in any day and age but if he played today, the CP3.IV would fit his game due to the herringbone traction on the outsole. Give the Magic Man that kind of control on the court and watch the Showtime resurgence.
No. 4 — Wilt Chamberlain
What He Wore: Converse Chuck Taylor All Star
Should Have Worn: adidas adiPower Dwight Howard 2
Out of all the players on this list that played before the 1980’s era, Wilt would be the most likely candidate to still dominate. He had size, speed and athleticism of the modern day player way back in the day. Picture Tyson Chandler with post-moves and essentially you’ve got Wilt Chamberlin. Now make all of his defenders, except for Bill Russell, about 6-foot-7. Everybody is catching a 50-piece McNugget at some point. Given his quickness and agility, the perfect shoe for the Big Dipper is the adiPower Dwight Howard 2.
No. 3—Charles Barkley
What He Wore: Nike Air Max2 CB
Should Have Worn: LeBron X
Sir Charles was a punisher. No 6-foot-6 (who’s really 6-foot-4) power forward can dominate the league like he did. If you disagree, ask yourself when the last time a prep or college prospect had the same physical stature as Chuck. He played tough and the LeBron X, with its lightwest but durable upper made of FlyWire and Zoom Air unit, was built to handle his game.
No. 2 — Penny Hardaway
What He Wore: Nike Air Penny II
Should Have Worn: Nike Air Penny V
Penny Hardaway could do everything on the court. They compared him to Magic Johnson, and at one time or another, called him the heir to MJ’s throne. Unfortunately, knee injuries robbed Penny of his full potential. If Penny played today, those knee injuries would be rehabbed with new technology and he could hoop in his fifth signature shoe, the Nike Air Penny V.
No. 1 — Michael Jordan
What He Wore: An Empire
Should Have Worn: Air Jordan XX8
There isn’t much MJ didn’t accomplish on the court. Except for winning with the Wizards, but we like to pretend that phase in time didn’t happen. If we picked up where MJ left off with the follow through in Utah, he’d play today in his latest, innovative shoe the Air Jordan XX8. The full length Zoom Unit now features a Jordan Flight Plate, enhancing the Zoom bag with an even more responsive feel.