Nearly as long as athletic sneakers have been made, there’s been a personality attached to help sell them. When he was a coach, The Converse All-Star added basketball legend Chuck Taylor’s name and now it’s the best-selling shoe of all time. Athletes endorse everything in today’s society, and footwear is a large portion of the products they push. Their on-court performances have captivated generation after generation to align themselves with a particular sneaker. Michael Jordan’s line with Nike, no matter how great the design (Tinker, you’re a god), would never have had the same cultural resonance if he didn’t win six NBA championships. Kobe Bryant wouldn’t have kids excited about his umpteenth shoe if he wasn’t, arguably, the best Los Angeles Laker ever to play the game. But it’s not only basketball players who have had a large impact on the lineage of signature sneakers. Nearly every major sport has had a stud who’s had their name put on a shoe and had it sell in mass quantities.
Tennis players such as Stan Smith and Rod Laver have become names that are more associated with their adidas sneakers than their playing legacies. Other brands marketed multi-sport athletes with equally dynamic personalities, such as Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, and it worked. It starts with the endorser’s on-field accomplishments and ends with a product that not only fits their personality, but connects with the audience it’s being sold to. And let’s be honest: The weight of the cosign is real when whatever’s on your feet has been approved by one of the greatest athletes in the world. There have been plenty of people who have received their own sneakers in the past, but these are the best. Here are The Best Signature Sneaker Lines of All Time.
20. Grant Hill
The company may have been established in the tennis world but Grant Hill is almost single-handedly responsible for the popularity of Fila in the late 90's (with a little help from Tupac). Though injuries may have plagued Grant's career, his footwear during his best years, came from Fila. Beginning in 1995, with his first signature and running through the 2000 NBA season, Fila's Grant Hill line was as widely popular as anyone in the league, besides MJ. —NE
19. Chad Muska
In the mid-’90s, Chad Muska was faced with a conundrum: Where do I stash my weed when I’m skating? With the help of éS, his shoe sponsor at the time, he developed a model that, in a move of sheer genius, featured a stash spot in its tongue. In the age of ever-puffier silhouettes, this made total sense, and the Muska unabashedly carried the idea to C1RCA, a brand built around him and his whims. In the years that followed, he helped popularize swishy pants, prescription goggles, and boom boxes. He designed the Supra Skytop, a model that instantly transcended skateboarding. He gave the world cerebral art projects like #deconstructionism and then he went street goth. But make no mistake: His skate shoe legacy began with a modest lifehack that inspired many imitators. —Lucas Wisenthal
18. Patrick Ewing
Newbie’s may only be familiar with the Ewing 33 HI that saw a re-launch in 2012, but the storied Ewing Athletics line is over 20 models deep. Before the 33 HI was released in 1990, Ewing technically got his first signature sneaker in 1989, when the infamous Patrick Ewing signature was added to the Rebound HI. Like the man who was wearing the sneakers, the silhouettes were big and bulky, and didn’t follow the normal rules of lightweight and slim that most signatures boast today. When you put on Ewing’s you felt like you were wearing boots, they were like on-court shit-kickers, which makes sense because they were designed for a 7 foot, 240 pound center. If you were a kid growing up in New York in the 1990s and hated the Bulls, this was your answer to everyone wearing Jordan’s. When the Ewing’s came back around in 2012, it had nostalgic sneakerheads psyched but on the downside may have been too much, too soon as it seemed like dozens of colorways dropped, making the re-launch feel a bit saturated. Still, they came back for a reason, and those initial drops got everyone excited about number 33 again. —JLP
17. Kevin Durant
If KD's Nike signature line continues to grow in popularity, Kevin Durant's first signature shoe may go down as the most slept-on signature model ever. Once KD and the Sonics landed in OKC, Durant's signature models took off. The Creamsicle Nike KD 2 demanded the world pay attention to KD's when nearly the entire team wore them on game night. The EA Sports KD 3 and Nerf KD 4 followed suit, making the line as important to collectors as they were to ballers. Although the Nike KD line didn't stay in the "affordable" $100 range like Kevin Durant had intended, it is, without question, one of the most popular signature models year after year. —NE
16. Steve Caballero
Steve Caballero has had 13 signature shoes on Vans. The first arrived in 1989, so that averages out to, like, one release every two years. But, to be fair, a solid 11 of those were forgotten. It’s the original and its offshoot, the Half Cab, that have stood the proverbial test of time. And it’s the latter whose silhouette—which owes to the fact that, by the early ‘90s, skaters were cutting down the O.G.—has been aped by almost every skate shoe company in existence. Cab, still skating at 50, should probably collect royalties. —Lucas Wisenthal
15. Shaquille O'Neal
Guys who rock size 20+ sneakers aren’t supposed to sell sneakers, but when you are a witty center who is shattering backboards and showing up in movies you might be able to defeat the odds. At one time Shaq was as big as MJ—Jordan and Jackson and even though the hypnosis influenced sneakers might have been kind of ugly, people had to be like Shaq. It all started with a simple quote, “I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok.” —BE
14. Rod Laver
When you talk about signature sneakers with substantial staying power, the Rod Laver should lead the conversation. The fact that Laver and adidas developed the signature sneaker way before most athletes on this list (1970!) and that they’re still a go-to for style-conscious men is a feat in itself. On-court they helped Laver become one of the best tennis players of his time, and off-court they’re one of the most versatile sneakers past, present or future. Sneakers to brunch? Lavers. Sneakers with a suit? Lavers. Sneakers with fitted sweats? Lavers. We’ll always love the classic green/white colorway, but there have been other interpretations throughout the years that hit hard. Remember from 2007-2008 when Kanye would only wear vintage Lavers? This is an absolute classic that’s never going to go out of style and a sneaker everyone should own. —JLP
13. Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen had one of the most roundabout routes to getting a signature sneaker line—and to the NBA—ever. He was a lottery pick, yes, but one who entered college as a team manager and only became a star at little Central Arkansas because of an unexpected growth spurt. He joined the Bulls as a shy rookie, and emerged from his shell thanks to a friendship with fellow rookie Horace Grant, the presence of guys like Charles Oakley and the crucible of squaring off with Michael Jordan in practice. Pippen started off with Avia before Jordan helped him get a Nike deal, then went from Uptempos to his own line starting with the Pippen 1 in 1997. Aaron Cooper’s first design featured Air Max—which made sense as Pippen was coming from Uptempo—which he didn’t really like, leading to the sleek, custom-car inspired, Zoom-equipped Pippen 2 the following season. His clean shoes really stood out in the tech-happy late ‘90s and early 2000s. —RB
12. Deion Sanders
When you are freak athlete like Primetime who can run back punts, take a pick six to the house, and then steal a few bases on the baseball diamond after your matinee performance in the NFL, you deserve your own shoe. Bo Jackson might have made football turf trainers a new lane for Nike to market it but Deion Sanders took it to another level and helped other football players get a piece. As soon as you see the Falcons and 49ers colorways on the strapped kicks, you already know they belong to #21. —BE
11. Charles Barkley
Michael Jordan wasn’t the only rookie Nike signed in the fall of 1984. Charles Barkley didn’t have Jordan’s pedigree—his Auburn Tigers were no Tar Heels, and he was one of the final cuts from the 1984 Olympic team—but the big boy had bounce and an outsized personality to match. Along with teammate Moses Malone, Barkley quickly became the face of Force, the shoes made for those who made their living inside. When he finally got a signature shoe in the mid ‘90s, it made sense that he become the de facto basketball face of Air Max, both for his game—which combined elements of Flight and Force—and his overall style, both on and off the court. Who was more Max than Sir Charles? The Air Max2 CB, which released in 1994, was the ultimate Barkley shoe, inspired as it was by straitjackets. He even beat Godzilla one-on-one. —RB
10. Eric Koston
In the heady days of 1996, skateboarding’s signature shoe craze was in full swing. But while everyone from Jason Lee to Rob Dyrdek had a namesake sneaker, often with a complicated lacing system, Eric Koston’s inaugural éS model boasted a feature theirs didn’t: an air pocket in its heel. In retrospect, this detail offered largely cosmetic benefits, but that didn’t matter. Koston’s name became synonymous with performance skate footwear, and as silhouettes slimmed, the flourishes in his models grew more understated, culminating in his current Nike SB offerings—which, while functional, are devoid of the bells and whistles the Koston of yore championed. —Lucas Wisenthal
9. Ken Griffey Jr.
Baseball signature sneakers were never supposed to be a thing, but then a smooth-swinging lefty from Seattle changed that whole game. Before Yeezy nominated himself for president in 2020, Griffey Jr. had his own Nike campaign and the turf trainers might have been great for robbing homers in center field, but they were a staple on the feet of his fans and hip-hop culture throughout the 90s. Chicks dig the long ball…and emerald sneakers. —BE
8. Bo Jackson
Bo Knows. If you've never heard that before, you probably don't know Bo Jackson was named an All-Star in both the NFL and MLB. Now you do. Nike's campaign for Bo Jackson's signature models is the reason Nike's Training category exists. From 1987-1990, Bo Jackson was one of the most popular athletes in the world and the Nike "Bo Knows" ad campaign that brought shoes like the Nike Air Trainer series to the mainstream, only fueled the fire Bo's popularity. Shoes like the Air Trainer 1, Air Trainer SC and SC II, have remained popular as retros decades later. While others, like Trainer TW and Trainer E Low, remain locked in the Nike Vault, adding to the hype of Bo Jackson's sneakers. —NE
7. Andre Agassi
Tennis is full of colorful personalities—Serena Williams, John McEnroe, and Bjorn Borg come to mind—but it has a conservative culture and tends to stick subtle dress and even plainer shoes. Andre Agassi changed all of that with his mullet wig, acid wash denim shorts, and black-and-pink Nike Air Tech Challenge II sneakers. It may have been the first tennis sneaker to have an Air unit on it, but it was the use of color in Agassi's line—later sneakers would include a neon tennis ball logo and purple and Infrared palettes—that would match his rebel persona.
In a strange twist, his sneaker line might be more remembered for the sole unit of the Air Tech Challenge II, which was appropriated by Kanye West on the Nike Air Yeezy II, more than any of the physical sneakers produced. But it shouldn't be that way. The collection of sneakers has been continually reproduced by Nike, and now that Agassi is back with the brand after a departure to adidas, the retros can be done the proper way. When we look at instances like Roger Federer getting a shoe that looks like an Air Jordan, we can thank Agassi's flair for knocking down barriers of the uptight tennis world. —Matt Welty
6. LeBron James
Even before LeBron James was selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA Draft, his future was already secured. At only 18 years old, the high school phenom inked a seven-year deal with Nike worth $93 million. It was a wise gamble that paid off for Nike and one that still haunts adidas today. Thirteen signature sneakers later and his line remains a top priority for the Swoosh even with an equally impressive roster of world-class athletes. From his signature basketball model to his Nike Sportswear lifestyle collection, and his Zoom Soldier sub-line, there are no signs of slowing down. With a reported $340 million in basketball sneaker sales in 2014 and early talks of retroing his sneakers, Nike is poised to take James’ line to even greater heights long after he walks away from the game. James and his relationship with Nike transcend sneaker culture to something bigger than “Pre-Heat” 8s and “Cork” 10s. It’s why James’ sneakers crossed over to the high-fashion world and resonated with John Elliott and Pigalle. It’s why the Zoom Soldier 8 FLYEASE gave hope to people with cerebral palsy. James is a polarizing star with larger-than-life reach, and that’s reflective in what Nike’s done with his line. —John Marcelo
5. Allen Iverson
Don't front, if you were old enough when Bubbachuck entered the league you either thought he was going to be the greatest ever or never make it at all. It took a few people over at Reebok to convince the company that the six-foot, 165-pound guard fresh out of G-Town was going to be the future of the NBA and a huge influence on the culture. It was simple, staying true to himself and where he came from was all that Allen Iverson knew and in the process that included his first love — playing ball and slaying his opponents with heart and pride. When AI bolted DC for Philly and signed that lifetime deal with Reebok, he changed the culture and reputation at Reebok. His first sneaker, The Question, is still the company’s best selling shoe with OG colorways still flying off shelves 20 years later. The Answer I-V also pushed major units and had people leaving Team Nike to ride with Iverson. Aside from Jordan, no player has had a signature line longer although we have a feeling LeBron is going to pass him soon. —BE
4. Kobe Bryant
When it comes to signature sneakers, there's only one person who has had success with two separate brands. Kobe Bryant's #8 era with the Lakers was spent with adidas and to this day, shoes like the KB8 aka the Crazy 8, are some of the most popular retros sold by adidas. When Kobe refreshed his image in 2005, a Nike signature series began in early 2006, along with the change of his jersey number to #24. It took a couple years to become widely sought after but by the Zoom Kobe 4 was developed, it was clear Kobe's Nike signature line was one of the best ever. That's saying a lot, considering we're now at the Kobe 10, and it's still one of the best performers on the court. —NE
3. Penny Hardaway
After Michael left the league to pursue his dreams on the diamond, the NBA and Nike were both in search of that next "it" player. Teamed next to Shaq and often-labeled Magic Johnson 2.0, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway was a no-brainer to get a shot at being the much needed "Heir Jordan". Good choice. Before his signature line even took off, he already had sneakers flying off the shelf just by the strength of his number one on the heel, and his All-NBA game was helping the Magic take over the East. If Penny never hurt his knee, who knows how long the line would have been elite for Nike. It’s 2015 and his legacy drops are still making major moves on eBay. —BE
2. Stan Smith
The adidas Stan Smith is the most memorable tennis shoe ever made, but it was originally produced for another athlete. In 1965, the brand made a white-and-green shoe with a leather upper for French tennis star Robert Haillet. Later, the model would be given to Stan Smith, a mustached American player, who is now-synonymous with the shoe. The even stranger part about the Stan Smith is that the logo has Stan's face on it, but, if you look closely, the image was taken during a brief period of his life where he didn't have any facial hair.
In the years that passed, the Stan Smith gained a cult following across all walks of life. The French have always loved the sneaker, but it also was an integral part of the UK's football casual scene of the '80s. When the 2000s came around, adidas had overproduced the model and threatened to run it into irrelevance. The brand made the smart move and halted production on the Stan Smith, re-launching it in 2014—and the shoe took off. Thanks to co-signs from the likes of Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and nearly every fashion blogger on the Internet, the sneaker once again became as popular as it had ever been.
Adidas even let fashion designers such as Raf Simons rework the silhouette, but he couldn't find any flaws in it. The result was the three perforated stripes getting reshaped into an "R," a nod to the Stan Smith's perfect design. Stan Smith himself, now 68 years old, realizes that his sneaker is bigger than his personal legacy and said doesn't expect people to know who he is these days, other than a name on a shoe. But the Stan Smith should be celebrated for what it is: A sneaker that's able to cross every boundary line and be equally acceptable. —Matt Welty
1. Michael Jordan
When Nike signed Michael Jordan in 1984, they were a 12-year-old company known primarily for their running shoes. Their biggest entry into the basketball market, the Air Force 1, had come just two years prior. Unlike Converse (the undisputed leader in basketball) or adidas (the undisputed leader in virtually everything else), Nike hadn’t even done a signature basketball shoe for anyone yet. Jordan would be the first. He was a 21 year old fresh out of college, and Nike was betting their entire future on him. No pressure.
In 2013, Brand Jordan made $2.25 billion in revenue. The man has become the brand, thanks to a confluence of factors—Jordan’s on-court skills and accomplishments, an increased interest in NBA basketball that coincided with his rise, and of course fresh new designs every single year. “Is it the shoes?,” pitchman Mars Blackmon famously asked, over and over again. Why yes, those helped.
Michael Jordan was the first modern signature athlete, and neither he nor Nike made as much as a single misstep as his brand was built. The first shoe, designed by Peter Moore, played primarily off color, hitting shelves when a red, white and black basketball shoe was unheard of. The second, designed by Moore and Bruce Kilgore, went for minimalist luxury, with Italian construction, faux reptile skin trim and a polyurethane midsole. And the third (which reportedly kept Jordan with Nike) designed by Tinker Hatfield, essentially established the modern basketball shoe, with a mid-top cut, bold branding and Visible Air. Those three elements—color, luxury, modernity—have been keys to the line ever since, as Hatfield and Jordan’s relationship continued and prospered. Next year will mark the launch of the Air Jordan 30. The idea (and the shoes) remain as fresh as ever. —RB