Anthony Edwards Made Basketball Sneakers Feel Cool Again

Anthony Edwards had one of the best signature sneaker debuts that we have ever seen with his Adidas AE 1. We break down exactly what made it so great.

Via Complex Original

The best basketball sneakers throughout history all have that moment. The Air Jordan 3 has Michael Jordan leaping from the free throw line in the 1988 dunk contest. When you think of the Reebok Question, chances are you think of a young, pre-cornrows Allen Iverson crossing up Jordan in 1997. You’ll always remember Kobe Bryant jumping over an Aston Martin in some Nike Hyperdunks (Yes, we know this was fabricated, but it still counts). On March 18, 2024, the Adidas AE 1 got its moment.

Anthony Edwards posterized John Collins in the “Georgia Red Clay” colorway of his first signature sneaker. It was the ultimate stamp on what was already a picture perfect rollout for his debut sneaker. Once again, Edwards and the AE 1 found themselves at the front of the sneaker (and basketball) conversation. Signature basketball sneakers feel the coolest that they have in quite some time. And the AE 1 is the biggest reason why.

Don’t get us wrong. Basketball sneakers have still had their off-court moments in recent years, but they haven't been nearly as prevalent in the lifestyle market as they once were. The Nike Ja 1 seemed poised for a strong debut before off-court troubles and injuries for Ja Morant halted its momentum. LeBron James’ line has remained pretty consistent, but has just lacked that extra layer of storytelling and lifestyle appeal since the #LeBronWatch series with the 15 in 2018. And Puma has found a winning formula by pairing LaMelo Ball’s sneakers with nostalgic cartoon themes like Dexter’s Laboratory, but a lot of them are a bit too zany to actually be worn casually. The AE 1 feels different. 

It all started with the video spots, directed by Kevin “Onda” Leyva, that put Edwards in front of a peach background to match the debut colorway of his sneakers. In one ad, he’s rifling through a duffel bag full of the competition’s signature sneakers like the Nike Air Zoom Generation and Puma MB. 02. “Nah they ain’t messing with them,” Edwards repeats until he ultimately holds up the “Georgia Peach” AE 1 and says, “These the ones.” The shots fired weren’t subliminal. Adidas and Ant Man were taking aim at their biggest competitors. In other spots, they were even doing it using Nike’s own formula. And it was amazing. It’s something we don’t see much of anymore, but we love a good rivalry. The AE 1 ads weren't over produced or flashy. There wasn’t some viral marketing stunt for the sake of social media engagement. They were Ant being Ant. And you felt his personality immediately. The shoe has his name attached to it. That type of connection is important. 

“We believed in the shoe, but the hype and the response to them has been even better than I imagined,” Edwards tells Complex via email. “We put a lot of energy into building something dope, and the energy and the love around the shoe has been incredible.”

More fuel was added to the fire when Edwards got in a social media spat with Kevin Durant a few weeks ahead of the AE 1’s retail launch in December 2023, after an interview clip from Nice Kicks hit social media where the 22-year-old shooting guard said he’d love to see KD in his shoes. Durant responded on X almost immediately writing, “Won’t EVER see me put a big toe in them Mfers.”

Of course, KD is a longtime Nike signature athlete and we will likely never see him wearing Adidas ever. But the encounter sparked even more conversation around the debut signature model. Just a decade ago, Durant’s sneakers like the KD 4 and KD 6 were at the forefront of the signature basketball conversation. The back and forth was almost symbolic, like a passing of the torch to the NBA’s next generation. 

By February, the iridescent All-Star colorway of the AE 1 actually had people excited. We aren’t talking “Galaxy” pack levels, but it did feel good to see some buzz surrounding an All-Star sneaker release again after so many years of lackluster offerings. I actually had to check multiple Foot Lockers (the AE 1 is exclusively sold through Foot Locker’s umbrella of brick-and-mortar stores and before I could even find a pair in stock in my size. Edwards made them look even better on the court by swapping some lime green laces into the pair he wore on Sunday night. Unfortunately, he only tallied a meager four points in the exhibition, but he wasn’t really interested in being competitive anyway. We won’t knock him for it, especially since he literally dropped a career-high 51 last week

All of the commotion around the AE 1 has helped nurture its reputation. But that wouldn’t mean anything if the shoe wasn’t visually interesting. And it is, thanks to the wavy honeycomb panels that cover the AE 1’s mesh upper. It feels like something pushing Adidas into the future rather than focusing on the past (notice the lack of obvious Three Stripes branding). Its look almost feels like a spiritual successor to the QNTM from the now-defunct Adidas Yeezy line, which comfortably crosses between on-court and lifestyle spaces.

AE 1 lead designer Patrick Zempolich told Complex back in September 2023 that Edwards pushed them to make him a shoe that “didn’t look like anything else on the market.” 

“These shoes got my name on them so I gotta make sure they fye,” Edwards tells Complex. “I'm involved every step of the way. I trust my team to do what they do, and I'm constantly sharing my ideas, giving thoughts and feedback on everything.”

The ascension of the AE 1 is a stark contrast to the life cycle that we have seen from other signature lines that made their debut this season. Devin Booker’s Nike Book 1 stumbled out of the gates when a Suns-inspired orange colorway released in limited quantities during Miami Art Basel instead of Phoenix. Some have called the shoe boring. Booker himself even commented on frustrations with the rollout on social media. People are starting to come around on it, but it certainly isn’t as white hot as the AE 1 has been.

It was clear that Nike was trying to make a performance sneaker that could easily cross over into the lifestyle space when designing the Book 1, hence its more simplistic design. There was no obvious effort to do that with the AE 1. It became that naturally. Wale is getting fits off with multiple colorways on Instagram. Gilbert Arenas is actually showing these things off with jeans. And it doesn’t look completely atrocious. When’s the last time that’s happened? 

One of the most impressive pieces of this whole thing is that Ant is even an Adidas signature athlete in the first place. During his high school days at Holy Spirit Prep in Atlanta, he wore Under Armour sneakers. As a Georgia Bulldog, he hooped in team colorways of Nike signatures like the Zoom Freak 1 and Kyrie 5. The Nike allegiance carried into his rookie NBA season. For his first Media Day photoshoot, he wore “Tune Squad” LeBron 17 Lows and laced up the Kobe V in games that season. Adidas being able to sign him after many years wearing other brands is a big deal.

Adidas certainly needed it. Its basketball division has been sputtering since Derrick Rose took the league by storm in 2010 and gave some juice to the first few installments of the Adidas DRose line before knee injuries derailed his career. It's gotten superstars like Damian Lillard and James Harden to sign on since, but both of their lines have been inconsistent, to say the least. Trae Young and Donovan Mitchell’s lines have done even less. Jerry Lorenzo’s overhaul of the Basketball division never really materialized. Having so much success out of the gate with Edwards is hopeful. It gives Adidas a solid foundation to keep building on for the future.

The hardest part for Adidas now will be keeping up that momentum. Edwards’ on-court play certainly won’t falter. He’s one of the best young superstars in the NBA, a nightly highlight reel. Let’s just hope Adidas doesn’t get the wrong idea and flood the market with too much of a good thing, like it has in the past with successes like the NMD or Ultra Boost. Frankly, oversaturation is a much larger issue plaguing the sneaker market, but we’ll save that for another day. For now, let’s just hope that the AE 2 can live up to its predecessor.

We haven’t seen even the slightest teaser of what is to come. But the Timberwolves guard seems confident that this isn’t a fluke. 

“We got more heat on the way,” says Edwards. “This is just the beginning.”