words // Zack Schlemmer
We’re now deep into the second round of the NBA Playoffs, the most wonderful time of the year for basketball fans. As the sneaker connoisseurs we all are, the Playoffs are more to us than just the high intensity, high stakes play on the court. It’s also a time we pay extra close attention to what the biggest stars are wearing on foot, and a time when lasting moments are made by the players wearing these shoes—moments that can forever associate a sneaker with spectacular plays, career landmarks and championships won. There’s even shoes that have been given nicknames from playoff moments, like the “Flu Game” Air Jordan XII and “Last Shot” Air Jordan XIV. Not only were these two of the most celebrated moments in Michael Jordan’s career, they went on to have special significance in the sneaker world, as well as NBA history.
With this special connection between footwear and great playoff moments in mind, today we’ll countdown the ten most important shoes in NBA playoffs history.
10. Reebok Answer IV
Not only is the Answer IV one of Allen Iverson’s most celebrated signature models with Reebok, it’s the shoe AI wore during his lone NBA Finals appearance in the 2000-01 season. The shoe that one of the most electrifying players in NBA history wore on his ride to the Finals definitely makes for an important shoe, especially when you factor in the infamous step over Tyronn Lue. If Iverson and the 76ers could have pulled out the championship victory, the Answer IV could be much higher on this list.
9. Nike Air Flight One
A young Penny Hardaway wearing them on his way to the NBA Finals in only his second NBA season in 1995 and one of the only shoes ever worn on court by Michael Jordan that wasn’t his own? The Air Flight One is undoubtedly an important shoe to the history of the Playoffs.
8. Nike Zoom Kobe IV
While the Kobe IV was already an important shoe to basketball for reintroducing the low-top as a popular option, the model was also important to the NBA Playoffs for being the shoe Kobe wore to his first Championship without the help of Shaq. It was also the first shoe to receive special graphic editions (featuring his stats from the season) specifically for the Finals, in both home and away colorways.
7. Air Jordan 1 ‘White/Black/Red’
As you already know, the Air Jordan 1 is probably the most important sneaker of all time. It’s basically the shoe that started it all. Adding to its legacy, Michael scored a still-standing playoff record of 63 points in one game—against the Boston Celtics who would go on to with the title in 1986, no less— wearing a pair of the iconic white, black and red colorway.
6. Converse Weapon
Larry Bird. Magic Johnson. Isaiah Thomas. Kevin McHale. Bernard King. Basically if you were a superstar in the NBA in the 1980’s and your name wasn’t Michael Jordan, you were probably wearing the Weapon at one time or another. The Weapon saw more than its share of time on court in the Playoffs, including on the feet of Larry Bird on his way to 1986 Finals MVP honors. Ditto for Magic Johnson in 1987. The Weapon was one of the most important basketball shoes of the 80’s, so its inclusion in this list is a no-brainer.
5. Air Jordan XII “Flu Game”
Although the black/white Air Jordan XII got the “Playoffs” nickname, the black and red version is actually the more important playoffs shoe thanks to the “Flu Game”. The fabled NBA Finals Game 5 where Michael scored 38 points while sick with a severe case of the flu will go down as one of the most legendary games in playoffs history, so while the “Playoffs” Air Jordan XII is great, the “Flu Games” will always be more historic.
4. Nike Lebron 9 Elite
LeBron James silenced his haters (well, some of them, anyway) when he finally won his first NBA Championship in 2012. On his feet for his first title were the souped-up playoff edition of the LeBron 9 with reinforced carbon fiber paneling, a Zoom and Max Air cushioning combo, and plenty of style with metallic gold accents. By the end of Lebron’s illustrious career, the shoe he won his first championship in will definitely be an important one.
3. Air Jordan XIV “Last Shot”
The Air Jordan XIV was only worn by Michael Jordan on court for a brief time (three games, to be exact), but the significance of what Michael did in them—hit his last game-winning shot as a Chicago Bull, that also happened to be a Championship-winning shot—still makes it one of the most important shoes not only in playoffs history, but of MJ’s entire career.
2. Air Jordan VI ‘Black/Infrared’
One of the best colorways of one of the favorite Air Jordan models, and the shoe Jordan wore en route to his first NBA Championship in 1991. What else needs to be said?
1. Air Jordan XI / Nike Air More Uptempo / Air Shake NDESTRUKT
The Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, had a historic 72 wins during their 1995-95 season. That time period also happened to be one of the greatest years ever for basketball footwear. For example, the Air Jordan XI worn by MJ, the Air More Uptempo worn by Scottie, and the Air Shake NDESTRUKT worn by The Worm that were the trio’s models of choice for the 1996 Playoffs run on the way to the first of their three titles together. Three legends of the game and three amazing shoes add up to a team win for the greatest shoes in NBA playoffs history.