2021 has already passed the halfway mark and it’s looking REALLY good for hoopers and sneaker enthusiasts alike. Regardless of when you happen to visit this list, let me break down what I think are the absolute best basketball shoes of 2021 RIGHT NOW.
SHOW TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Read This First!
- How I Chose the Shoes
- Best Basketball Shoes of 2021
- Best Overall #1: Nike Cosmic Unity
- Best Overall #2: Air Jordan 35 Low
- Best for Low-Profile Guards: Nike Kyrie Low 4
- Best for High Leapers: Nike LeBron 18 Low
- Best for the Classic Big Man: Nike KD 14
- Best on a Budget: Nike Precision 5
- Best for Outdoors: Li-Ning Way Of Wade 9
- Most Supportive: BrandBlack Rare Metal 2
- Most Comfortable: Curry 8 Flow
- Best for Wide Feet: adidas D Rose 11
- Biggest Letdown: adidas Harden Vol. 5
- Step Your Shoe Expertise Game Up!
READ THIS FIRST!
Expect removals, replacements, and additions to the list as the year comes to a close. I’m always on the hunt for new shoes to test out and recommend to you. So for those who are looking to grab the latest and greatest – don’t bite on Nike’s or adidas’s marketing schemes just yet.
You need to know what you need and why – it’s not all about the freshness of a sneaker, nor it’s all about the price. Especially in today’s times.
So first, let me give you some context as to how I put the list together and what you should know before getting into the picks…
> If you don’t care about that and you’re just here for the shoes, click here to jump straight to it!
HOW I CHOSE THE SHOES
The main points of emphasis & rules I stuck to when choosing the shoes
I believe it’s important for you to know the reasoning behind the choices I’ve made before fully trusting me with the shoes. This is exactly why I explain my main motives behind the process of selecting each shoe for EVERY shoe list I’m doing.
This will give you some context for each pick and also provide some insight into how exactly you should be picking a pair for YOU.
It’s pretty simple and some people definitely tend to overcomplicate it but there’s still a few things worthy of knowing.
I. THE PLAYER
I’m a 6’1 two-guard a ~175 lbs right now, and I’m an explosive slasher to the rim who does a lot of offensive moves to get to the basket for finishes or kick-outs to shooters. For my size, I consider myself a physical, athletic player but I also do a little bit of everything on the court.
Because of all this, I’m a pretty damn solid candidate to really test out each shoe’s limits when it comes to performance & reliability since I put so much force on my body when playing. It should be a great benchmark for all of you to grasp whether a shoe can supplement a demanding player’s game on the court.
I’m not a pro player by any means though – just a huge hoops & sneakers fan who’s been into basketball & training for multiple years.
I’m also a wide footer, and one by a pretty large margin. Because of this, you’ll find out which shoes are better equipped to fit a wider foot in the long term.
II. TRIED-AND-TRUE KICKS ONLY
I’m not going to mention any sneaker I haven’t personally played in and formed a comprehensive enough opinion on. This usually takes over a couple of months but I usually play in each pair longer before posting a dedicated review.
I believe this will produce the most authentic, experience-based list where you will actually be able to relate to some degree, as well as form a realistic opinion on a shoe.
So if you’re aware of some 2021 kicks that are well-received but you’re not seeing them here or there’s no link to a review – this is because I haven’t got my hands on ’em yet or haven’t played in them enough to put out a full review.
This hobby tends to get expensive but I do my best to catch most of the releases each year – be on the lookout for new options added!
Lastly, all of the ratings you see mentioned are based only on my personal opinion. No store ratings/other review ratings are taken into account.
III. VERSATILE PERFORMANCE
Obviously, I only picked the sneakers I had a positive experience with while playing or shooting around.
This means that each shoe offers a comfortable & secure fit, good traction to grip a variety of surfaces consistently, supplemental cushion that absorbs impact & returns energy well, support features that don’t overly restrict, yet provide a secure experience.
And of course, I’m also looking for a quality build – reliable material choices that won’t break down quickly but also comfort and the build’s ability to move with my foot naturally.
The shoe list is divided into several categories to better fit different players/situations. HOWEVER, the key is still versatility here. Despite the category, I picked the shoes that still offer a mostly versatile experience for anyone, regardless of the situation.
In other words, you’ll ideally want to aim towards a shoe that best suits YOU but you won’t be missing out if you go with a “guard’s” shoe while you’re a bigger wing. Each shoe should still do the trick.
IV. YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GUARANTEE A 100% MATCH
Something important to understand is the fact that you can never assure you’ll be having success with ANY shoe despite what the people say about it. That includes my opinion as well.
Each foot shape is different, as well as physical attributes, the courts we’re playing on, our age, our training experience, and many more. This is why you have to take things with a grain of salt, do as much research about a shoe as possible, then make an informed purchase decision and see what happens.
You might land a strike or you might end up not liking the shoe at all. This happens and we can’t do anything about that.
However, this is why I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE to read a dedicated shoe review for each option you’re interested in. I’ll leave links to reviews of each shoe in the list.
A quick overview or a brand’s little pitch is not enough if you really care about finding THE shoe for you. You’ll minimize the risks to a minimum.
BEST BASKETBALL SHOES OF 2021
Shoes are divided into categories in which they excel the most. Each shoe’s overview, strong points, possible drawbacks, and additional things you should know before buying
Last updated on the 19th of July, 2021
I. BEST OVERALL #1
Nike Cosmic Unity, $150
WHY IT’S A GREAT OVERALL CHOICE
This one happened to feel so well-rounded for me and struck a near-perfect balance of, well, everything.
There’s comfort thanks to the pleasant knit & textile upper, a fantastic full-length Zoom Air strobel that’s just as bouncy as it is low to the ground (so you’re getting the best of both worlds cushion-wise), and solid all-around security that didn’t take away from my freedom of movement. At all.
And don’t forget about beastly traction that’s also pretty good for outdoor play. And I’m not talking about a few games here and there. There are heavier-duty options for long-term outdoor play, of course, but if happen to be interested in the Cosmic Unity and planning to step out outdoors sometime – you’ll be covered!
Whether you’re a guard, a big guy, a shooter, or just a casual hooper that shoots hoops on Sundays, I’m fairly sure you’ll find this shoe a treat to wear. One of those shoes where everything just flows so well, and I loved it.
It was tough to find negatives for this one.
The first that came to mind was the fact that these aren’t a tank for multiple-season outdoor play.
I’ve only played in these for about 4-5 months now (on and off) and while the rubber is still looking solid, judging from the softness of the grooves and how it initially looked out of the box, I wouldn’t give these an approval for multiple years of outdoor play. Just my two cents.
And one more thing – the Cosmic Unity is not a perfect shoe for wide footers. I’ve got a pretty severe case of wide feet and I was never able to reach that 100% level of comfort since I could feel more pressure on some days, while things were just fine the other days.
Fit/comfort rating: 8.5 | Performance rating: 9.5 | Value rating: 8 | Outdoor rating: 7.5
Sizing: true to size for everyone
Weight: 15.04 oz / 426 g. (size 10 US)
Build: knits and textiles. Standard lace & tongue construction. Perforated fabric tongue
Cushion: full-length Zoom Air strobel
II. BEST OVERALL #2
Air Jordan 35 Low, $175
WHY IT’S A GREAT OVERALL CHOICE
While the original version came out in 2020, the low-top was debuted in early 2021 and it’s simply just as good as the mid-top counterpart.
The AJ 35 Low offered me solid traction that gripped outdoor courts with no issues, a tweaked cushion setup that’s a bit firmer than the AJ 34’s but still extremely well-balanced, as well as phenomenal support without wrecking mobility. Something AJ never fails in.
The upper is a mix of old-school and new-school, combining comfort, structure, and reliability. I actually prefer this setup over AJ 34’s already fantastic build. The shoe also offers a very supportive frame along with unparalleled torsional support thanks to the Eclipse Plate 2.0, making this one a realistic option for flat footers.
A nagging issue some people had with both the AJ 35 and AJ 35 Low is the nylon cable loops digging into the foot’s arches when you crank up the laces. I’ve experienced this myself but for me, it got much better the more I played and messed around with the laces.
Some people reported that it never went away and even was a dealbreaker for some. Something to keep in mind. Check out the full review for a more detailed breakdown!
Also, neither of the AJ 35 versions are going to be your primary outdoor options. I’d say the Cosmic Unity above offers more durable outsoles. I still played in both the AJ 34 and the 35 outdoors for a while and I could see the pattern getting torn up more every day.
Still more durable than your average indoor sneaker we see some much of these days.
Fit/comfort rating: 8 | Performance rating: 10 | Value rating: 8.5 | Outdoor rating: 6
Sizing: true to size for everyone
Weight (mid-top): 14.98 oz / 425 g. (size 10 US)
Build: genuine leather & textile (version A). Genuine suede & textile (version B)
Cushion: unlocked forefoot & heel Zoom Air + Phylon midsole
Additional notes: took a couple of weeks to adjust to the shoe. An upgrade over the Air Jordan 34 material-wise
III. BEST FOR LOW-PROFILE GUARDS
Nike Kyrie Low 4, $110
WHY IT’S A GREAT FIT FOR A LOW-PROFILE GUARD
If you know a thing or two about all of Kyrie Irving’s signature shoe lines – you’re probably aware that his shoes are some of the lightest, fastest, and most guard-orientated builds you can find on the market.
This is exactly what his latest shoe from the Kyrie Low line is all about. The Kyrie Low 4 isn’t particularly my cup of tea, to be honest, but that’s fine. I see a fantastic option for that light, quick low-profile guard or shooter here.
The shoe gripped the concrete and rubber surfaces I’ve played on just as well as a Kyrie silhouette usually does, the cushion setup barely offered any real feedback but it’ll be a killer option if you want speed, precision, and that feet-slapped-right-to-the-ground type of ride.
The Kyrie Low 4 isn’t a beast when it comes to support but that’s not the point of this one. The point is to provide a lightweight experience that doesn’t take away an inch of mobility from you while saying fairly secure. That’s exactly what the shoe accomplishes. Full review coming shortly!
While it might not be a point of concern for some, I do have to mention these are just as questionable torsional support-wise as the Kyrie 7 is. No midfoot shank and a fairly flimsy midsole make up for a shoe that I would not recommend to flat footers or those that had issues with their feet.
Sizing: true to size for a snug fit. Might need to go up 1/2 a size for wide footers
Weight: 12.56 oz / 356 g. (size 10.5 US)
Build: textile, TPU piece for the bottom eyelets & foam-backed tongue
Cushion: forefoot Air Zoom Turbo & Cushlon midsole
Additional notes: might feel flimsy at first due to the minimal build & lack of torsional structure. Some people reported initial heel slippage
IV. BEST FOR HIGH-LEAPERS
Nike LeBron 18 Low, $160
WHY IT’S A TREAT FOR HIGH LEAPERS
There can be no shoe list without a LeBron sneaker, now can there? Well, it’s because the guy makes some really good shoes. They’re often not for everybody but if it happens to suit your needs – you’ll be in for one hell of a fun ride. If you can afford that LeBron-ish price tag that is.
The LeBron 18 Low shares some traits of the regular LeBron 18 like the traction (which is solid) but mostly it’s a shoe by its own. It’s got a reworked upper that’s more structured now and the overall package feels a bit more stable.
But it’s the cushion system that’s the main attraction for guys who jump out of the gym on a regular basis. This heel Max Air + React midsole combo feels almost as insane as the LeBron 18’s setup and anything even close to that shoe can already be considered pretty crazy.
You’ll be receiving a TON of impact protection, fantastic step comfort, and some serious bounce upon every cut, jump, or landing. It’s something you gotta experience yourself to understand the near-absurdity of this one.
The shoe is a lot of fun but not without its caveats. It’s a tricky fit for wide footers – I’ve gone true to size but ended up with dead space length-wise. The outsoles are fairly week for long-term outdoor play and the downgraded upper doesn’t really match the price tag in my opinion.
It plays well but a $160 price tag for a basic screen mesh build seems a little overboard.
Fit/comfort rating: 8.5 | Performance rating: 9 | Value rating: 7 | Outdoor rating: 6.5
Sizing: true to size for most. Wide footers – true to size for a tight fit OR up 1/2 a size
Weight: 15.83 oz / 449 g. (size 10 US)
Build: screen mesh & synthetic suede heel. Fuse overlays on high-wear areas
Cushion: heel Max Air & React midsole
Additional notes: might feel unnatural due to the elevated platform at first (if you’re not used to it). Support & containment upgrades over the LeBron 18
V. BEST FOR THE CLASSIC BIG MAN
Nike KD 14, $150
WHY IT’S A GOOD FIT FOR A BIG GUY
While I’m still fairly early with the KD 14 in the testing process, I feel like I know where it’s going. I seem to be enjoying my time in these for every single minute I’m on the court and that’s a good enough indicator for me. Review coming soon though!
Don’t get me wrong, The KD 14 is a great shoe for just about anyone as it’s not particularly made with a center/power forward in mind but if you’re a frontcourt guy who needs that true big man’s shoe – I think this one might be your jam regardless.
Superb traction that won’t get in your way, an amazing Cushlon + Zoom Air strobel combo makes for a versatile ride that’s also ideal for big guys. The ride is soft and plush thanks to Cushlon but the Zoom strobel takes care of the energy return that you get upon every rebound, block, or putback tip-in. You won’t be feeling slow with these.
I’ve also found the shoe to be a supportive one, despite not being a complete tank. I don’t think it’s needed for this one as the shoe really locks you down in place, eliminating the need for a ton of structure on the exterior and keeping the weight in check.
It’s no surprise a KD shoe isn’t a perfect fit for a wide footer and here we are. Even regular/narrow footers can expect a snug, one-to-one fit with their usual size but despite me stepping half a size up, I still don’t find these wide enough for me, especially in the midfoot area where the strap resides.
Also, the strap’s pretty useless performance-wise and it didn’t stay in place at times. Nothing to complain about though as it didn’t have any effect on the court besides me realizing I’ve gotta strap it up the next break.
Sizing: true to size for a tight fit. Up 1/2 a size for wide footers
Build: multi-layered mesh
Cushion: full-length Zoom Air strobel & Cushlon midsole
Additional notes: improved support & stability over the KD 13. The strap gets loose occassionally
VI. BEST ON A BUDGET
Nike Precision 5, $70
WHY IT’S A SOLID BANG-FOR-YOUR-BUCK DEAL
I appreciate Nike’s Precision line for putting out very affordable sneakers that still offer players the needed qualities to hoop on a yearly basis. The Precision 5 is no exception – for 70 bucks, you can’t ask for much more.
These offered me absolutely deadly traction and no issues with dirty floors or anything along those lines. Nike’s budget models always seem to bring the best traction available which is rather weird.
The cushion is packing a basic Phylon midsole, so you’ll get a responsive, low-to-the-ground ride with just a tad bit of compression to keep you comfy. Definitely not a dream setup when it comes to cushioning but one guards or even lighter wings can surely live with while saving some $$$.
Lastly, the Precision 5 actually felt like a very secure shoe despite its extremely lightweight textile & synthetic build. Nikey keeps killing it with the Precision line, to be honest.
You won’t find flagship tech specs here, nor a luxury material setup but if you’re looking to save cash – this will give you the critical qualities needed on the court.
Not your most reliable outdoor shoe. These should hold for a while but if you’re constantly wrecking your shoes on concrete every season – you might need something beefier. And for wide footers – you might feel some pressure from the little foam sidewalls initially. I did.
Fit/comfort rating: 7.5 | Performance rating: 7.5 | Value rating: 8.5 | Outdoor rating: 6.5
Sizing: true to size
Weight: 11.83 oz / 335 g. (size 10 US)
Build: textile & synthetic heel overlay. Fuse overlays on high-wear areas
Cushion: foam midsole (likely Phylon)
Additional notes: my tongues got bunched up at times. The laces also loosened up occassionally
VII. BEST FOR OUTDOORS
Li-Ning Way of Wade 9, $225
WHY IT’S A TANK FOR OUTDOOR PLAY
Last year’s Way Of Wade 8 was, in my opinion, the most secure shoe in the market. Well, the 9th release is no slouch either. I’m almost done fully testing it out and putting the review together – this is a beastly outdoor option everyone should take a look at if you can afford it.
We’ve got an aggressive traction pattern out of these small knobs that are strong to the touch – a couple of months in and I’m having zero issues with durability. The pattern is virtually just as good as it was out of the box which is pretty rare to see these days.
The WOW 9 is also a supportive package that never truly got in my way in terms of movement quality. The zipper shroud looks straight from the Jordan 28 or 34 SE but I’ll take it – it worked for me.
Lastly, we’ve got Li-Ning’s BOOM cushion which is a serious contender for the best cushion systems to date. It’s ULTRA springy yet doesn’t slow me down nor let me sink into the foam. A great setup for unforgiving outdoor surfaces that put more force on your body.
I still need just a bit more time to finalize my thoughts on these but so far, I’m not spotting any major issues. They felt a little stiff and suffocating at first but that’s likely mainly due to my wide feet stretching out the zipper shroud. They feel much better now though.
I’ll update you all if I find anything else!
Sizing: true to size for a snug fit. Up 1/2 a size for wide footers
Build: JIANG upper layer (synthetic) & textile bottom layer
Cushion: BOOM cushion & foam midsole
Additional notes: the zipper shroud was a bit suffocating at first & got loose quickly. A few weeks of wear fixed it
IX. MOST COMFORTABLE
Curry 8 Flow, $160
WHY IT’S THE MOST COMFORTABLE OPTION
There wasn’t even a question for this category. Don’t get it twisted – the Curry 8 is actually a superb all-around performer that will take good care of you on the court but pure comfort and the way it all flows shine the most.
The Curry 8 Flow features a one-piece upper meaning the outsole and the midsole are actually one single piece. There’s also no rubber used on the shoe – the outsole is all foam. The upper itself is utilizing a lightweight knit material, and the cushion for this one is UA’s latest innovation called Flow.
Pair all of that with the fact that this is one of the lightest-feeling sneakers I’ve ever stepped my foot in AND that it’s built pretty much like a runner sneaker, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a ride. These unparalleled heel-to-toe transitions are so damn smooth it’s not even funny.
It’s truly the most comfortable basketball sneaker of the modern era that I can think of right now and I don’t honestly think that’s going to change soon. HOWEVER, don’t think of it as a one-trick pony. It’s so much more than that – read the review for more insight!
This particular runner-like build surely makes me feel like a formula on-court but there are few small things to note. First, you gotta understand this is a very minimal build. As minimal as it gets pretty much. With that, there are bound to be some sacrifices in the support/containment departments.
So, the heaviest and most athletic of players will likely need something with a bit more structure to sustain the amount of force they produce on the court.
Second, my feet (especially my left foot since it’s the smaller one) tend to shift forwards and backward during some movements, resulting in toe bumps to the toebox of the shoe. After a long session on the blacktop, my toes get all banged up.
Fit/comfort rating: 9.5 | Performance rating: 8.5 | Value rating: 8 | Outdoor rating: 7
Sizing: up 1/2 a size for most people
Weight: 12.5 oz / 354 g. (size 10.5 US)
Build: knit w. synthetic overlay on the sides
Cushion: UA Flow
Additional notes: I highly recommend slapping on a pair of grippy socks for these as it might or might not happen to you. Also, lace these up tight and make sure your heel is sitting right next to the back of the shoe.
X. BEST FOR WIDE FEET
adidas D Rose 11, $120
WHY IT’S A SOLID FIT FOR THOSE WITH WIDE FEET
The D Rose 11 is surely not a perfect sneaker but if you’re speaking wide footers – you’re speaking this shoe. For those that got severe cases of wide feet (or just slightly wide), the construction of the Rose 11 is a treat.
The toebox area of the shoe is wide AND tall, so if you’re got wide and thick-boned feet – you should still be good to go without a painful break-in process. The midfoot portion is on the average side but that didn’t cause any issues for me.
And the shoe was easy to put on for a wide footer which is getting rarer and rarer these days. The tongue opens up a lot and the lacing system isn’t some beefy plastic compartment stuff we’ve seen a few times, so it’ll budge.
Apart from being wide foot-compatible, the adidas D Rose 11 brought me awesome traction, balanced cushion, fantastic all-around security, and a basic, yet functional screen mesh & textile upper.
But like I said, this one isn’t perfect. This is definitely not the best option for a non-wide footer as you might have trouble finding the perfect fit (more on this in the full review). Also, due to the completely flat platform, I found the step transitions to be a little sloppy.
If you’ve got an adidas basketball shoe before, you probably know what I mean.
Besides that, the only minor gripe was the laces – they constantly got loose for me and I needed to re-do ’em every few plays/minutes. Once again, something we see far too often on adidas products.
Fit/comfort rating: 7 | Performance rating: 7.5 | Value rating: 8 | Outdoor rating: 8.5
Sizing: trying on in store is recommended. If you’re not able to, a 1/2 size down is encouraged
Weight: 13.99 oz / 397 g. (size 9.5 US)
Build: screen mesh upper layer & textile bottom layer. Textile ankle collar & fabric toebox
Cushion: full-length Lightsrike
Additional notes: some people had initial heel slippage. Might feel a bit sloppy at first – might take some time to get used to it
XI. BIGGEST LETDOWN
adidas Harden Vol. 5, $130
WHY IT’S THE BIGGEST LETDOWN
After an amazing Harden Vol. 3 and just as good Harden Vol. 4, you’d think adidas would only go uphill from there. Well, I don’t know any other way to say this but the 5th shoe in the series is by far the weakest addition in my opinion.
I’m sure the brand and Harden himself had their specific reasons as to why the shoe was built the way it was but for a regular consumer who isn’t exactly a high-level athlete, this is simply an uncomfortable, stiff, heavy-footed experience that brings an impression of a failed concept built in 2007.
Slappy heel-to-toe transitions, a literal plastic upper that just won’t move with your foot, a general heavy-footed feeling while playing, heel slippage, and outsoles that attract dust like magnets. I don’t want to put these on after putting out the review.
THERE ARE SOME GOOD THINGS
I still have to mention the shoe’s strong points since there are some of those. This is a very durable option for outdoors – both the outsole and the build itself should last a long time.
The shoe can also be considered a good fit for a flat footer since the platform is close to being completely flat and torsional support on these is unrivaled.
And of course, the drop-in midsole for cushion was good. Nothing spectacular but good. Sadly though, I can talk about all the little good things the shoe has accomplished but when the foundation isn’t up to par – it all falls apart. I just don’t think you’ll enjoy your time in the shoe regardless.
Fit/comfort rating: 4.5 | Performance rating: 6 | Value rating: 7 | Outdoor rating: 9
Sizing: fits long. TTS for wide footers, possibly down 1/2 a size for everyone else
Weight: 18.29 oz / 519 g. (size 10 US)
Build: one-piece ripstop w. synthetic overlay
Cushion: drop-in midsole w. Lightstrike & Boost
STEP YOUR SHOE EXPERTISE GAME UP!
Your shoe expertise doesn’t have to end here. More guides, useful lists, and reviews are waiting for ya!
This concludes the list of the very best basketball shoes of 2021!
I genuinely hope that you found it informative and will be checking back later for potential updates once I try some stuff out that I haven’t already, or when a new release happens.
With that, I want to encourage you not to end your sneaker knowledge journey just yet! This year is for sure looking strong but make sure to check out my created equivalent lists for 2020 and 2019. Some REALLY strong options there too, and you can get those for cheaper than ever now.
Below you’ll also find my ever-growing catalog of shoe lists such as this one, as well as guides on various shoe/basketball topics that need more insight, and of course, some of the most comprehensive shoe reviews online!
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
I’m super excited to hear your thoughts! What possible additions do you see for the list? Do you own one of the shoes and have a different experience worth sharing? Or perhaps you’ve got a question about anything sneakers/basketball-related?
Leave a comment down below and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can!
I usually reply within the same day on the weekends and almost instantly on weekdays.
Talk to you soon!