Today, I will be laying it all out on how to buy basketball shoes for YOU.
Out of the thousands of different models, dozens of brands, marketing tricks, new “revolutionary” technologies coming out every few months, it’s really tough to get a good grasp of what’s good and what’s just advertising.
We’ve come to a point where brand competition is as aggressive as it can be. That’s both a good and a bad thing.
The good thing is that Nikey, Adidas and many others are pushing their boundaries to come up with a superior product each time, and also offer a better price than its competitor.
The bad thing – there’s so much out there now and if you’re not an expert and you’re not following every single release out there, I feel you!
But no need to worry – that is the exact reason I’ve come up with this guide.
I hope that I will be able to use my personal experience and give you actually practical and relevant advice on how to buy basketball shoes that are right for your play style, body, and all the important factors that come into play.
SHOW TABLE OF CONTENTS
- The Golden Rule
- Key Factors: What to Look For?
- Now Go Pick a Shoe For YOU
THE GOLDEN RULE
Okay, so before I jump into the specifics, I’d like to greatly emphasize one key thing.
Do not over complicate this.
Go for what feels right for you. Don’t be worried that your choice does not have as many fancy technologies from a popular brand. I had tons of cases where a $110 shoe felt ages ahead of $220 Nikeys.
If it feels and plays well – that is ultimately what you need to be wearing.
I am just here to give you general guidelines on how to choose a sneaker that would fit your general criteria.
From there, it’s all you.
So have fun!
KEY FACTORS: WHAT TO LOOK FOR?
Alright, with that in mind, let’s start off by laying down the main variables that you need to be aware of before looking for a basketball shoe.
There are of course more than what I’m going to cover here, but in my opinion, these are the most important ones:
- Your play style
- Your courts (outdoors, indoors, both)
- Your foot type
Now obviously, there’s also your budget – but as I said, there will be so many times when the price simply won’t tell the full story, so I decided to stick to the shear values and not the price tag.
Let’s break down each factor one by one.
I. THE PLAY STYLE
This one’s likely a bit obvious but the most critical.
Your play style determines how physical your game is.
If you’re an explosive, agile, and very physically-orientated player, chances are you will need a more durable, softer shoe that would not slow you down but also absorb the shock while landing or changing directions.
This is extremely important and your knees will love you for a good choice. Especially if you’re older and heavier.
If you’re someone who likes to play below the rim, you’re more focused on controlling scenarios from a technical standpoint, you like to pull up more often than drive hard, and your style does not require as much physical demand, then it’s best to look for something different.
You can actually save a bit more cash in this case since less-cushioned shoes are often less expensive.
I’d recommend looking for something with really aggressive traction to grip the court well (obviously that’s good for all players but for someone who sticks to the ground and makes precise moves often, this is very critical), and also something lighter, with less cushion to avoid losing speed & court control.
And you really should not over complicate the playstyle component more than that.
THE PERFECT EXPLOSIVE PLAYER SHOES
Let’s break it down and show some solid examples.
A heavier, more explosive, and physically orientated player would need:
- More present cushion at the heel and midfoot to absorb more shock: Adidas’s BOOST cushion, Nikey’s full-length ZOOM AIR, any kind of higher, especially full-length (throughout the whole foot) cushion setup.
- A strong upper & general build to withstand more wear and tear: leather, plastic-infused mesh, nubuck, etc.
I love the Nikey Kyrie 5 (click for my in-depth review of the shoe) – a strong upper with Nike’s surprisingly really good ZOOM AIR Turbo cushion. Not too springy or bouncy but just enough to make it comfortable.
Adidas Dame 5 (click for a review) – Damian Lillard’s shoe line still gives us total bombs and this one’s no exception. It won’t make you jump higher but it will provide a very pleasant experience.
As a matter of fact, I’ve written a whole article on the topic of basketball shoes increasing your vertical.
If you’re interested in my take on it, some killer recommendations, and how to actually work on your vertical, check the post right here.
THE PERFECT BELOW THE RIM PLAYER SHOES
A lighter (not necessarily), below the rim player with less focus of physical ability, would need:
- A lighter build with less present cushion to supplement quickness and to conserve energy.
- Excellent sole traction that lasts the whole game, to accompany precision on the court.
Now, of course, there are the in-between scenarios and I know many of you will fit into that category.
But that’s the beauty of it – you will gravitate towards something that you personally like more.
Stick with these two main guidelines and go from there.
If you’re very explosive but you’re not a fan of harder materials (like leather, suede, etc.) then go for something with good cushion & soft material combo.
If you’re a shooter, like to stick to the ground but you love a softer bounce in your shoes – get a very grippy shoe that isn’t too heavy but will also offer a nice, pleasant bounce thanks to its foam in the heel or forefoot.
That would be the main premise.
Let’s move on to the other factors!
II. THE COURT
This one’s pretty quick and straightforward. The main idea is that there are shoes that have soles which are better for indoors, there are shoes that are better for outdoors and then there are the so-claimed “versatile” ones too.
If you’re playing mostly indoors, then you’re in luck.
Most of today’s mainstream basketball shoes are really good for indoor play.
So it’s not worth overanalyzing your purchase if you’ll be playing on mostly indoor wood or something similar that is soft. I had a few cases where a shoe performed great outdoors and poorly indoors but these are extremely rare examples, so you shouldn’t even take that into account.
Now, for outdoors – it’s a bit different.
There’s actually a good amount of models out there that won’t grip as well or, the most common scenario, won’t last as long outdoors as they would indoors.
If you’re mostly a park player or you pick it up go at it wherever you like outdoors, it’s best to look for a shoe with a non-translucent midsole (solid color) and that has a more present, aggressive traction pattern.
Those are always better grippers and the harder (and more in your face) the pattern is, the longer the shoe will be able to sustain that traction outside.
Lastly, I’ve seen a few models that perform as amazing outdoors as they do outdoors.
But once again – the logic here is simple. These versatile shoes fall into the outdoor criteria most of the time.
If the sole is tough, it’s solid and it’s a good pattern – chances are it will work really well for all types of courts.
As I said, there are always some exceptions but you should never look at those as a starting point.
Let’s break it down!
THE INDOOR KINGS
If you’re playing mostly indoors:
- 95% of today’s basketball shoe market will do the job just fine.
- The softer and translucent outsoles especially excel indoors.
The LeBron 16, the Nike PG 3’s, and the Under Armour Curry 6 would be one of my personal favorites in terms of indoor traction.
THE OUTDOOR KINGS
If you’re playing mostly outdoors:
- The outsole should be solid and non-translucent.
- Look for an aggressive, harder compound traction pattern.
The Nikey Kyrie line is something you should be looking at here. The Kyrie 2, Kyrie 2 Low, the Kyrie 3 are all amazing options that will grip asphalt and last you as long as possible.
THE ALL-IN-ONE SITUATION
If you like to turn it up both indoors and outdoors:
- Stick with the criteria of a good outdoor shoe – those do a great job indoors as well, 95% of the time.
- Make sure to read reviews and what people are saying about the shoe you’re looking to buy, just in case that model is an exception to the rule above.
III. FOOT TYPE
This one tends to be overlooked by a lot of people, especially the younger generation but it can sometimes really make a huge difference in your experience with the sneaker.
People can be divided into three main groups of feet types when it comes to choosing a basketball shoe:
- A narrow footer
- A regular footer
- A wide footer
Unfortunately, I tend to fall into the last category.
Notice I emphasize that it’s unfortunate – which is why you should definitely not skip this factor.
This is quite tough to indicate, especially at first.
Not a lot of shoe stores or brand websites specify this – but you have to have some general sense if that shoe will fit your foot type.
For narrow footers – most models will fit on them and they are always able to lace ’em up tightly to accommodate for the extra space left.
However, you should keep in mind that harder material shoes, such as suede, leather, nubuck, or some kind of modern PU plastic will naturally leave more dead space for your foot if the shoes are wide, so it’s not always possible to make it 100% right.
Regular footers got the easiest job – most narrow, more compact, or sturdy shoes will still fit right and wider shoes always have the ability to be tightened up.
This will depend on your personal preference as to what you like on your foot.
Now for wide footers – it’s a bit trickier since these days, not that many shoes come out with a wide form factor. Everything seems to be very smooth and compact these days – and it’s not good for your gigantic feet like mine.
In these cases, you will either have to know which models tend to be released that fit wide feet better (look for lists of these kinds of shoes online, look up reviews) or just stick to a simple rule.
And that rule is, go for softer, more flexible materials that can be stretched more than your regular nubuck or fake leather.
Alright, let’s break this down!
NARROW FOOT: WHAT TO LOOK FOR?
If you’re a narrow footer:
- Most stuff is going to fit you right, with the help of adjusting your laces if too wide.
- If you suspect you might need to lace them up tightly, look for a model with a more giving upper: knit, mesh, textile.
The Nikey KD line is the clear king here. The materials are all soft and feel really nice and most of the releases are catered towards a narrow, compact build. The KD 12 (click for my in-depth review of the shoe) is currently the latest of Durant’s iteration and it’s really nice!
REGULAR FOOT: WHAT TO LOOK FOR?
If you’re a regular footer:
- You’re in luck – most of today’s shoes will love your foot. Best to choose your personal preference for materials.
WIDE FOOT: WHAT TO LOOK FOR?
If you’re a wide footer:
- Look for shoes with a wider visual form factor.
- Look up reviews and people’s experiences on the shoe, as it’s often indicated if it’s wide-foot friendly.
- If you’re really unsure, choose the safe route: look for soft upper materials that can be stretched: textile, any kind of kind + PU combo, mesh, etc.
Something that does my feet justice would be the Nikey LeBron 17 released not long ago, Adidas’s Crazy Light and Crazy Explosive lines are both brilliant by delivering good performance, comfort and also giving materials.
NOW GO PICK A SHOE FOR YOU
It all comes back to the golden rule – the #1 thing still has to be that you like the experience. Doesn’t matter what the specifications, price, or variables are there on paper – you won’t really know what you like until you try a few.
BUT, stick to these guidelines and you will be well on your way to getting as close as possible to make your first awesome basketball shoe purchase!
It’s one thing to make a purchase and hoop into your favorite pair of sneakers all day. Taking good care of your kicks is a whole different subject that will ensure your sneakers will last as long as possible and also look fresh all the time. Check out my ultimate basketball shoe cleaning guide RIGHT HERE.
Can’t afford to spend a lot of a pair of basketball shoes? You don’t always have to. I’ve compiled a list of the very best sneakers just under $100.
Now that you got yourself covered and chose a shoe for you, perhaps you got or know a young, upcoming kid to get himself a new shoe? Check my basketball shoes for kids guide HERE!
If you have any questions, concerns, maybe you think I could add something to the guide or have anything else on your mind that you’d like to share…
6 thoughts on “How to Buy Basketball Shoes: The Perfect Guide (2020)”
I am not a basketball fan but knowledge is never wasted, you can never tell when it’s needed. Never thought to choose basketball shoes had factors to be considered do its a new one for me. Above all, it was a really educational post. Thanks for sharing it with the house.
Thanks a bunch! I put my time and effort into actually composing something that works practically, nice to see people acknowledging it. Will keep going!
Hi and thanks for this. The days when I would play such sports are long over. In fact, I had a rather unfortunate experience trying to transition from rugby to basketball one afternoon. I forgot where I was in a moment and reached out with my free hand to push an opponent away. I soon found myself on the bench. So while I may not be a customer for basketball shoes, my son, on the other hand, does play from time to time and more to the point he almost only every wears this kind of footwear whether on or off a basketball court. His birthday is approaching so your article is most opportune. Thanks for this and best regards, Andy
Anytime Andy! Damn, that’s what happens when your muscle memory is used to playing and performing specific movements of another sport. I am sure your son will dig this guide, some really cool gems are hidden inside!
I don’t play basketball but your review makes me want too! I am from the UK, so it’s not a massively popular sport over here (although, that is changing). I love the Under Armour shoes. Their shoes always boast comfort as well as style. The detail that you have gone into means that newbies to the sport will have a go to place if they are not unsure of what footwear to buy. Awesome idea!
UK’s recently been on a roll with basketball, so times are changing a bit now! Yeah, gotta admit Under Armour is pretty much always killing it with their fit and overall design that accommodates a great fit. I gotta say though, that doesn’t always transition well specifically for basketball shoes, which is why you don’t see UA’s sneakers on people’s lists that often.