If you’re on the market for new basketball shoes, or perhaps you’re just getting into the sport and want to find the best pair for yourself to not look like a clown on the court, we got you covered. We will be introducing you to some of the best basketball shoes to get in 2021.
You should be asking yourself – what kind of environment you’ll be playing in most of the time? Whether it’s indoor or outdoor, the shoes listed here are suitable for both terrains. It might not seem like a significant difference, but indoor is typically the preferred way to play as there are fewer variables like harsh weather and it is overall less taxing on your new shoes.
If you find yourself playing outdoors, regardless of what shoes you pick, we recommend after every session to wipe down your kicks to make sure dirt and debris don’t build up over time and ruin them.
How Are Basketball Shoes Different?
With that out of the way, you might be asking, why even get basketball shoes to begin with? Don’t regular runners work just as well? The truth is, while regular runners will, of course, be fine, specialized basketball shoes will give you the competitive advantage over everyone else by virtue of simply being designed for the sport and its requirements.
The first difference is the weight of a basketball shoe in comparison to other regular shoes because the basketball shoe is typically much lighter. The reason for this is due to the fact that when you’re playing basketball you will be jumping and doing short sprints constantly up and down the court, meaning having shoes that weigh you down will only serve to make you slower and jump shorter.
Secondly, the overall design and composition of basketball shoes are inherently different. Basketball shoes are created with the idea in mind that a person should be able to change directions on a dime, and that your body weight in that directional change is shifted appropriately without issue. The material used in the production of basketball shoes is a testament to that because it is manufactured with durability and versatility in mind without fear of losing shape.
Third, there is the topic of the ankle, which needs to be in constant motion during a game and cannot be hindered at all or have its movement constricted, which can possibly lead to injury. This is why basketball shoes come in one of two forms: high and low tops. The high tops are designed to keep the ankle cushioned and secure while not providing too much resistance, while the low tops are designed to allow for complete freedom with just a little padding at the base of your ankle.
Lastly, we have the soles. The soles of basketball shoes are also inherently different compared to any other shoes because this is the building block on which the player rests his or her ability: the pressure and energy return on jump and impact. Basketball soles cannot be too soft nor too firm, it needs to provide a controlled feel at all times, allow for ample shock absorption, and help power your next movement.
So, without further adieu, here is our list of the 10 best basketball shoes of 2021.
Nike Lebron Soldier XII
First up on our list is the Nike Lebron Soldier XII, sporting a clean and to-the-point design. Inside the shoe is a removable insole made of suede, which improves the quality as well as the feel on your foot. It has a dynamic criss-cross strapping across the entire shoe, giving it a futuristic vibe, and manages to keep your foot locked in securely no matter what movement you make.
This strap is also placed around the ankle for added ankle support, so you get the security you need in the joint area. The Soldier XII also has the Nike Zoom Air units we’ve come to expect, providing added cushioning as well as impact protection and ample energy return. Also included are a heel counter and raised midsole, to help prevent any possible slippage when making radical movement changes.
The circle-mesh upper is engineered to give you stellar breathability and comfort when worn, while also looking pretty slick. The tread pattern on the outsole is a Racetrack Herringbone, being an ideal pattern for gripping to any floor surface, whether its concrete, rubber or hardwood. These are overall a solid pick for basketball sneakers, with a great aesthetic to them.
Unfortunately, there are also a few drawbacks, namely the Nike/Lebron price tag, which doesn’t deviate too much from standard basketball shoe prices, but there are some issues that shouldn’t be present at this price point. The first being that they are a bit narrow along the forefoot, which isn’t ideal if you’ve got wide feet. This could feel somewhat unusual on your feet.
The second being that by foregoing a lace-up design, it might take you some time to get used to the straps, and align them just-right, which can be a nuisance, especially in the middle of a game. Regardless of these drawbacks, the Nike Lebron Soldier XII is a shoe with a solid pedigree and stands as one of the best performance basketball shoes on this list.
+ Great looking shoe
+ Very well padded and protective
+ Treading is solid for both indoor and outdoor play
+ Easily worn off the court as a fashion statement
– Feels narrow and imbalanced for wide-set feet
– Straps aren’t as simple as tried and true lacing
Under Armour Curry 2.5
If high-tops are more your style, and you like the supportive feel of being locked in from top to bottom, the Curry 2.5’s have you covered. They give some of the support of a high top with the freedom of low-top thanks to the “burrito wrap” design in tandem with its asymmetrical lacing system.
The upshot of this is a really secured feeling without being constricted while on the court. If you’ve tried any previous iteration of the Curry’s, you will notice that the 2.5’s are actually better fitting and everything about it is an improvement. The cushioning has been heightened, thanks to the PU insole along with the snug upper, and these shoes end up feeling sock-like. These basketball shoes no doubt feel like an extension of your foot.
The upper is sturdier than older designs and is definitely more durable, so it is suitable for both outdoor and indoor use. Under Armour gave this model a great quality rubber outsole, with a herringbone pattern that allows for multi-directional movement without worry. Overall a solid improvement over previous designs.
The Curry 2.5’s aren’t perfect, though, since there is a noticeable break-in period before you start feeling 100% comfortable in them – about a game or two. They also tend to run a bit small, so if you want the best possible fit, it may be safer to get a half size up to give you the room you need.
+ Locked in feel
+ Feels amazing on your feet
+ More durable than previous models
+ Burrito wrap construction is snug and durable
– Tends to run a little small, half size up recommended
– Takes one or two games to break-in
Adidas Dame 5
Now we have the Adidas Dame 5, with some of the most flamboyant color designs we’ve seen yet. The Dame 5s tout a wider toe box for customizable insoles, a padded pod system to alleviate pain or pressure in pin-pointed locations, and their flexible Adidas Bounce midsole cushioning system. These are some of the most comfortable basketball shoes out of the box.
The ankle design Adidas went for with this shoe was made for those who don’t like to feel loose, and want their shoe comfortable and snug on their feet. The previously mentioned color designs are as follows: Black/Gold/Pink, Seafoam Blue/Turquoise, Bold Gold/Shock Red to even Collegiate Purple and Burgundy variations.
Needless to say, if you’re looking for vibrancy, the Dame 5 delivers it in spades. These shoes are meant to feel bouncy and responsive. Even their durable upper doesn’t need any break-in time to feel good on your feet. For those that need it, the full tongue and knit collar allow you to wear ankle braces with ease.
Unfortunately, the Dame 5 isn’t without drawbacks, because for those of you who expect ample ankle support, the Dame 5’s design is fairly stretchy and loose compared to the norm. They also tend to run a bit big in comparison to the previous Nike basketball shoes listed, so if you’re more in touch with Nike sizing, go half a size down from that.
+ Affordable price point
+ Comfortable and sleek design
+ Great color options
+ Can be worn right out of the box
– Stretchy collar not ideal if you want a locked-down feel
– Doesn’t run true to size, recommended to go half a size down
Under Armour Clutchfit Drive 3
Next up are the Under Armour Clutchfit Drive 3, which are a solid all-around men’s basketball shoes. It is composed of a completely synthetic upper, updated from their previous technology of the Clutchfit Drive 2. The Drive 3 is more breathable, stretchy, and supports the foot far better than previous installments while bringing back things that made the previous models great.
One such returning element is the Micro-G foam that is known to provide amazing cushioning, no matter the surface you’re playing on. They also include an external heel counter that works with the internal shanks to give you superb stability and support while in motion. UA put in a bear-trap lacing system that connects to the high-rising tongue directly to give you an even less compromised fit, letting you feel more locked-in than ever.
The Drive 3’s also feature an Achilles pillow, which supports and pads your Achilles area, which is a small perk you’ll immediately notice if you’ve never had a shoe with this pillow before. Probably best of all is that there is little to no break-in time and they just feel good right out of the box.
Unfortunately, one of the areas where the Drive 3s are lacking is in its breathability. The upper is durable and long-lasting but doesn’t do a stellar job of keeping air circulating. So in more intense games or hot weather, your feet may feel stuffy and overheated. Also, while they are high-tops, the ankle support is actually deceptively flexible, so you might also want to consider picking high top basketball shoes with more firm support if you’re going for that style anyway.
+ Aesthetically appealing design
+ Soft micro-G foam and Achilles pillow
+ Heel counter and internal shank provide good support
+ No break-in time needed
– Upper could be more breathable
– Ankle support is slightly flexible
Air Jordan XXXI Basketball Shoes
A tried and true brand in the business, the Air Jordan line is an absolute classic. The Air Jordan XXXI is a high-topped basketball shoe made of synthetic leather and a rubber outsole. Present inside the shoe is AJ FlightSpeed technology that aims to evenly distribute the compression force of your foot across the Nike Zoom Air unit in the shoe. It maximizes spring-back in this way and gives your next step a bit more explosive power.
The synthetic leather heel and flyweave forefoot join seamlessly internally and allow for your foot to have a natural range of motion that is uninhibited during quick steps or radical shifts. There is also an inner sleeve that wraps around your foot, giving it a more personalized fit, and foam pods in the heel give even more cushion when you land. These are a safe pick all around if you’re looking for a basketball shoe that is generally good and you don’t have to do much research into.
With that said, from a basketball standpoint, these shoes bring nothing new to the table. They lack any spunk besides their Jordan name and don’t particularly stand out. They are simple run-of-the-mill Jordans, so if you want something that sparks more interest, these aren’t really it. On top of that, the uniquely designed high tops likely require some form of layering like high socks to prevent any ankle irritation over a long game.
+ Classic and trusted brand
+ Great spring-back and explosive rebounds
+ Comfortable and protective
+ Inner sleeve fits like a glove
– A little unimaginative from an aesthetic standpoint
– These high tops may require high socks to go with them
Adidas Crazy Explosive
Next up are the Adidas Crazy Explosive Basketball shoes, which come in a variety of colors and are completely synthetic. The Crazy Explosive gets its name thanks to the fact they drastically boost energy-returning properties with every step you take, giving you an almost endless supply of extra energy to give you just a bit more oomph.
It has a very plush and responsive feel when worn, with the overall comfort being praised heavily amongst different players. The Adidas Crazy Explosive also has a mesh tongue, heel insert, and an anatomical lace system, all purpose-built to release pressure and offer great ventilation, which you’ll be needing with all the lift-off you’ll be getting in these.
The four-loop lacing system combines with a TPU cage wrapping around the midsole area to provide you with great security and snugness, and you can definitely feel it all being held together nicely by the midfoot cage. This is above all a lightweight and breathable pair of basketball shoes, and if that is what you value most, then they are a great pick.
The issue with them, though, is the fact that the Explosive’s ankle area is looser than it should be, and while it’s good for ventilation, it’s not the reason someone buys high-tops. On top of that, with the lace and cage duo, it can sometimes be a struggle to put on, which isn’t ideal.
+ Comfortable and smooth ride
+ Very breathable and lightweight design
+ Bound together well by the lacing and TPU cage
+ Affordable price
– Ankle area is a bit loose feeling
– TPU cage and lacing can be a hindrance to putting them on your feet
Nike Prime Hype DF II
Now we have the Nike Prime Hype DF II and don’t be surprised to see too many Nike shoes on the list. These basketball shoes feature the latest in cushioning from the Hype DF line and have been completely remodeled compared to the previous iterations of this line.
They are definitely reminiscent of the Hyperdunk 2014’s, but they do perform differently in comparison. The shoe’s exterior is made of a phylon composition with rubber outsoles for added durability. The sole is anatomically designed to provide great support, traction and responsiveness, especially with the fact Nike threw dual-density foam technology into the mix.
The design overall is created to be a form-fitting high-top that brings comfort, support, and lockdown without restricting your natural movement, and it achieves all of that for a reasonable price. The upper features air mesh for great ventilation, and you’ll notice that the collar is de-coupled, meaning you’ll get more ankle movement than usual, with proper lockdown technology that extends up the ankle.
All things considered, this shoe is a safe bet if you’re looking for a well-ventilated and durable pair of basketball shoes that give you support and flexibility at the same time.
It does have its share of problems though, as the traction on the outsole could have been a bit grippier, and it can be a pain to maintain as it easily attracts dirt, dust, and scuffs. So if any of those things bother you, it may be recommended to find a different pair.
+ Great flexibility and supportive engineering
+ Lightweight and well ventilated
+ Solid ankle support and lockdown
– Could have more traction
– Needs to be properly maintained
Adidas Crazylight Boost Low
Another pair of Adidas on our list (and they won’t be the last) is the Crazylight Boost Lows. These are a 2016 model that focuses on absolute speed and flexibility as you can tell by its design. The Crazylights are a lightweight low-top design that not only improved upon all previous models’ responsiveness and impact protection but also maintained their stability and security.
This low top basketball shoe is designed to be a perfect fit for your foot and comes with a torsional bar, a TPU heel counter as well as nylon lacing. Putting it all together means that your heel, midfoot and forefoot remain well-positioned and can work their absolute best together. Not being dragged down by a bulkier design, you’ll feel very light on your feet and free.
The Adidas Boost midsole is a firm and absorbent-focused design compared to the more cushioned midsoles of previous iterations but still gives you smooth transitions regardless of how you land. If you prefer low-tops and don’t need a lot of ankle support, and could do with some extra freedom to move, the Crazylights have come to save the day. Their molded collar means you get a perfect fit that doesn’t irritate your skin or feel too loose, but just right.
Unfortunately, (as with most things in life) this model isn’t without fault, as for those with wider feet, you may find it to be narrower at the base if you are getting this in your true size. It is recommended you get half a size up if that is the case, allowing for more room for your forefoot. Given some break-in time, it should be fine.
On top of that issue is the fact that this shoe isn’t quite as ventilated as it could be, with minimal design choices pointing towards keeping your foot cool and relying mostly on the fact that it isn’t oppressively large.
+ Great traction
+ Designed for speed and fitting close
+ Firm and absorbent midsole with great transitions and freedom to move
+ Comfortable Boost midsole
– Need half size up if you have wider feet
– Requires a break-in time
– Ventilation could be more prominent
Nike Men’s PG 3
Our penultimate pick for some of the best basketball shoes of 2021 is the Nike Men’s PG 3. These offer an impressive amount of traction and a lightweight cushioning throughout. It is highly responsive and comfortable, to say the least. Nike takes it a step up from the PG 2’s in the cushioning department, as they implemented a softer midsole foam and the Nike zoom unit is significantly more bouncy. When compared to previous iterations you can definitely feel the difference.
As for the traction, it is just amazing, with a unique circular traction pattern that helps plant the shoe on the ground like glue, regardless of angling. The heel provides you with solid impact protection, similar to the PG2 and the upper is soft and supportive overall. If you had to summarize the PG 3s, the description would boil down to – lockdown, support, and cushioning.
These are aspects that PG 3 delivers in spades, and you wouldn’t know any better if you were just looking at it from a shelf of other similar looking designs.
This is where the problem lies, the shoe’s appearance is just uninspired and not interesting. Nothing grabs you and no part of its design leads you to believe it is as good as it is. It looks dull. This is likely its fatal flaw, but if you prefer the muted and unassuming look and in return being given a solid all-around basketball shoe that performs well by all other metrics, the PG 3 is definitely the one for you.
+ Great traction
+ Delivers superb bounce and softness
+ Responsive and supportive upper
+ Solid lockdown
– Uninspired look that screams ‘budget’ more than ‘signature shoe’
Adidas Harden Vol. 3
Our final shoe on this list is another Adidas – the Harden Vol. 3. This shoe takes a lot of inspiration from the things Adidas Crazylights did right. The Vol. 3 is a lightweight and low-top textile upper basketball shoe with an elastic lace closure. This shoe features a solid herringbone traction pattern that lends itself to both indoor and outdoor play, with a comfortable and quality feel to them.
Compared to Vol. 2’s outsole, it lasts much longer in outdoor settings without significant wear. The Harden Vol. 3 is an amazing lightweight shoe that for many people, is the best the Harden series has to offer, especially at an affordable price. The textile woven-upper and leather pull tabs feel smooth on your feet and the Boost midsole is just the right amount of firm thickness to give you a great feeling on the court with ample responsiveness.
These shoes have a really short break-in time, similar to its successor, the Vol. 4’s, and one of the biggest upsides to these shoes is the fact that they don’t easily stretch, maintaining shape and not compromising lateral stability in the long-run.
In other Adidas model’s with the Boost cushioning, they are filled to the brim with extra padding, but since the Harden Vol. 3’s have significantly less caging, Adidas was able to give less Boost but maintain the same effect and feel of the other Boost product lines, making it even lighter.
The only semi-major issues the Harden has is the fact that the heel can feel slightly uncomfortable at first, requiring a bit of breaking in. Another thing to note is that this shoe isn’t ideal for heavier players who exert a lot of force and need more impact control from their basketball shoes. If you are a heavier person, you might want to consider something with additional impact absorption.
+ Stellar improvements over the Vol. 2
+ Lightweight and quality feel
+ Very responsive and comforting midsole
– The heel tab may cause discomfort before being broken in properly
– Not ideal for heavier players who need more impact control
What to Look out for When Buying Basketball Shoes
This mostly concerns the uppers of the basketball shoe in question. You are looking for a pair that has a highly breathable material because your feet are constantly under stress from all angles and being moved in every way imaginable. This causes heat and sweat build up if left unchecked. Ventilated uppers make it so the warm air is expelled quickly and your foot remains in a constant state of cooling to combat the energy generated.
As mentioned earlier, a cushioned midsole is a very important thing to look out for when it comes to picking good basketball shoes. You need something that fits your personal preference, but the ideal standard is a cushioning that is firm enough to not lose shape and generate lift-off, but also soft enough to not feel stiff when in motion. If midsoles are too stiff, this would otherwise lead to blistering and aches.
This factor is slightly more important when you’re playing outside as opposed to indoors. It’s important to pick wide-set tread patterns that allow for debris to clear the bottom of your outsoles easily and not get stuck. This may not be as important if you’re planning on playing exclusively indoors. Indoor play requires a tread pattern that is grouped closer together to increase traction and therefore friction generated from the outsole.
This is because the movements and quick steps you will be making in a fraction of a second mean you cannot afford to slip up. Slippage would not only result in the lost opportunity presented to you but also the risk of injury.
A quick tip if this isn’t your first rodeo if you know where on the sole you tend to put the most pressure on (and wear out quicker), try to find a pair of shoes that have ample treading and grooves in that area. This will give you a longer-lasting shoe down the line, as it won’t wear down as much.
If you’re a person who has a history of twisting ankles or simply being sensitive in that area, you should equip yourself correctly with a cushioned ankle support that ensures your ankle area is as protected as possible. In this case, high-tops should probably be your preferred choice.
Overall, we’ve given you a comprehensive list of the best basketball shoes you can pick up in 2021, with varying styles and price ranges. It definitely isn’t easy trying to find the perfect pair of basketball shoes, but it is infinitely better to do some research beforehand, compare shoes to your tastes, and being properly equipped to get on the court with the right gear.
All of the shoes here are perfectly fine for use in both indoor and outdoor settings, and they all have their own major strengths and weaknesses for you to gauge. There is definitely a pair of basketball shoes in here for everybody, and we hope to have given you a bit more insight and helped you get one step closer to picking out your next pair of kicks.