You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

How Old-School Basketball Sneakers Became the Hottest New Shoes

GQ logo GQ 2/17/2021 Tres Dean
a pair of shoes © Photo Illustration by C.J. Robinson

Basketball shoes are a constant in the sneaker world, but the kind of hoops shoe that makes noise has grown a little stale. There are the monthly Air Jordan sell-outs, of course, and the occasional performance sneaker that still manages to make some noise (shouts to Kyrie Irving’s Spongebob collection). But the hottest releases happening these days lean far more in the direction of Yeezys, Travis Scott collabs, and Nike Dunks than to old-school hoops retros like the Nike Air Raid or CB ‘94.

That looks to be changing. While old-school basketball sneakers getting the occasional rerelease here and there is no new thing, the return of a handful of forgotten silhouettes suggests a sort of critical mass for the trend. New Balance, Reebok, and Adidas are digging into their archives to bring back some vintage basketball silhouettes we haven’t seen in a while. These aren’t just one-off retros, either—most look to be key pieces in each brand’s plans for the year. By the looks of things, 2021 may be the year we see old-school basketball return to a high-up perch in the sneaker world.

New Balance got the movement off to an early start last year with a much-hyped collab with Aimé Leon Dore. After bringing us the kooky 827 Abzorb in the spring, the collaboration took a hard pivot and brought back a long-forgotten New Balance basketball low-top: the 550, which first debuted way back in 1989. ALD’s take on the shoe was a simple one: the colorways stuck to a two-tone theme with white uppers and lowers matched with basic monotone accents in red, green, and black. The magic touch came in matching that slightly-off white leather upper with a just-yellowed-enough sole, doubling down on the retro vibes.

a close up of a footwear: New Balance's 550 © Courtesy of New Balance New Balance's 550 a close up of a logo: New Balance Men's 550 Sneakers © Courtesy of New Balance New Balance Men's 550 Sneakers

The shoe was a hit—buy your pair now for $400-plus!—and sparked a wave, with New Balance bringing it back to its main line for the first time in ages. The initial drop saw three colorways sell out instantaneously, and nearly a dozen more are on the way—including the ‘1989, a pre-distressed incarnation. A push this wide sends a strong message: New Balance wants all eyes on the 550 in 2021. And with the brand having staked its claim as one to watch in the sneaker scene over the last couple of years, that decision feels all the more vital.

Similarly, 2020 saw something of a soft launch for Adidas’s Forum 84, a retro basketball sneaker that made waves back in the day as a status symbol thanks to a hefty $100 price tag. (Adjusted for inflation that’s a whopping $250 for a shoe you’d just end up scuffing up on the court). Boutique collaborations with Sneaker Politics, sivasdescalzo, and Heitor de Silva (whose take on the shoe utilized the time-honored tradition of adjusting a basketball shoe to suit a skater’s needs) came in small runs and sold out quick, paving the way for a larger launch going into 2021.

a close up of a footwear: The Adidas Forum 84 © Courtesy of Adidas The Adidas Forum 84 a close up of a footwear: Adidas Men's Original 54 OG Forum 84 Sneakers © Courtesy of Adidas Adidas Men's Original 54 OG Forum 84 Sneakers

A high-top Forum 84 quietly dropped a couple days before Christmas last year, in a white and blue colorway that continued the trend of pre-aging, featuring a creamy lower paired with yellowed laces and trim on the upper. A low-cut silhouette in the same colorway followed. Both pairs flew off shelves, proving there’s still plenty of demand for the shoe nearly 40 years later. While Adidas is keeping its long-term main line plans for the Forum in 2021 quiet, a new collab with sneaker boutique Bodega was recently revealed. The shoe looks to be a major piece in their slate for 2021.

More recently, Reebok revealed plans to bring back its own archival classic in the Pump Omni Zone II. The shoe was made famous by Dee Brown in the ‘91 Dunk Contest—the one where he hit a legendary no-look dunk (a feat, as we all know, he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish without the branded Pump airbags on his shoes). There are few sneaker moments as inextricable from their era as Reebok’s Pump line. The Omni Zone is every bit an old-school basketball sneaker, a chunky number with a big, brash “performance enhancing” accessory—which also makes it feel pretty timely. The shoe drops March 5th, just in time for the recently rescheduled NBA All-Star Weekend.

The Reebok Pump Omni Zone II. © Courtesy of Reebok The Reebok Pump Omni Zone II. a close up of an animal: Reebok's Pump Omni Zone II Sneakers © Courtesy of Reebok Reebok's Pump Omni Zone II Sneakers

None of these silhouettes are timeless in the way that annual staples like the Air Jordan 3 or the Adidas Top Ten are. They’re all very much products of their moment, from their bulk and high cuts to their garnishes like airbags and ankle straps. Still, old-school basketball shoes are a huge focus for some of the biggest names in sneakers in 2021. Take note while you still can, because with most of these shoes returning for the first time in years, there’s a good chance they won’t be sticking around forever.

AdChoices

More from GQ

AdChoices

FIND SALONS NEAR ME

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon