2023 marked one of the most exciting years in the sneaker game in a minute. Check out the 25 top sneakers of 2023 courtesy of Boardroom’s Nick DePaula.
This was one of my favorite years in sneakers, in awhile.
From modern innovations to a strong string of signature shoes, respectable retros and oddities in between, 2023 brought out the best from several brands. It led to a landscape that’s become both increasingly competitive and balanced.
There were hyped-as-hell partnerships that delivered, obscenely viral launches you couldn’t get away from, and sneakers that ultimately transcended their simple intended purpose.
Check out my Top 25 sneakers of 2023 below, and let me know your favorites over on Twitter.
And, as I like to always remind everyone – it’s my opinion – so that’s the way it’s gonna go.
25 / Nike Air More Uptempo ’96
One of the most unmistakable sneaker designs of all time got a proper Retro this year. The clean black and white original Air More Uptempo once rocked by Scottie Pippen in the 1996 NBA Finals returned with larger volume Air units, an improved silhouette and better detailing than any other retro edition of the model that we’ve seen over the years.
24 / New Balance x Stone Island FuelCell C_1
New Balance has been no stranger to great collabs in recent years, but rather than another remix of the 991 or their beloved archival models, I was an instant fan of the Stone Island informed edition of the brand’s high tech new FuelCell model. The earth tones and fin heel brought a balance of modern, new and fresh to a still everyday wearable look. Plus, that outsole sculpting was exceptional.
23 / Ugg Tasman Weather Hybrid
I haven’t checked for Uggs shoes, ever. I don’t even really like the colorways that the brand dropped on these. However, this Tasman Weather Hybrid model was crazy and immediately caught my attention. I’d love to see some more lively looks, like a black / yellow or grey / teal edition. But after a well-received first launch, I could see the Tasman Hybrid being a model that people actually actively check for going forward.
22 / Nike Alphafly 3
I don’t care for white shoes. I definitely don’t like orange. And yet I’ve seen enough. Unveiled at the tail end of the year, the new Alphafly 3 runner seeks to set the bar in the arms race world of high-end innovation. Ever since Nike first launched their elongated tail look along the heel of its debut Vaporfly 4% runner in 2017, the entire industry has followed. Each brand now seemingly showcases a similar silhouette of a supershoe in their lineup. The newest of the Fly series pushes things even further for the future. And now I’m just looking forward to some other colorways.
21 / Adidas x Fear of God
The long, long — seriously — long-awaited first shoe from Fear of God’s oft-shifting partnership with Adidas released. And I thought they were damn good. With molded stripes inspired by David Beckham’s decades-old Predator cleat and a signature sloping stance and silhouette expected from Jerry Lorenzo’s lens, the three-year wait produced an impressive offering. While the actual “athletics” usage component might still need some proving out, we’ll have more to look forward to from Fear of God Athletics as we get into 2024 and beyond, now that the much-anticipated first drop signals that the collaborative collection is finally in swing.
20 / Adidas Stan Smith “Homer Simpson”
Just awesome. While Stan Smiths have been on a resurgent run for a few years now, this Simpsons-inspired Stan led the way for the larger Adidas x Simpsons pack. In the iconic original white and green heel colorblocking, the texture and detailing channeled from one of the great meme GIFs of internet history made for a cult classic sneaker that executed the concept to perfection.
19 / Air Jordan 1 High OG Satin
I’m not gonna lie. I was hot these didn’t get made above a women’s size 12. The colorway has been done a million times, but the satin sheen works. It gave a new spin on perhaps the most iconic Nike sneaker of all time. They’re seemingly sitting in some stores, but regardless, I thought the execution turned out great. While the J Balvin 3s and SB 4s were great updates to classic Jordan models, it was the Satin 1s I liked most for the year. I just wish I could find a damn women’s size 14.5 out there.
18 / Jordan Tatum 1
At first glance, I thought Jayson Tatum’s debut signature shoe was way too technical — but that’s what makes for a great Jordan design. As brand figures have said over the years, you have to “be comfortable with being uncomfortable” to get somewhere new. The highly sculpted midsole, housing a visible Zoom Air unit up front and showcasing some expert construction throughout, was distinctive on-court and immediately recognizable on TV.
After years of impressive storytelling atop the annual Air Jordan since the 34, JT also layered in some great themes and graphics across a whole web of launches and PEs to make his mark as he entered the signature shoe game.
17 / Puma x Pleasures Velophasis
Styled in silhouette much like the Triple S, the oversized Velophasis from Puma brought a more wearable, yet beefed up stance, to the concept of a late 90’s technical runner. The Pleasures edition, with its mix of pink and purple hues throughout the upper and overdyed midsole, pulled off my favorite pair of the assortment. I grabbed a pair and rocked them often.
16 / Nike Air Max 95 x Corteiz
It’s one thing to have a Nike collab that looks great. It’s another to cause a frenzy in a trio of global streetwear staple cities like New York, Paris and London. The Corteiz squad pulled it off, with on-the-fly, real-time launches taking place that brought some 90’s nostalgia to a modern era more entrapped with less memorable digital launches and Ls. When the eventual online launch got botched by bots buying up batches of pairs, the brand’s founder Clint cancelled all non-human orders, then re-released the inventory yet again, for real customers. An A+ move.
15 / Way of Wade 808 Ultra 3
From a pure product design and construction standpoint, this was a damn impressive shoe. With carbon fiber discs along the heel, sharp molding throughout and a highly engineered drop-in insole, the elevated “Ultra” edition of this Way of Wade team shoe serves to highlight the strong design work that Li-Ning has been producing for years now.
14 / Nike Kobe 6 “Reverse Grinch”
The greatest Christmas shoe ever saw a return this year, with a twist. Originally debuted by Anthony Davis a few years ago as just a PE, the “Reverse Grinch” shift on the iconic bright green and red Kobe classic from 2010 was once again a hit this holiday season, making for one of the highlight drops of the year. And yes, the original PE pair pictured above, with its slightly deeper shades of red throughout, was better.
13 / Oakley x Brain Dead Factory Team Edge Boot
Oakley has been quietly ramping up and on a run, both in streetwear and in sneakers. On the footwear side, much of their momentum can be attributed to their ongoing collection of drops with Brain Dead. While the Factory Team mules and neoprene slip ons have been sleepers, it’s the newly launched Edge Boot that went extra hard. The balance of ballistic mesh and suede atop the rugged bottom became one of my favorite looks of the year, and has me hyped to see what’s next in store for Oakley ahead.
12 / Nike x NOCTA Glide
I’m the biggest Zoom Flight 95 fan you’ll ever find. I think the black and carbon fiber edition is the greatest shoe of all time. And yet, I’m not a purist eager to hate on any and all new inspired silhouettes. Like the NOCTA Glide. Which are sick. With a new spherical take on the JKidd-led classic from nearly thirty years ago, Drake’s Nike Sportswear imprint pulled off a fire update. The model re-introduces the sculpted sidewall and carbon woven overlay to a new generation in a great way.
11 / Tuff Crowd x Curry Brand
When Brandon Jennings became the first NBA player to sign with Under Armour at just 18, he took a risk. Now, it all came full circle for him, as his streetwear brand Tuff Crowd officially came back into the fold at UA for a full collaborative collection. In teaming up with his former Draft classmate and the company’s lifetime headliner, Stephen Curry, the tandem produced a Tuff Crowd x Curry Brand collection of footwear and clothes that was highlighted by the black and red Curry 11, along with an extra hard Flow Cozy. By introducing black Flow to Curry Brand, the Cozy became what I consider the brand’s best lifestyle silhouette to date.
10 / Adidas Crazy Infinity
As much as everyone loves original models like the KB8 and The Kobe, this new direction was much, much needed. With naming inspired by a subtle rotational nod to the number 8, the “Crazy Infinity” drew on all of the original slants and stance of Kobe Bryant’s Audi TT-inspired signature shoe from the turn of the millennium, but brought the styling into yet another forward-looking decade, with a zip shrouded upper and subtle tweaks throughout.
The shoe also represented a bit of a new path for the brand’s Basketball category, as the Crazy Infinity was rolled out along with Adidas’ “Remember The Why” campaign, looking to define the next chapter of hoops going forward.
9 / New Balance x Concepts 998 “C-Note”
One of the best themed sneakers ever saw a much-anticipated return this year, as Concepts’ tribute to the then-new $100 bill received the retro treatment a decade after its original release. The ways in which the longtime boutique layered in the different accents and hues of the Big Face Benjamin for a cohesive colorway made for one of the most well done executions of a… well…concept, we’ve ever seen.
8 / MSCHF Big Red Boot
The sightings were sensational. From Shai in the tunnel, to Gramps, a WWE wrestler in the ring and perhaps the greatest footwear photo of the year — Hasbulla in a Nice Kicks hat — the completely ridiculous Big Red Boots entirely dominated the year.
Yet another MSCHF production, the concept was born by bringing to life the cartoonish red boots worn by iconic anime figure Astro Boy, a deep cut if there ever was one. The outlandish roll out saw some seriously strong seeding, turning the trolling towering boots towards people actually wearing them.
7 / Nike x Cactus Plant Flea 2
I’ll be the first to admit — these are wild in person. While the Big Red Boots may have achieved preposterous proportions, ongoing Swoosh collaborator Cactus Plant Flea Market brought to life something also oversized and overdone, that still finds a manageable and wearable landing spot. Plus, the snap on patches are fun. I’ve been rocking the all black pair for a while now, and opted for the more subtle and smaller snap icons, rather than the stock, cartoonishly long Swoosh placement. But that’s what makes these so great — everyone can do their thing and bring their own touch to the bulky and clunky canvas that I came to really like in the last few months of the year since I got my hands on a pair.
6 / Air Jordan 11 “Ring Night” Jeff Green PE
One of the game’s longest-running and most respected role players finally received his “Ring Night” moment, as “Uncle Jeff” returned to Denver last month to officially celebrate the Nuggets title he helped contribute to earlier this summer. Along with a gleaming gold Air Jordan 17 PE, Jordan Brand made Green a chromed-out pair of Air Jordan 11s, featuring his #32 along the heel.
As a huge fan of chrome, these immediately made for one of the better PE unveils in recent years.
5 / Adidas Harden Vol. 7
This is the best James Harden shoe. In silver and black specifically, the shoe took on a swooping color block that worked great for on-court visibility, or a fresh look off the court. I ended up wearing them literally all year long. Not only was the design distinct and strong, but the shoe is also damn comfy, leading to dozens of Adidas athletes wearing them all season, during what was a great calendar year run for the 7th Volume of the Harden signature series.
4 / Air Jordan 1 Low x Travis Scott
Every “Cactus Jack” edition of the Air Jordan 1 has been a hit, but the subtle white, black and olive pair launched in April instantly became a ubiquitous sneaker to see in the wild. While safe in principle, the clean colorway will likely end up being one of the very best of the longstanding Scott co-signed pairs when we look back on the “Cactus Jack” chapter down the road.
3 / Nike Zoom Vomero 5
The Vomero was everywhere. And for good reason. If someone placed any priority on comfort in their life, it was likely they were pulling out a pair of Vomeros at some point, for literally any setting.
2 / Adidas AE 1
Anthony Edwards’ first shoe is immediately a top ten Adidas Basketball signature shoe of all time. They’re right up there with the best of the Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and Derrick Rose lines that helped to define the decades of modern performance by the Three Stripes since the mid-90s.
Designer Patrick Zempolich said the brand “wanted to create a confident shoe,” and they absolutely killed it. With a striking stance framed by a black collar and stark geometric pattern along the molded upper, the AE 1 made its mark right out the gate. The marketing campaign was equally confident. We’re just one colorway in, and already, the inaugural signature for the rising star has set the bar high for Anthony Edwards’ signature series from here.
1 / Nike Sabrina 1
Signature shoes for WNBA players have been long overdue for years now. Sabrina Ionescu not only introduced a signature model that immediately stood out on her feet, but the shoe quickly transcended to all ages, all backgrounds, all leagues — hitting on the “Anyone. Anywhere.” mantra and vision that Ionescu and Nike set out to achieve from the start.
Crafted in a familiar silhouette, the Romanian-inspired toe detailing, inner vertical-leaning Swoosh and dotted i bar along the heel made for a chef’s kiss of signature design touches.
Now a staple across the NBA, NCAA and high school hoops, the Sabrina 1 will also have a runway in an array of new colorways into the new year ahead, as players put together their own Nike By You colorways and Nike continues to pour its considerable marketing muscle behind a WNBA signature sneaker that has rightfully and deservedly made an impact in the footwear industry.
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