If last year felt like a comeback for the sneaker game, then this one was an even bigger step forward. Check out the 25 top sneakers of 2022 courtesy of Boardroom’s Nick DePaula.
With variety and versatility across the board, we saw everything from new brands entering the mix to the long overdue return of WNBA signature sneakers; and even a simplified, refined design approach for some of the industry’s longest-running player series.
The ongoing shipping delays that marred 2020, 2021, and seeped into 2022 are hopefully now behind us, which led to an actual launch calendar to follow along throughout the second half of the year. While the “2974” Curry 9 technically released in June of this year, that was clearly a model made for a moment in 2021, much like several other worthy launches that eventually arrived months later.
While stay-at-home-friendly lounge pairs, lofty retro collabs, and aspirational high fashion silhouettes still stood out, for me, this year marked a return of the excitement to simply wear basketball sneakers at any chance. Whether on-court or off, there was an awesome mix of hoop models throughout the course of the year that brought new storytelling and new tech, or simply celebrated the icons of the industry that we’ve been waiting to see return yet again.
Read ahead for a look at my 25 top sneakers of 2022, and be sure to chime in with your favorites (or argue relentlessly with me) on Twitter.
As I always like to remind everyone: it’s my opinion, so that’s the way it’s gonna go.
25 / Two 18 x Air Jordan 2 Low SP
Every brand, boutique, or celebrity dreams about getting their own Jordan collab, but bringing a new lens and fresh perspective to the same batch of a dozen beloved models isn’t always as easy as it sounds. With Jordan looking to push the II relentlessly this year, Detroit’s Burn Rubber and its elevated sister store Two 18 did just that. A rich leather upper brought new accents to the low-top look, map graphic insoles helped to tell a story around the prideful Michigan boutique, and a message about the clean water crisis throughout the state expressed through the clear-then-muddy translucent outsole rounded out a great execution.
24 / Prada America’s Cup ‘AC Factory’
I remember texting my boy in March: “Whoa. Prada just launched a Nike iD site.”
The price was outlandish, slightly more than the old $10-$30 markup on iD, but for the first time ever, you could pick and choose materials, colors and even the mesh on what I’ve always considered to be the greatest designer sneaker design of all time. While the standard triple black pair is a classic, I’ve always wanted a variation with a white midsole and outsole. So I made some, and the packaging and finished product turned out incredible in hand. And no, I didn’t add a word on the heel in Times New Roman — an option better left to Nike iD.
23 / Adidas TMac 2 ‘SVSM’
Throughout his 20-year career in the NBA, LeBron James has certainly had more PE sneakers than anyone in league history. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he had dozens of PEs while still in High School. Along with his Reebok Question, Air Jordan 9, and Ultraflight exclusives, it was the gleaming green patent TMac 2 PE that is perhaps his most loved pair from the SVSM days. All these years later, Adidas finally released them, making for an awesome return of what was once just a cult-classic, worn by the most touted phenom in hoops history.
22 / Nike Zoom Pegasus Next
Everyone needs that one shoe to mindlessly throw on for a grocery store run, or perhaps, even an actual run. The newest Zoom Pegasus was that shoe for me. Easy to slip on. Light and bouncy. Powered by the brand’s ZoomX foam, aka wild comfy. These got a ton of run in the rotation.
21 / Reebok Answer IV ‘The Tunnel’
When it comes to untold theme colorways for some of the most re-released sneakers of two decades ago, it’s understandably hard for brands to come up with new stories, but designer Xavier Jones pulled it off with these. Tying back into the arrival fit that Allen Iverson wore to Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals, arguably the greatest individual performance of his career, this new look atop the Answer IV honored his achievements on the court, with an entirely fresh take on color and graphics. Down to the re-created, all-over I3 printed durag pattern along the collar liner, Jones absolutely killed these.
20 / Nike LeBron 20
This is the shoe LeBron needed. After a few consecutive models that boasted too much visible cushioning and eventually were ditched by James himself in favor of the lighter and lower Ambassador series, his 20th signature model represents a nice reset and grounding for the league’s longest ever franchise. The design is familiar and approachable, but still incorporates enough nuance and quirk, like the double Swoosh along the collar, and the detailed traction pattern that highlights several phrases and places that tell ‘Bron’s story over the last two decades.
19 / Adidas Harden Vol. 7 PE
I know, I know. These didn’t technically release in 2022, but I’m making an exception because that’s just how excited I am for James Harden’s best signature shoe since his very first one in 2016 – in this color specifically. Debuted by Lil Baby in late August, the metallic silver upper is perfectly balanced by black border framing panels, all in a swooping Bugatti-esque read. It’s the best-looking, most wearable, and most progressive design that we’ve seen yet from the admittedly up-and-down Harden series with Adidas.
18 / Puma MB.01 ‘Rick & Morty’
LaMelo Ball has become exactly the star that Puma was hoping he’d be when they signed him just ahead of the 2020 NBA Draft. His first signature was absolutely on fire, with each colorway smoking out at retail and Foot Locker going all in on his series for the foreseeable future by locking in an exclusive partnership with Puma for all things Melo. The Rick & Morty collab was perfect, tying into Ball’s “not from here” mantra in a high contrast and loud colorway.
17 / Nike Dunk Low ‘Lisa Leslie’
Sure, the Panda Dunks could easily be shoe of the year, as they seemingly just won’t go away, but I was drawn to the deeper stories told through the always-open canvas silhouette; much like the brand’s reimagining of the iconic eBay Dunk Low that benefitted the Sandy Bodecker Foundation to the tune of $400K. Another pair that was slept on over the summer was Lisa Leslie’s Sparks hued low top, honoring the 20th anniversary of her groundbreaking first WNBA dunk. With a balanced palette and Leslie’s #9 font along the heel, here’s to hoping that the brand opts to launch even more player exclusive feeling Dunks and Forces down the road.
16 / Nike Air Max Scorpion ‘Black / Purple’
It’s a shoe of preposterous proportions and bulbous bubbles under the far veering guise of performance running. With a sharply contrasting minimal and thin knit upper, you could easily smoke your ankle just walking down the street with one wrong step.
Even then, the Air Max Scorpion is a design risk worth taking. They were even more enormous and ridiculous in person than I expected, and also surprisingly more comfortable for an avid-anti-Air Maxer like myself. I like to think of them as the shoe I never asked for and didn’t think I’d like, but that’s a credit to the polarizingly strong and unique design that Nike pulled off here. Needless to stay, I was crying-in-Target-levels of devastated when I found out that the black and purple colorway was a Women’s release and not available in my size.
15 / Puma x Chris Brickley Rise Nitro
When it comes to themed sneakers, I always joke to designers that it’s best to assume that 95% of people don’t actually know the story behind the shoe. It needs to be a fresh shoe first, and then the added storytelling and details can take things over the top from there. That’s what I love about best-in-class hoop trainer Chris Brickley’s new collab with Puma. (That’s an awesome sentence to even be writing – he’s a trainer and got his own shoe.)
By far, Brickley created the best colorway of the Rise Nitro while layering in a rich backstory that highlights his New Hampshire upbringing. The rich blue gradient and the green and sand accents found along his home state’s license plate made for the perfect starting point. He went in on every detail from there, with bonded lettering along the heel, added phrasing along the collar and a special edition shoe box as well. Just a great execution for someone that has continued to elevate and extend into spaces and lanes beyond even his wildest imagination.
14 / Nike KD 15 ‘Timothy Goodman’
Sneaker designers often talk about their creations being an open canvas. As we saw with the KD 15 and its flowing midfoot panel, the shoe has already taken to color and graphics in a variety of ways. After first working with the Durant Family Foundation to donate an art-laden basketball court to a Brooklyn school in 2020, New York artist Timothy Goodman then lent his hand and signature font-based style to the canvas that is the KD 15. With phrases and details honoring Durant’s time in Brooklyn and the surrounding community, these are already in the lead for one of the best expressions of a new basketball silhouette seen this season.
13 / Nike Air Max Penny 1 ‘Orlando’
One of the greatest signature shoe designs ever returned this year in a colorway not seen since 2011. Sparking memories of the classic Lil Penny ads and Penny Hardaway’s reign as one of the most dynamic point guards in league history, the clean black and white colorway still translates all these years later.
“This one right here is my favorite color code,” Penny told me years ago. “Even though it was made for the Orlando Magic colors then, there’s nothing too crazy about it, and it just looks great.”
12 / Travis Scott x Jordan 1 Low ‘Reverse Mocha’
While the “Black Phantom” pair certainly has its fanbase, it was the white-based “Reverse Mocha” look from earlier in the year that stood out most for me. A simple colorway with subtle off-white shades along the midsole and Swoosh, the latest much-anticipated addition to the Cactus Jack editions with Jordan Brand rose straight towards the top of his collaborative efforts to date.
11 / A-Cold-Wall x Dr Martens 1461
When it comes to sharp construction and finishing details, A-Cold-Wall by Samuel Ross is one of the very best apparel brands out there. For years now, the company has also brought that level of attention to detail to its many footwear collabs, with its execution of the Dr Martens 1461 silhouette standing out amongst the full range of partnership pairs produced. With a tweaked eyerow design and icy blue clear outsole, A-C-W brought a great twist to one of the brand’s most ubiquitous boots.
10 / A Ma Maniere x Jordan 4 ‘Violet Ore’
It’s getting to the point where we can just hold a Top 10 slot each year for the latest A Ma Maniere x Air Jordan collab. Following up on its already-successful run of Retro Jordan efforts, the desaturated purple hue highlighted in the ‘Violet Ore’ edition of the Jordan 4 made for an elevated execution and yet another easy win.
9 / adidas Crazy 1 ‘Sunshine’
Certainly a polarizing pair for most, the Audi co-designed Adidas signature shoe worn by Kobe Bryant at the turn of the millennium was almost too futuristic at the time of their initial release. And they still might be.
While the simple white and black colorway had aged well and the metallic silver is a favorite for many, I’ve always been drawn to the unmistakably loud “Sunshine” pair that Bryant only wore once, at the 2001 All-Star Game. In my opinion, it was the single greatest colorway worn by Kobe during his 6-year run with Adidas.
8 / Li-Ning Way of Wade 10
I was going to say “quietly producing” – but really, that’s a matter of people not being open-minded enough to seek out great design. For several years, Li-Ning has been producing great design. After overhauling their brand positioning and pricing strategy a few years back, the Beijing-based brand has been ramping up ample tech, become known for its sharp construction cues and impressive on-court performance – all while injecting unique looks into their hoops line.
The Way of Wade series is often leading the charge. Priced at a steep $225 USD, Dwyane Wade’s 10th signature shoe raises the bar yet again, with every last pixel showcasing the effort and intent poured into a great sneaker.
7 / Curry 4 Flotro ‘Night Night’
I don’t care what the official colorway is called. These are the NIGHT NIGHT 4s. The Curry 4 is my favorite Curry model of the series, and the Flow-powered update edition that Stephen broke out for one of the great individual season runs in league history lived up to expectations.
The all-light purple suede pair in particular became Curry’s go-to throughout the playoffs. Initially unbeknownst to him, the Warriors were undefeated in them, every time he wore them. The ruthless “Night Night” celebration, Finals MVP, All-Star MVP and “2974” record-breaking night at MSG will probably be what we remember most from Curry’s incredible 2021-22 season years from now, but that purple pair of Curry 4s atop a Flow bottom should be mentioned in the same sentence, and immediately became one of his very best sneakers.
6 / Air Jordan 1 Retro ‘Lost & Found’
Chicago 1s will never get old, and yet, Jordan Brand found a new way to re-deliver one of the game’s most iconic sneakers for a new generation. With vintage mom-and-pop packaging and aged details perfectly harkening back to the touch and texture of an original 1985 pair, the newest take on Mike’s debut Airs were a must-add for everyone’s collection this year.
5 / Raf Simons Cylon-21
I’m constantly looking for new designs from all corners of the industry, and the smooth suede and rich leather Cylon-21 from Raf Simons instantly caught my eye when I first saw them. Right away, Raf’s trademark embedded pods and a removable heel spoiler added uniqueness and an element of futurism to the design. They’re a confident departure from the rest of the market, while still somehow feeling familiar enough for everyday wear.
4 / Puma Stewie 1 ‘Quiet Fire’
It somehow took a decade, but Puma stepped up and launched the first WNBA signature shoe since 2011, with accolade-laden Breanna Stewart helming headlines with the release of her own “Stewie 1.” In a vibrant volt lead colorway, her signature shoe was sleek, swift, and strong – much like her game – making for one of the most important releases of the year.
“I hope it becomes a little bit of a competitive thing and then turns into a domino effect,” she said ahead of the launch. “That’s how the industry works.” With more Stewies to come, other brands throughout the industry are indeed expected to follow, marking a new era for WNBA stars as they continue to ramp up their marketing presence both on and off the court.
3 / Jordan 1 Low EX ‘Smoke Grey’
Is it the Jordan 1 that everyone was trying to frantically track down all year? Perhaps the opposite, as these almost immediately entered “sleeper territory” and were fairly easy to grab, even after their under-the-radar release. I found myself wearing these on a daily basis almost as much as any other shoe this year, and eventually snagged a second pair for down the road. With muted tones of grey atop a black base, the neoprene-like upper and exposed foam tongue and collar made these one of the most comfortable 1 Lows to kick around and wear. They quickly became a daily go-to, wherever I was off to.
2 / Nike Kobe 6 Protro ‘Mambacita’
This launch represented more than a sneaker. With the Kobe Bryant Estate and Nike agreeing to terms on a new long-term partnership after a year-long contract hiatus, the Mambacita Kobe 6s arrived just in time for what would have been Gianna Bryant’s “Sweet 16” birthday. Along with celebrating the life of Gigi with a heartfelt tribute sneaker, the shoe represented the collective excitement of Bryant fans around the globe, as more Kobe releases are thankfully now on the way in 2023, and beyond.
1 / Nike Zoom Flight 95 Retro
The Zoom Flight 95 in black and carbon fiber will be my favorite shoe of the year in any year that the Zoom Flight 95 is released. Even 27 years later, I still think it’s the single greatest basketball shoe design that the industry has seen.
It still looks futuristic, in motion, and forward-thinking, even by today’s standards. Yes, the brand tried collab editions with the usual suspects and finally gave us the All-Star colorway worn by Jason Kidd and the White / Red look that Brent Barry leapt from the free throw line in — but there’s still no beating the best original colorway of the best basketball design ever.
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