Basketball sneakers are a staple in the sneaker market, but the noise-making variety has become a little old. Of course, there are the monthly Air Jordan sell-outs and the occasional performance sneaker that manages to make a splash (hello, Kyrie Irving’s Spongebob collection). However, the most popular releases these days are Yeezys, Travis Scott collabs, and Nike Dunks, rather than old-school hoops retros like the Nike Air Raid or CB ’94.
That appears to be changing now. While the occasional rerelease of old-school basketball sneakers is nothing new, the reappearance of a number of forgotten styles implies a critical mass for the trend. New Balance, Reebok, and Adidas are revisiting their archives to bring back some long-forgotten basketball silhouettes. These aren’t just one-off retros, either—the majority appear to be essential elements in each brand’s 2019 plans. It appears that 2021 will be the year that old-school basketball returns to a prominent position in the shoe market.
Last year, this company kicked off the movement with a much-hyped collaboration with Aimé Leon Dore. Following the release of the wacky 827 Abzorb in the spring, the collaboration shifted gears and reintroduced a long-forgotten New Balance basketball low-top: the 550, which debuted in 1989. The hues for ALD’s version of the sneaker were simple: white uppers and lowers were paired with basic monotone accents in red, green, and black. Matching the slightly off white leather upper with a just-yellowed-enough sole added the finishing touch, doubling down on the throwback vibes.
The sneaker was a smash hit and it ignited a craze, with New Balance reintroducing it to their main range for the first time in decades. Three hues sold out instantly during the initial launch, and nearly a dozen more are on the way, including the ‘1989,’ a pre-distressed version. A wide release sends a powerful message: New Balance wants the 550 to be the centre of attention in 2021. That decision feels all the more important now that the brand has established itself as one to watch in the Adidas Sneakers For Men world over the last few years.
Similarly, Adidas’ Forum 84, a classic basketball sneaker that made waves back in the day as a status symbol thanks to a large $100 price tag, had a soft debut in 2020. (Inflation-adjusted, that’s a stunning $250 for a sneaker you’d just wind up scuffing up on the court.) Small-run boutique collaborations with Sneaker Politics and Heitor de Silva (whose take on the shoe used the time-honoured custom of altering a basketball shoe to suit a skater’s needs) sold out quickly, paving the way for a broader release in 2021.
Last year, a white and blue high-top Forum 84 dropped quietly a few days before Christmas, with a creamy lower matched with yellowed laces and trim on the upper, continuing the pattern of pre-ageing. Following that was a low-cut silhouette in the same colours. Both pairs sold out quickly, demonstrating that the sneaker is still in high demand nearly 40 years later. While Adidas has been tight-lipped about its long-term ambitions for the Forum in 2021, a new collaboration with sneaker shop Bodega has recently been revealed. The sneaker appears to be a key component of their 2021 lineup.
Reebok recently announced intentions to revive its own archive classic, the Pump Omni Zone II. Dee Brown made the shoe famous in the 1991 Dunk Contest, where he hit a legendary no-look dunk (a feat he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish without the trademarked Pump airbags on his shoes, as we all know). Reebok’s Pump brand is one of the few sneaker lines that is inextricably linked to its era. The Omni Zone looks and feels like an old-school basketball sneaker, with a hefty upper and a huge, boisterous “performance-enhancing” accessory—which makes it feel extremely current.
None of these styles is as timeless as annual favourites like the Air Jordan 3 or the Air Jordan Sneakers Top Ten. From their bulk and high cuts to their embellishments like airbags and ankle straps, they’re all very much products of their day. Even yet, in 2021, some of the largest names in sneakers will be focusing on old-school basketball shoes. Take notice while you can, because most of these shoes are making a comeback for the first time in years, and there’s a high possibility they won’t be here for long.