Spotlight the sneakers. SI.com’s first-ever Sneaker Wars chose the winners of the NBA Playoff’s second round based on sneaker style. And there were some upsets. Let’s dive deeper into the footwear of the Conference Finals—for the second round we looked at the top-two players on each team, so now we will go four deep—to determine who should have a spot in the NBA Finals.
The Golden State Warriors held on in the second round to edge past the Memphis Grizzlies, but the Houston Rockets pulled the biggest upset of the playoffs so far by knocking off the sneaker game of the Clippers—a team full of Jordan Brand leading men and Jamal Crawford’s Brandblack signature sneaker—to keep the Houston sneaker game alive.
Stephen Curry leads the Warriors, playing the majority of this season in Under Armour’s first-ever signature basketball sneaker, the Curry One. Released in January, Curry’s signature model has design touches molded to Curry’s personality and a logo to match his initials and number. The build of the Curry One doesn’t deviate too far from the Under Armour styles he wore in the past, but having a signature model that has shown well bolsters his shoe game. Klay Thompson, though, has the most confusing signature model around. Thompson signed a deal with Chinese shoe brand Anta in February, unveiling his signature KT Fire during the three-point shootout at the All-Star Game. But Thompson still plays in a blacked out Nike Hyperdunk model.
Draymond Green has stood with LeBron James for years, wearing variations of the signature Nike shoe for multiple seasons. Currently strapping on a pair of LeBron 12 sneakers for the playoffs, rest assured Green will continual to lead the LeBron push. Harrison Barnes adds another brand to the mix for the Warriors, opting for the Adidas Crazy Fast, not exactly one of the mainstream models you’ll see the company advertise.
The leading man for the Rockets isn’t the player with his own signature sneaker. James Harden, a Nike man, was the leading voice when the brand unveiled its brand-new Nike Hyperchase ahead of the All-Star Game in February. But he’s back to wearing the Nike Zoom Run the One model for the playoffs. Dwight Howard, on the back end of his Adidas deal, wears the D Howard 5 signature shoe, but you’d hardly know it. While Adidas showcases the Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, and John Wall signatures hard, the Howard version is largely ignored.
Rounding out the top-four for the Rockets, you find Trevor Ariza and Josh Smith donning lesser-known shoes. Ariza reps the Nike HyperRev sneaker, part of the Nike Zoom line. Smith runs in Adidas, switching between non-signature shoes in the line and opting for different styles depending on the game, including what appears to be a Futurestar Boost for some games.
The Sneaker Wars winner: Golden State easily outpaces the underperforming Rockets. The strength of Curry’s signature dominates Howard. And while Harden and Thompson both have intrigue in repping one style and wearing another, the Green-Barnes combo outpaces Ariza and Smith. In the end, though, there’s nothing in the Rockets’ lineup to compete with the Curry One sneaker.
Both teams were locked in tight Sneaker Wars races in the second round, with the Cavaliers holding their edge against the Bulls and the Hawks squeaking out the smallest of upsets in beating the Wizards. With two tight races in the second round, things start to look different when you add in a few more players.
First things first: Cleveland has two players with signature shoes. LeBron James has pulled out a dizzying array of LeBron 12 colorways this season, mixing and matching colors and the Elite version all season and playoffs. Teammate Kyrie Irving doesn’t have the Elite line to fall back on, but with the Kyrie 1 launching this past December, the guard has his own signature line and plenty of colorway options to choose from.
J.R. Smith adds to the LeBron love, donning a pair of LeBron 12 lowtop shoes for the playoffs, a nice addition to the hightop version his teammate and the shoe’s namesake wears. Iman Shumpert, though, adds an entirely new realm of interesting to the Cavs’ sneaker world. Shumpert wears Adidas, but he does so with some style, donning the Crazy 8. Originally a signature Kobe shoe, the Crazy 8 has made its comeback for Adidas in a variety of styles and colors, some of which Shumpert customizes for his games.
Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague has an impressive sneaker collection that spans multiple states, but when it comes to on-court choices, he tells SI.com that he sticks with “comfort,” choosing the Adidas Crazylight Boost 2014. One of the few sneakers in the Adidas line with the brand’s premier Boost cushioning, the sleek, lightweight model fits the game of the guard. Teammate DeMarre Carroll pulls on a different brand, choosing the stability of the Nike LeBron 12 Elite for the playoffs.
Adding in Al Horford and Kyle Korver to the Hawks’ lineup does provide a bit more interest. While Horford opts for the Nike Hyperdunk, a solid all-around shoe popular throughout all levels of basketball, Korver becomes the first player in SI.com Sneaker Wars history to pull on a pair of Kobe Xs. The new Kobe X, released in late January, gives shooter Korver a sense of style not many Sneaker Wars participants have.
The Sneaker Wars winner: The top half of the Cavaliers with LeBron and Kyrie do enough to lead Cleveland, but the addition of a LeBron low and the Shumpert Crazy 8 easily outdistances a Hawks team that still wears a solid mix of sneakers.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.