Sneaker Wars: Picking second-round playoff winners based on footwear
Debating one sneaker was fun, but now the NBA enters its second round so we need to look at two players on each squad to give an accurate Sneaker Wars winner. As we continue to move through the playoffs, SI.com will pick winners for each series based on footwear dominance, intrigue and style, with this two-on-two round growing all the way into a top-six versus top-six for the Finals.
Golden State vs. Portland
Golden State pulled off the obvious sneaker win in the first round, while Portland pulled off the slight sneaker upset. The second round proves more difficult for Portland. Led by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State has two signature sneakers. The Curry Two signature shoe, released by Under Armour before the current season, has already given way to the Curry 2.5, a shoe that Steph switched to late in the season. Sneaker sales for Under Armour have skyrocketed behind the success of the Curry Two, now full of multiple colorways. While still not the most stylish of sneakers on the market, the Curry Two—and soon the 2.5 will enter the market—offers a counterpoint option. Thompson has his own signature too, the KT1 from Chinese brand Anta, a shoe Thompson started wearing this season on a regular basis. The conservative-looking sneaker, combined with Curry’s Under Armour signature, gives Golden State a bit of variety and uniqueness in their sneaker game.
Damian Lillard may only have two signatures to his name, as Adidas launched the D Lillard 2 this season, but the Portland star knows telling stories. There may be no other Adidas shoe with more colorways and stories than the D Lillard 2, especially when you consider the rap lyrics the guard has been known to add to his sockliner. And now that Adidas has added Boost into the Lillard line for the playoffs, the technology matches the style. C.J. McCollum is the only player of the four in this Sneakers War without a signature, and he’s also the only player wearing Nike. While McCollum has worn a variety of Nike styles over the years, he’s recently been playing in the Kyrie signature line.
Sneaker Wars winner: This isn’t as obvious as you might think. We give major credit to Curry and Thompson for their signature sneakers, but Lillard has his own signature with more colorways and fun styles, and McCollum obviously cares about his style, too. This is a seven-game sneaker series, with a buzzer-beating win for the Warriors.
San Antonio vs. Oklahoma City
There’s plenty of Jordan and a bit of Nike for two teams that easily advanced in the first sneaker round. San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge both wear Jordan Brand styles, even if they don’t have their own signatures to speak of at the moment. Leonard wears the latest in the Air Jordan line, the Air Jordan XXX, in his player edition style. Aldridge wears the brand’s other key basketball performance sneaker, the Super.Fly 4. Off the court, Aldridge—a former Nike guy—impresses at his Texas home that includes a separate outbuilding for just his shoes.
On the other side, the two Oklahoma City stars each have their own signatures, Russell Westbrook from Jordan and Kevin Durant from Nike. With Westbrook you not only have a man that serves as Jordan Brand’s lead athlete on the latest in Air Jordan, but you also have a player with an off-court signature sneaker, the Westbrook 0, from Jordan. Westbrook plays in the Air Jordan XXX, but can be seen strapping on not just old-school Jordans, but old-school Jordans in player edition makeups, maybe none better than the navy AJIIIs he wore the final week of the season. Then there’s Durant, currently playing in the Nike KD8, the eighth iteration of his signature shoe. With the option to pick from his KD8 low top or the calf-high KD8 Elite—a sneaker like no other in the NBA—Durant has a few options at his disposal, considering he’s one of Nike’s leading athletes.
Sneaker Wars winner: While San Antonio elicits thoughts of tradition, the two stars play in some style-heavy Jordan shoes. But on the other side, Oklahoma City ups them ever-so-slightly with Westbrook’s on-court Jordan-specific style, his off-court signature from Jordan and Durant’s venture into the unknown with the KD8 and KD8 Elite.
Cleveland vs. Atlanta
Let’s be clear from the start: The Cavs may prove unbeatable in Sneakers Wars throughout the Eastern Conference. LeBron James has 13 signature shoes with Nike, the second-most signature shoes with the same brand of any athlete ever (following only Michael Jordan). While the initial release of the LeBron 13 in fall 2015 has been vastly improved with the LeBron 13 Elite release this year, there’s no denying that the LeBron line has proven powerful in the sneaker industry as a high-selling signature line.
LeBron mixes it up, too, wearing a near limitless run of exclusive colorways. Not to be outdone, one of the coolest signature shoes on the market right now is the quick-moving Kyrie 2, the second signature sneaker from Nike for Kyrie Irving. Now in his second year with a signature, the exclusive colorways have picked up and the look of the sneaker—complete with an oversized strap—contrasts nicely with the LeBron line for a one-two punch of style.
Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague lead the Hawks on the court, so we look to their sneakers for a little competition against the star power of the Cavaliers. Millsap wears the Nike Hyperchase, a low top sneaker in a variety of player editions, allowing him the freedom to help lead a Nike line without a key figure at the top. Teague, with his own impressive shoe closet in tow, wears the Adidas Crazylight Boost line, also mixing in a variety of player edition colorways during the season.
Sneaker Wars winner: While we enjoy what Millsap and Teague are doing with colorways, there’s simply no way to keep up with the signature star power of Cleveland.
Miami vs. Toronto
Dwayne Wade introduced his fourth Way of Wade signature this season, giving the Chinese brand Li-Ning an impressive sneaker to lead its stable of NBA athletes. The Way of Wade has Dwayne’s personal style and input and has come in nearly countless colorways this season, offering Wade an array of options for on-court or off-the-court. Teammate Goran Dragic has played in Adidas for years, most recently opting for team editions of the Adidas Crazylight Boost.
For Toronto, Kyle Lowry has returned to Adidas after a stint with a non-mainstream brand. The Portland based basketball design team for Adidas has welcomed Lowry with open arms, planning player editions of the Crazylight Boost 2.5 for the All-Star while designing for his future, giving Lowry a solid style to play on. Teammate and fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan has a loyalty to the Nike Kobe line like no other. Having worn Kobe shoes since his days playing high school basketball in California, DeRozan still sports the latest in Kobe looks in a variety of Nike iD designs—he let fans design a Kobe X colorway in the past that he wore in a game.
Sneaker Wars winner: While we give extra points for the Wade signature, the rising style of Lowry and the loyalty and variety of DeRozan gives the Raptors the ever-so-slight edge in this matchup.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.