Sneaker Mailbox: Michael Jordan's Playoff Moment, Trae Young's Puma Connection and More

The latest version of The Crossover's sneaker mailbox is here, with a stroll down memory lane, a look at Trae Young's future and much more.
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The NBA playoffs serve as a great sneaker showcases every year. It’s a time for brands and players to unveil their latest products with millions of eyeballs watching. We have seen just about everything this postseason, from P.J. Tucker donning multiple retro Jordan’s to LeBron James showcasing different colorways of the LeBron 15 down to Scary Terry Rozier rocking great custom Kobe A.D’s.

Welcome to the second edition of the sneaker mailbox, where The Crossover answers faux sneaker questions that might be on your mind. Read Vol. 1 here.

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What is the greatest sneaker moment in NBA playoff history?

If you go down the line of iconic playoff kicks, Michael Jordan will dominate the list. You can start with MJ crossing up Larry Bird in a pair of Air Jordan 1’s during his 63-point game or move on to him wearing the Jordan IV in the shot over Craig Ehlo, the Jordan VI during his first title, the Jordan VII during the infamous flu game and of course the Jordan XIV during the “last shot” in Utah.

But if there is one sneaker that combines the significance of Jordan’s sneaker appeal and phenomenon, it is the Air Jordan XI created by Tinker Hatfield. The groundbreaking patent leather design with the icy sole shook the industry as it meshed performance and elegance. After dominating the Hornets in the first round of the 1995 NBA playoffs, Jordan ditched No. 45 for the vintage 23 and broke out the XI’s white/black 'Concord' colorway on May 7th in the semifinals against Shaq and Penny's Orlando Magic.

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The colorway got MJ in trouble with the league as he violated the team uniform policy as other Bulls players wore black sneakers. Fun fact: Jordan also would wear Penny Hardaway’s black Nike Air Flight One for one game.

Then, in a brilliant marketing move, Jordan broke out a XI colorway that eventually would become the ‘Space Jam’ XI’s while Ahmad Rashad wore a pair of the 'Concords' XI during the NBC telecast of the game. It is the greatest sneaker unveiling in NBA history. This was before social media, meaning the telecast was the only way to see the sneakers on Jordan's feet at that very moment.

The Bulls eventually lost possibly due to Jordan’s rust but next season he returned stronger than ever, wearing the XI’s en route to a 72-win season and his fourth NBA title. Jordan had overcome adversity and showcased that he was still the greatest player on the planet.

Other notable iconic sneaker moments in the NBA playoffs

Reebok Answer IV – Allen Iverson in the 2001 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Nike Zoom Kobe 4 – Kobe Bryant in the 2009 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic.

Nike LeBron 9 "Elite" – LeBron James in the 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Would anyone in the NBA wear a Kanye West basketball sneaker?

In a recent Twitter tirade, Kanye West claimed he is the single highest-paid person in footwear and that he makes more money on shoes than Michael Jordan. The statement was downright blasphemous, and to even argue against his claim is a waste of time. But West did unveil a sample of a Yeezy basketball sneaker and it made us think, who in the NBA would actually wear them?

To understand West’s influence within the NBA you must start from the beginning. West has transcended the music industry to become a cultural icon. The Nike Yeezy sneakers designed by West, Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker is one of the most celebrated kicks from anyone non-sports figure in the Nike hierarchy. West eventually left the swoosh after disputes about royalty checks. He claimed he wanted a contract built like athletes because he works the same arenas and plays one against no one every night.

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West eventually helped ignite a cultural revolution at a three-striped brand that lost some relevance in recent years. While Nike did not receive any setbacks from West’s exit, Adidas continues to grow with personnel alongside West such as Pharrell, Pusha T and marquee basketball players like James Harden and Damian Lillard.

If I had to pick one Yeezy endorser in the NBA, it would have to be Nick Young, who has worn several of West’s off-court sneakers during games. Let’s not forget West’s influence could also pull in future prospects for Adidas that would love to be associated with him. While his antics are annoying, I am sure his sneakers would eventually land on an NBA floor sooner or later.

Commercial break: Lil Penny

Perhaps no one benefited more from Jordan’s first retirement than Penny Hardaway. The former Magic star emerged as one of the NBA’s most exciting players alongside Shaq in Orlando, where they eventually went to the 1995 NBA Finals but fell to the Houston Rockets. Penny was pegged to be the heir to Jordan’s Nike empire but injuries detoured his route. Before his career slowed down, though, he did give us iconic commercials with Lil Penny.


Will Trae Young land at PUMA?

ESPN’s Nick DePaula reported that Puma wants to make Trae Young the face of their basketball division. The news is a bit of a surprise since the brand has not been in the market since 1998 when Vince Carter was its leading man. Young is one of the most marketable prospects in the upcoming NBA draft and is a hot commodity within the sneaker prospect hunt. Let's break down the pros and cons of Young signing with Puma:

Pro: Young is without a doubt the most notable draft prospects at this moment in terms of branding and marketing. He is an NCAA darling and boasts a massive social media following—his video-game-like ability on the court helps. If anyone in this year’s draft could be a mainstay on a brand, it is Young. Puma is globally known and Young would be the face as opposed to being in the backseat at brands like Nike, Adidas or Under Armour. He also would receive a signature sneaker faster than he would at any other brand. Puma also offers great opportunities off the court. For Young, being associated with cultural icons like Rihanna, Selena Gomez, The Weekend, Big Sean and Kylie Jenner is not a bad look.

Cons: What would a Puma basketball sneaker even look like in this day in age? Does Young have enough much power to grow a brand? Those questions are hard to answer at the moment, but signing with Puma is a huge risk. Basketball sneakers will never go out of style, but it may be hard for a off-court brand like Puma to convince consumers to embrace them in that space. The emergence of streetwear has complimated the market for sellers of basketball sneakers, and not many people will line up for Young's Puma's, especially if they are over the $120 mark. Young has a buzzing name and the potential to be a star, but he is not going to take the NBA by storm in his rookie season. 

What are your thoughts on the Nike KD 11?

What makes Kevin Durant's sneaker line one of the best in the NBA is its consistency. His shoes are a bit underrated and have always been released at fair price points. The KD 11 follows his recent models in style, featuring a Flyknit upper and a sock-line collar.

The sneaker is a bit minimal in the design department but it is probably going to be one of the best on-court performance models this year. The shoe offers a full-length Zoom Air along with Nike React midsole foam. My best guess is that we will see Durant officially debut them on the court if the Warriors make it to the NBA Finals with a release date around June.