The 2018-19 NBA season was a very interesting year in the world of sneakers. We witnessed many brands with defunct basketball divisions make their returns such as Puma, New Balance and Converse. The league relaxed its sneaker colorway rules. LeBron James kicked off year two of the LeBron Watch Program with his latest silhouette the LeBron 16. Nike introduced the Nike Adapt BB—the first auto-lacing sneaker for the basketball court. While many shoe collaborations found their way on NBA courts almost every night.
To wrap up the season, The Crossover decided to hand out some sneaker awards. Who is the sneaker MVP? Which shoe will take home sneaker of the year? Let's dive in.
MVP: PJ Tucker
Could it be anyone else? Maybe LeBron James or Kyrie Irving or even a dark horse candidate like Paul George—but Tucker takes it in the end. The Rockets starter has fully embraced his title as the NBA’s resident sneaker king. While he's more of a role player than a star, his sneaker profile indicates how much of an influencer he really is and how much sneaker culture matters in the league. A guy of Tucker’s capabilities wouldn't have been as popular in the past, and he deserves credit for completely owning it now.
No one in NBA history has embraced sneaker culture like Tucker. Tucker told The Crossover back in 2017: “For me, it's not even about the rankings and all the stuff that people make it out to be. For me, it’s like a culture. When I was kid it was all about having the fresh shoes. It’s just about the culture and the love of the game, and I think shoes are such a big part of that. It’s not about who is the biggest one but just about people appreciating the culture of shoes, especially in the game of basketball.”
What makes Tucker stand out is that he's not only a Nike athlete who receives free shoes. He also loves to hunt for rare pairs. The NBA veteran still goes on EBay to shop for sneakers and admitted he talks to different sneaker collectors on Instagram about buying shoes from them.
Tucker recently accomplished a lifelong dream of getting his own player exclusive sneaker from Nike—the Hyperdunk X Lows PE. His other sneaker highlights include the Nike LeBron 2 “Beast”, The Nike Air Fear of God 1, Art Basel Miami Jordan 1s, the Air Jordan “Cactus Jack” IV, LeBron 6 "Stewie Griffin", Nike KD III “H-O-R-S-E”, Red Nike Adapt BB customs by The Shoe Surgeon and much more.
Sneaker of the Year: Nike Kyrie 5
LeBron James may lead all signature athletes in sales but his former teammate is on his tail. Irving continues to shine as a signature star in the Nike family. While sneakers sales dipped the past few years, Irving was the only one of the top five players to see an increase in his signature shoe sales last year, according to Forbes. It felt like the Celtics star had complete creative control of the Kyrie 5, as he introduced unique colorways, themes and different partnerships. He expanded his collaboration with CONCEPTS, dropped an unexpected collab with Odd Future associate and close friend Travis “Taco” Bennett and paid homage to his birth country Australia, with a collaborative project with Tennis pro Nick Kyrgios with the Kyrie 5 inspired Vapor X during the Australian Open. While you can make the case for the Nike Adapt BB, the LeBron 16, or the Nike PG 3, the Kyrie 5 has all the elements that would make a classic basketball sneaker.
Innovator of the Year: LeBron James
For his 16thsilhouette with Nike, LeBron partnered with Harlem Fashion Row, a New York City based fashion collective to design a special LeBron 16 to honor the strength of African-American women everywhere. HFR was created in 2007 to showcase the work of multicultural designers, particularly women who do not get the chance to showcase their work on a large stage. The LeBron Watch program has become a mainstay in the LeBron line but the HFR X LeBron 16 was a pretty special moment.
Rookie of the Year: Puma's class of 2018
Puma returned to basketball with the signings of top 2018 NBA draft picks Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Kevin Knox and Michael Porter Jr. Each prospect took a risk (and a lot of money) to a join a brand that has been out of the basketball market for nearly 20 years. While there is no guarantee the brand will emerge as a top competitor to the likes of Nike, Adidas and Under Armour, they did make a lot of noise and released two new basketball silhouettes, the Puma Clyde Court and Puma Uproar. Nike may have a future sneaker star in Luka Doncic and Adidas did great by signing Trae Young but Puma pulled off a remarkable coup.
Acquisition of the Year: Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard was arguably the best sneaker free agent prior to the NBA season. While he is not the most marketable person in the world, he is a world-class athlete and he fits just right with the ethos of a classic brand such as New Balance. It is going to be interesting to see how the brand finds its way in a tough and crowded market but getting Kawhi is a great way to start.
Honorable mention: Credit also has to given to Under Armour for landing Joel Embiid. Embiid is the polar opposite of Kawhi and UA desperately needed a second star alongside Stephen Curry. Embiid is never going to be a signature sneaker star but his personality and likeness is needed for a brand that has struggled recently.
Collaboration of the Year: Travis Scott and Jordan Brand
Jordan Brand hit the jackpot with its collaboration with Travis Scott. The Houston rapper is one of the most popular acts on Earth and his Astroworld tour created massive exposure for his collaboration with Jordan. The Air Jordan IV “Cactus Jack” was a favorite on NBA courts this year. Scott is prepping to release his second collab with the brand with the Air Jordan 1 “Cactus Jack” which will release on May 11 with an apparel collection.
Best commercial: Kyrie vs. his Dad
Lifetime Achievement Award: Vince Carter
Vince Carter joined Nike in 2000 and debuted the Nike Shox BB4 during the Olympics. Who can forget the iconic “Dunk of Death”? The dunk changed Carter’s life forever and cemented his status as one of the NBA’s rising stars. Carter also became the face of Nike’s Shox technology, and is there a better way to introduce a sneaker than jumping over a 7-footer? Carter and Nike decided to bring back the Shox BB4 for the 2018-19 season. Carter recently announced that he will return for his 22ndyear in the league.