The history of the basketball shoe almost directly parallels the history of basketball itself. Although the game originated in 1891, the first sneaker specifically designed for basketball didn’t come along until 1917, when Converse released its All-Star shoe. Since then, of course, basketball shoes have become a multi-billion dollar international business and the game of basketball is played around the world, too.
Photo credit from gq.com. An archival Converse ad from 1937
More than any other sport, basketball has a special relationship with footwear. No one associates baseball or football stars with their respective cleats. Hockey players don’t even wear shoes. Yet basketball players are almost synonymous with their choice of footwear. And for many years, basketball players opted for high-top sneakers. But times may be changing.
Unlike a traditional running shoe, high-tops have extra support around the ankle. The rear of the shoe extends up above the ankle bone, with the extra lacing helping to keep the ankle joint stable. Basketball requires almost constant running and jumping. Players must also make sudden cuts and sharp changes in direction.
These high-impact movements, always conducted on hardwood floors, place tremendous pressure on the ankle. Without proper support, a basketball player’s ankles may wobble and become unstable, resulting in a variety of injuries, among them severe sprains. Basketball players tend to be large, heavy men/women, and their weight places even more stress on their vulnerable ankle joints.
Photo Caption from Cégep Brébeuf vs. Cégep Ahunsic. 2014
The high-top myth
High-top basketball shoes have a lot going for them — style, comfort and endorsements from future Hall of Famers. What high-tops cannot do is prevent ankle sprains. In fact, ankle sprains are the most common injury in basketball at both the NCAA and NBA levels.
While high-tops remain the shoe of choice for the vast majority of players, professional basketball players are beginning to wear low-cut shoes that don’t have any additional ankle support. Because they lack the extra material, low-cut shoes are much lighter than high-tops, helping improve speed and agility on the court.
As a strength coach for High School, College, and NCAA basketball players, I see lots of athletes with ankle injury, and I contend that low-cut shoes actually serve to strengthen ankles, forcing the muscles to stabilize the ankle joint on their own without any exterior support.
An article published in the October-December 2002 issue of “Journal of Athletic Training” examined risk factors for ankle sprain and reported that at least 2 studies have shown no correlation between shoe type and ankle sprains.
One study compared military trainees wearing lightweight infantry boots or high-tops. The other compared ankle injuries among basketball players assigned randomly to groups wearing low-top shoes, high-top shoes or high-tops with inflatable air chambers.
High-top basketball shoes do absorb shock and enhance performance by providing good lateral support and traction. What they cannot do is stop the motion of the foot and ankle inside the shoe — especially the lateral roll that causes many common ankle injuries.
Just remember, we actually want LESS ankle support in our shoes, and shoes that give you motion control and stability at the calcaneus (heel) as much as possible. So, get out of those high-top shoes as much as possible, keep your dorsiflexion range of motion, and strengthen those ankles! Pass this on to as many basketball players, parents of basketball players, and coaches as you can. It’s time to get the word out!
Stars in Low Tops
In 2008, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers sent shock waves throughout the basketball world when he endorsed a low-cut basketball shoe from Nike. Bryant showed no fear about switching to low-cut shoes, and actually instructed Nike to design his signature shoes to mirror those worn in soccer, one of his other passions. More and more players, especially the smaller guards, have been following Bryant’s lead, making low-cut basketball shoes a viable alternative to high-tops. Other proponents of low-tops include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Steve Nash.
My recommended picks
Drum roll, please…..Nike Kobe System 8 iD
Nike Kobe 9 EM
Power. Strength. Speed. Confidence
Vito Di Cosola – Strength & Conditioning Coach, Nutrition Advisor