Basketball Shoes and Performance Demystified

By: Osahon Emmanuel

The life of a student athlete can be rough. Not only do you have to keep up with grades and sports, but injuries are an unfortunate reality to contend with as well. Which is why it’s important to do everything possible to minimize the chance of injury during competition. Choosing proper footwear for the court is a major component of that process. It’s common knowledge that quality basketball shoes are supposed help reduce the risk of injury, but to what extent, if at all?

The myth of the high top and ankle protection

Since the first iteration of the Converse All-Stars, the most popular type of basketball shoe has been the high top design. High top basketball shoes are designed with an extra layer of support around the ankle to provide stability during high intensity lateral movement.

However since their inception in 1917 ankle sprains remain the most prevalent basketball related injury.  And many players feel restricted with so much padding around their ankle. In 2007 Kobe Bryant famously met with his Nike design team after years of frustration with high and mid top sneakers and released the extremely low cut Kobe IV to much fanfare as well as a healthy dose of criticism. The shoe sparked a new wave of low cut basketball sneakers. Dr. Michael Lowe, former team podiatrist for the Utah Jazz and the University of Utah, as well as past president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, completely opposed the trend. "If I see a player on one of my teams wearing a low, we'll talk about it. And I'll tell him that, in my opinion, this is putting you at a higher risk and there's really no reason for it.”

So what does the evidence say? In 2010 The American Journal of Sports Medicine found no correlation between different types of performance running shoes and ankle injury. Empirically there is no difference in protection between high, mid, and low top basketball shoes. If there is no correlation between the type of basketball shoe and ankle injuries, how do you choose what shoes to purchase?

How do I Choose Shoes?

New shoes won’t make you a better athlete. However wearing the right shoes can help you perform at your best. So when you are in the market for new shoes consider this:

1. Don’t assume the higher the price, the more quality the shoe. In fact, exorbitant shoe prices are largely due to high priced marketing campaigns from the world’s biggest brands.  Some of the most expensive shoes on the market are the least durable in terms of materials and usage.

2. According to Gurvinder Singh Gandu, from Complex Magazine, “having the right shoe comes down to foot type, as well as personal preference. A shoe that's perfect for one athletes, may not be so great for another.” In other words, wear what you feel most comfortable in.

3. While you don’t need to “break in” sneakers anymore due to advancements in sneaker technology, don’t buy new basketball shoes the week of a big game or tournament.  You aren’t familiar enough with them yet to know how they feel, which could cause discomfort and at worst, painful blisters.

Choosing the best basketball shoe is largely about comfort and experimentation. Don’t be hesitant to try new brands and new shoes. Just be wary of common “rules of thumb” and marketing campaigns angling to get the most they can out of your pocket.