With the curtain now drawn on ESPN’s game-changing documentary series The Last Dance, most of the sporting globe has a renewed appreciation of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ famed 1997/98 NBA Championship season. The series has certainly livened up lockdown for many, delivering a stark reminder of MJ’s greatness, the allure of 90s basketball and, of course, the iconic sneakers of that golden era.
With footage throwing back to many of the Jordan Brand’s classic designs - most notably the Air Jordan 13 – the doco also got us feeling nostalgic on some of the more underappreciated heaters to grace the hardwood.
Sure, we know about the prowess of the Jumpman, but the sneaker world – just like the NBA itself – had a galaxy of stars among its ranks.
Converse All Star Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman had some epic sneaker moments during his tumultuous NBA career. One of the most unique players on and off the court, The Worm's eccentric personality was reflected in his sneaker game. The rebounding machine, and future Hall of Famer, laced up sneakers from Reebok, Nike and Converse throughout his career, but it was the Converse All Star that really lit it up.
Gaming them during his third and final run with the Chicago Bulls, Rodman’s second link-up with Converse took inspiration from his myriad of tattoos. Implanting Rodman’s sun tattoo from behind the One Star logo, Converse manufactured the All Star with React technology, while the seven strokes along the forefoot pay homage to Rodman’s rebounding titles.
The perfect sneaker for one last dance.
Karl Malone’s APEX Mailman
He may not have possessed quite the same level of star power that other marquee players like MJ or Grant Hill did, but Karl Malone was undoubtedly one of most dominant players to ever grace the hardwood. Cashing in during the peak of his career was little-known brand APEX, who signed the Jazz power forward to a five-year deal in 1996. It didn’t take long for them to deliver him his own signature – the APEX Mailman - which he wore during much of his MVP 1996-97 season.
Unfortunately, the APEX Mailman never made it into retail stores, but that didn’t stop Karl from gaming them. He continued to wear PE renditions (like the one pictured above) for the next two seasons!
Nike Air Zoom Challenge
You can’t relive the greatness of Karl Malone without mentioning his unassuming sidekick John Stockton. The NBA’s undisputed assist king, Stockton was known for his irrepressible, often dirty, style of play. However, when it came to sneakers, he kept things crispy clean.
‘Stock’ rocked a variety of Nike joints throughout his career, but his most iconic moments came while wearing a classic from a different court: the Air Zoom Challenge.
Made famous by Andre Agassi, the tennis model was understated, with contoured detailing and relatively simple panelling. Grounded with grippy DRC Court (Durable Rubber Compound) sole tech, the Air Zoom Challenge’s calling card was undoubtedly the surreal Salvador Dali–inspired graphic details on the outsole and heel.
You may have spotted ‘em on Stockton’s feet in the doco when he hit the game-winning buzzer-beater over Charles Barkley to eliminate the Houston Rockets in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals in 1997. Clutch. As. Hell.
Nike Air Force Max Charles Barkley PE
Worn throughout Charles Barkley’s unstoppable 1992-93 NBA season, the league MVP laced the cult classic Air Force Max Charles Barkley PE against Michael Jordan during their legendary six-game Finals duel in 1993.
The very first Nike basketball sneaker to implement Air Max cushioning, the Air Force Max still retains a cult following. Barkley’s loud, uncompromising, anti-social game style translates well onto Nike’s silhouette, the midfoot strap and exaggerated aesthetics making it a feature in Barkley’s Finals rotation.
But it wasn’t just against Jordan that Barkley found success wearing the Nike Air Force Max.
He also received the MVP trophy from David Stern whilst wearing the shoes, before going on to slam the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals 4-2.
Converse Magic USA
Seriously, was the titillating game footage from the Dream Team pickup game at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics the best part of The Last Dance?
The most dazzling NBA point guard of all time, Magic Johnson, was full of tricks during Team USA’s reign in Barcelona, the 3-time MVP and 5-time NBA champion throwing more dimes than the Dream Team’s collective salary.
While the Converse Weapon defined Magic’s dominance in the 1980s, it was the Converse Magic that ushered in a new era for Magic, the sneaker worn shortly after his shock retirement in 1992.
Taking on the USA’s unassuming antagonist, Tony Kukoč and Croatia on July 27, the USA brought home gold in one of the greatest displays of basketball nous and sneaker steez the world had ever seen.