The New Balance 480 Is Your Next 1980s Hoops Obsession
Not many sneakerheads realise that the New Balance 480 is actually the Boston label’s very first basketball shoe. Manufactured in Maine and debuting in 1983, the 480 was worn by legendary pro players like James Worthy and M.L. Carr throughout the decade and quickly developed a cult following thanks to classy lines, crisp aesthetics and chunky EVA soles.
The older brother of the New Balance 550, a sneaker slamming on the zeitgeist in recent years, the 480 looks set to go on a similar, NBA Jam-style scoring run.
But what sparked interest in New Balance’s archival hoops division, and what led to its stunning resurrection? Well, sneakerheads have been waiting a long, long time for New Balance to step back onto the hardwood – and it all started back in 2018.
Sitting courtside for nearly three decades, New Balance finally leapt off the bench in 2018 by inking deals with preps-to-pros rookie Darius Bazley and scoring-Terminator Kawhi Leonard. One year later, Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA championship in franchise history and won his second Finals MVP award for good measure.
Since procuring Leonard’s signature in 2018, New Balance expanded their roster with the likes of Zach LaVine, Dejounte Murray and Jamal Murray. Now, seeing New Balance basketball sneakers on the hardwood is about as common as a pull-up three-pointer.
But it’s not only New Balance’s contemporary hoops team scoring big buckets.
With the help of NYC label Aimé Leon Dore, New Balance exhumed the long-forgotten 550, a sneaker that became one of the most unexpected success stories in recent years. Originally hitting the courts in 1989, the New Balance 550 was the brainchild of fresh-faced college graduate Steven Smith (later responsible for iconic pavement-pounding runners models like the 574 and 1500) and enjoyed a brief career before inexplicably flaming out for three decades.
Thankfully, the 2020 retro reignited the label’s heritage basketball category – one that had long eluded New Balance fanatics – and laid the groundwork for a heritage hoops revival.
‘People forget that New Balance made basketball shoes in the 1980s. I think New Balance even forget they made basketball shoes!’ Smith told us back in April 2022.
The 550 woke sneakerheads from their slumber with a deafening buzzer.
But the hot streak doesn’t stop there. With the 550 enjoying a scorching scoring run, New Balance are going back to the bench to call up another hoops model of the 1980s long gathering dust: the New Balance 480.
Manufactured in soft, full-grain leather panels across the uppers and padded collars, the 480 brings New Balance’s coveted cushioning to the hardwood, with EVA foam sitting atop rubber sole units. Ortholite inserts again feature as part of the Boston imprint’s moisture control and comfort, while sturdy heel units provide stability.
Tapped for a sweet Jolly Rancher x Kawhi Leonard pack in 2020, the 480 received a more high-profile launch with the help of Japanese maestro Junya Watanabe in March 2021. The Comme des Garçons mastermind utilised his signature black-and-white palette on the 480, helping exhume the estranged silhouette and give the old-school hooper some high-fashion hops!
In 2022, New Balance are again calling on the 480 to score more buckets on and off the court. They’re launching a quartet of colourways celebrating the silhouette’s heritage DNA, with the new models doing exactly what the Boston imprint does best: mixing hoops nostalgia with modern technology.
The in-line colourways, coming in a collegiate composition of reds, greens, navy blues and white, look like the kind of models driving hard to the basket in the 1980s – although the quartet will no doubt enjoy more of a lifestyle-oriented domination in the 2020s.
So, are you ready to join the New Balance hoops revival? Don’t be afraid to build up a sweat – the New Balance team won’t be calling timeout anytime soon…
The New Balance 480 ‘White/Rain Cloud’, ‘White/Timberwolf’, ‘White/Summer Fog’ and ‘White/Navy’ are available right now. Look for more colourways to arrive over the coming months.