At this time last year, we were saying, “Damn, this has been a really boring year in sneakers.” The same can’t be said for the first half of 2017. There have been unexpected retros, groundbreaking technology, and an abundance of sneakers from Kanye West. Nike made the VaporMax. Kaws got his own Air Jordan, and the Air Max series got its just due with proper retros. What more could people want?
There are years where it feels like you have to be into one type of shoe to be part of the sneaker scene, 2017 has been anything but that. Check out what’s dominated the world of footwear this year with our list of the best sneakers of 2017 so far. —Matt Welty
10. Big Baller Brand Zo2
Let’s go through some of what we know about the Big Baller Brand Zo2: It retails for $495, we’ve only seen it on the feet of the Ball family (and in one in-house made commercial), it’s only been available for pre-order, and it was apparently designed in a matter of hours. With LaVar Ball pushing for a highly unlikely partnership deal from one of the major sneaker companies, Lonzo Ball’s premier signature sneaker may never be produced in big numbers at all.
If none of this sounds like anything that would qualify a sneaker for a mid-year best-of list, that’s because it normally wouldn’t be. But while it will be months before the Zo2 runs the streets—if it ever does—the $495 shoe certainly ran the Internet the week it was announced. One suspects this is exactly what LaVar Ball wanted. And the only thing that will bother him about this is the placement. —Russ Bengtson
9. Air Jordan 1 “Royal”
Already making the list as one of the Best Air Jordans of 2017 (So Far), the Air Jordan 1 “Royal” also stands its ground as one of the best releases from all brands this year. Even as a general release, “Royal” 1s were highly anticipated—and for good reason. Jordan Brand had already been on a roll of releasing Air Jordan 1s in true to original form, so for fans of the silhouette it was another must-have colorway.
Michael Jordan never wore the “Royal” 1s in a regulation basketball game, but an iconic photo of him wearing the sneakers and a matching sleeveless Flight suit on a jet runway, make the colorway just as desirable as “Banned” or “Chicago” 1s. In the past, securing a pair of “Royal” 1s meant spending well over retail on eBay, so the $160 retro was actually a bargain in the eyes of collectors. Premium leather, OG high-top construction, extra royal blue laces and an original-style Nike box make these the closest pair to 1985. —Amir Ismael
8. Raf Simons Adidas Ozweego 2
When Raf Simons introduced his collection with Adidas back in 2013, I remember thinking it was God awful. And a lot of it was. I never want to see anyone wear platform sneakers or ones that come up to your knee. There were two sneakers that I liked: The Stan Smiths and the Ozweego. The latter was cool because it showed that Raf knew a thing or two about sneakers (which he does) and wasn’t just catering to the fashion tryhards who were just dipping their feet into the luxury pool. It’s based off a '90s Adidas running sneaker, and the colorblocking had the vibe of an “O.G.” colorway. Most forgot about the design for awhile, then it re-emerged with an unseen vengeance. Adidas released a colorway that was reminiscent of the first pair that dropped around 3 years ago, and it was met with open arms by cool guys and sneaker connoisseurs. It also didn’t hurt that ASAP Rocky was rapping, “Don’t touch my Raf,” around the same time these sneakers dropped. Except everyone was trying to get their hands on them. —Matt Welty
7. Tom Sachs x Nike Mars Yard 2.0
Back in 2012, New York City artist Tom Sachs teamed up with Nike to create the NikeCraft Mars Yard, a space-inspired sneaker that was meant to be worn. Sachs did just that, by wear-testing the shoes for years. During that time he realized that the sneakers could’ve been designed better, so nearly five years later the Tom Sachs x NikeCraft Mars Yard 2.0 were finally introduced this year.
The updated version looks nearly identical to the original, but there were several key changes. A polyester warp-knit tricot mesh replaced the Vectran upper, the red pull tabs featured much stronger stitching and the outsoles were toned down to be more suitable for urban wear. Interchangeable mesh and cork insoles were also included to make the sneakers suitable for wearing with or without socks. With a very utilitarian approach to design, the Mars Yard 2.0 uses mostly unprocessed materials—the leather isn’t dyed, the cork is natura,l and the polyurethane midsole is raw and unpainted. And to really drive home the message of wearing the sneakers, the box reads, “These shoes are only valid if worn, and worn to death by you. Posers need not apply.” —Amir Ismael
6. Nike Air Max 97 “Silver Bullet”
The Nike Air Max 97 tends to resurface every few years. It’s been a consistent favorite in Europe, specifically Italy and London, but it’s had a mixed reception in the U.S. It’s always played second fiddle to the Air Max 1, 90, and 95, but this year saw the 97 celebrate its 20th birthday and Nike did it justice. It all started late last year with activations and special editions made for Italy. The 97s, in their original “Silver” colorway, finally had a wide release in the States this year, and it brought a new energy to the sneaker. People who had never worn Air Maxes, let alone 97s, were hunting high and low to get a pair. It didn’t really make sense and made a lot of O.G.s shake their heads at the newcomers, but, in the grander scheme of things, it was a much welcomed change to the typical sneakers that dominate the retro cycle. And if something like the 97 can smash the mold, it can serve as an example that any sneaker can break into the mainstream with the right strategical push behind it. —Matt Welty
5. Adidas Futurecraft 4D
What actually makes something 4D? I don’t know, that just sounds like some made-up marketing speak to me. But Adidas made a 4D running sneaker this year, and it’s really good. 3D printing is the future of footwear manufacturing, and Adidas has taken it one step further with its ongoing Futurecraft program, which implements the most cutting-edge design practices into wearable shoes. Only 300 pairs of the 4D sneakers were given to influencers and industry insiders this year, but Adidas is set to release 5,000 more pairs by the end of the year, which should make everyone lose their minds. And I don’t blame them: The shoes have a clean upper that’s similar to an Ultra Boost, and a mind-blowingly futuristic midsole. The balance between the simple and the extreme makes the 4D runner a clear-cut winner, and it doesn’t hurt that people are shelling out $3,000 on the secondary market for them right now, either. —Matt Welty
4. Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 v2 “Zebra”
When the Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 v2 debuted in September 2016, it was well received because it was simply a new Yeezy sneaker. Shortly after its initial release, more colorways including several “Core Black” pairs and the “Zebras” surfaced. The black and white Primeknit upper and white outsole made the sneakers like the “Turtle Doves” of V2s or, even arguably, better than the original Yeezy Boost 350.
While, all the “Core Black” pairs that released over the holiday season were relatively easy to come by, the “Zebras” were the complete opposite when they launched in February. Only 34 Adidas Original stores worldwide stocked the colorway, with just four of those stores being in the U.S. They released exclusively through Adidas Confirmed—there was no online release and no additional retailers that carried the shoes. Luckily, Adidas is treating Yeezy fans well with a much wider restock this weekend. Even with the sneakers becoming less exclusive, the “Zebra” colorway makes these one of the best Yeezys Boosts ever and one of this year’s best sneakers. —Amir Ismael
3. Atmos x Air Max 1 “Elephant”
In celebration of last year’s Air Max Day, Nike introduced Vote Back—a new poll that gave the public a chance to bring back one specific Air Max sneaker for 2017. When sneaker enthusiasts realized they had the opportunity to bring back “Elephant Print” Atmos x Air Max 1s just a year after Nike re-released “Safari” Air Max 1s, the 2007 classic won easily.
With the release date locked in for 2017 Air Max Day, it became one of this year’s most anticipated sneakers nearly in advanced. While the 2016 “Safari” Air Max 1s had several questionable changes, the recent “Elephant Print” Air Max 1s gave diehard Air Max fans exactly what they were looking for by staying true to the original.
In addition to the Vote Back release, Atmos surprised fans with another iteration of the colorway in a first-of-its-kind Air Jordan collaboration. Still sticking to the highly sought after black, white, jade, and Elephant Print colorway, the pair done in collaboration with Jordan Brand featured minor changes in detail like a semi-translucent black outsole with Jumpman branding and Elephant Print insoles. Give the people what they want, when they want it, and they’ll always be satisfied. —Amir Ismael
2. Kaws x Air Jordan IV
The Kaws x Air Jordan IV had all the ingredients necessary for a huge sneaker hit—a classic Air Jordan model, a collaboration with the right artist at the right time, premium construction, thoughtfully designed packaging, and limited production numbers. All that would have been enough even without the sneaker itself being terrific. But it was.
Kaws had done sneaker collaborations before, most notably with Nike on a set of Air Max 90s. But a Jordan collaboration was different. And Kaws had a higher profile now than he did back then, as did the sneaker world as a whole, so this was his most heavily anticipated project yet.
Again, it did not disappoint. The monochrome suede build was broken up by different textures of suede and subtle grey-on-grey embroidery, Kaws’ signature “XX” branding on the heel tab and hangtag, and set off by a glow-in-the-dark sole with Kaws’ Companion hands detail underneath. A leather lining and Jumpman/Kaws dustbag finished off the package, which came in a Kaws-specific Air Jordan IV box. The toughest decision? To stash, or to wear right away. —Russ Bengtson
1. Nike VaporMax
Nike desperately needed a win this year. Adidas has been slapping the living daylights out of them left and right, sneaker release after sneaker release. Nike just hasn’t been able to keep up in terms of innovation and cool over the past couple seasons, but all of that slightly started to shift with the launch of the VaporMax this year. Nike was able to create a sole unit that was completely full of Air, and it was just as practical as it was visually appealing; the bulbous Air unit is something out of a cartoon. It was a much-needed win against Adidas for the Swoosh, and it’s rare that a brand-new sneaker is the shoe that everyone’s been talking about. We’ve seen it in the recent past with the Adidas Ultra Boost;the VaporMax had the same energy around it. This is only the beginning for the technology and the silhouette, though. There’s still another half of a year to shine and the sole is going to be used over and over again until we’re sick of it. But at the moment, we’re going back for seconds, thirds, and fourths because we’re still still not full on the VaporMax just yet—it’s that good. —Matt Welty
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