The Best Sneakers of 2017 (So Far)

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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In the episode he shows the world’s most expensive shoes, a $2 million pair of Tom Ford diamond-encrusted slip-ons. When it comes to the sneaker portion of the segment, Cannon shows off a pair of custom Gucci Air Maxes, a never-before-seen Goyard/BAPE/Jordan 1 custom, and then reveals for the first time his exclusive Wild N' Out Air Jordan VIIs.

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The Best Air Jordans of 2017 (So Far)

The past few years have been a strange time for the once-mighty Jordan Brand. The company has been instrumental at nearly every defining instance of footwear culture in North America, but recent days have seen the rise of Adidas and an increased popularity in lifestyle running sneakers. The brand’s making more sneakers than ever, and making them pricier than before, so the mystique that Jordans are impossible to get has all but faded. But this new set of business challenges also brings an exciting time for consumers: Jordan Brand has been forced to try new things instead of re-releasing the same sneaker over and over and over and over…

This year has seen Jordan Brand take on big-time collaborations and ways to rejuvenate its business through storytelling and product that feels special, rather than mass-produced sneakers that are passé. As a result the company is trying special release strategies and even releasing player-edition sneakers to the public. It’s been an interesting six months to say the least. With that said, here are the best Air Jordans of the year so far. —Matt Welty

 

  • 10. Air Jordan IV “Royalty”

    Here’s a recipe for success: Take a good shoe, make it with good materials, and do it in a colorway that doesn’t suck. That’s what Jordan Brand did with the “Royalty” IV, and the results were great. It was black, white, and gold, a combination that looks good on any sneaker. There’s not much to say other than an Air Jordan IV will always be good and simple color schemes reign supreme. —​Matt Welty

     

  • 9. OVO x Jordan Trunner

    Drake’s ongoing collaboration with Jordan Brand has drawn the ire of true footwear connoisseurs, and the Xs and XIIs that he’s slapped with OVO branding are starting to feel really tired. Instead of reworking another silhouette that’s been reworked a handful of times already, Drake and Jordan Brand decided to take a surprise approach with the release of an OVO Jordan Trunner at the grand opening of Toronto’s Jordan Brand store, and it was just what the company needed to break up the monotony of its biggest partnership right now. 

    The shoe was good for several reasons. If you’re not a fan of basketball sneakers in general, it’s really, really hard to get into the faux nostalgia that helps push Jordan Brand forward. And getting a pair of running sneakers from the brand is like looking for the vegan options at a steakhouse: you’re going to be disappointed no matter what. But the Trunner is something different all together. It’s not trying to be something that Jordan Brand is not — it’s the one training shoe for the person who loves the Jumpman. The black-and-white colorblocking didn’t feel played out on the Trunner, and the OVO owl on the heel was just enough to satisfy Drake fans, especially those who have been into his Stone Island-heavy, European-inspired looks as of late. —​Matt Welty

     

  • 8. Air Jordan IV “Pure Money”

    The Air Jordan IV was always more of a technological accomplishment than a design one, as Tinker Hatfield essentially created a lighter-weight version of the Air Jordan III using the best technology available to him in 1988. Mesh inserts both cut weight and provided far better ventilation, while synthetic “wings” provided extra support. Other than that, the sole units and cut were fairly similar, while an ACG-esque spatter treatment on the midsole and “Flight” patch on the tongue did more to separate it stylistically from its predecessor.

     The somewhat busy design is perhaps best appreciated in a simple makeup, hence the all-black “Black Cat” and all-white “Pure Money” makeups. Released just in time for the start of summer, the “Pure Money” re-retro features hits of chrome on the lace loops, just enough shine to draw attention but not too much. For a 12-year-old take on a 27-year-old shoe, the “Pure Money” Air Jordan IV still shines. —Russ Bengtson

     

  • 7. Air Jordan XXX1 “Russell Westbrook PE”

    Ever since Michael Jordan retired, Jordan Brand has had to find another endorser to be the primary face of the flagship shoe. For a while it was Dwyane Wade. Now it’s Russell Westbrook, who’s been holding it down since the shrouded Air Jordan 28. As the standard bearer, he’s gotten special makeups of each, some of which have reached the marketplace—remember the WHY NOT? 28s? This year, he got the most special one of all. 

    Westbrook’s Air Jordan XXX1 PE was more of a XXX.5, the woven upper of the XXX1 paired with the sole unit of the XXX, which Westbrook preferred. It’s not often a hybrid like this gets offered at retail—it took Jordan 30 years to actually release the Jordan 1.5 that Mike wore in ‘86. Inspired by his coveted Air Jordan III PE, Westbrook’s XXX1 featured cement print on the heel/ankle area along with hits of Thunder blue and orange. The ultimate would have been to release it in a pack WITH the III, but alas, we can’t have everything. At least, not yet. Russ Bengtson


  • 6. Atmos x Air Jordan III

     Nike has started to give people what they want, and the brand’s done so in the form of letting its fans vote on which classic Air Max model they want to be brought back each year for Air Max Day. Last year people voted for Atmos’s “Elephant” Air Max 1 from 2007 to be retroed, and Nike kept its promise on making the shoe return. But the brand didn’t stop there, and also let the Japanese retailer also work on the Air Jordan III, outfitting it in a colorway similar to its “Safari” Air Max 1, the first-ever collaboration on the sneaker, which released in 2003. The sneaker was an odd choice for sure. To put it simple: The majority of those who really freak out over Air Maxes typically live in Europe, where Jordans don’t share the same popularity as they do in the States. But for those who are more inclined to basketball sneakers, the Atmos collaboration was just what they were looking for. It came with black suede, Safari print that replaced the sneaker’s typical Cement print, an icey sole, and the icing on the cake: “Nike Air” on the heel.

     It was an execution so solid that even Air Max enthusiasts were impressed with the sneaker. And they had to be, because it was only sold in a limited-edition pack with the bringback of the Air Max 1 and came with a retail price of $400. That pack now resells for an average of over $1,000. While the Air Max 1 from the duo is infinitely better than the Air Jordan III, you can’t fault Jordan Brand for trying to bring some much-needed buzz to their brand in the form of an offbeat collaboration. —Matt Welty

     

  • 5. Air Jordan IV “Do the Right Thing”

    As he tells it, Spike Lee wasn’t a huge fan of the Air Jordan IV when he first saw them in the summer of 1988. So rather than wear them himself as Mookie in 1989’s Do the Right Thing, he instead blessed Giancarlo Esposito and his character Buggin’ Out. From that, one of the iconic sneaker scenes in movie history was born—Buggin’ Out’s pristine Jordans marred by a careless pedestrian pushing a bike on a Brooklyn sidewalk. Even worse, a careless white pedestrian, in a Larry Bird jersey, no less. It’s one of the best scenes in the movie, one that effortlessly cut drama with humor, and one that firmly imprinted the importance of sneakers on celluloid. 

    For the release of the IV-inspired Fly 89 casual runner, Jordan made up a super-limited run of Do the Right Thing inspired white/cement IVs, right down to the NIKE AIR heeltab, the African-inspired wrap on the laces (something Esposito did himself to the pair he wore in the movie), the unconventional lacing, and—of course—the scuff. As movie sneakers go, these might not be as iconic as Back to the Future’s MAGs, but they’re a million times more wearable. And if the scuff bothers you as much as it did Buggin’ Out, well, Jordan provided a toothbrush to take care of that. Or try, at least. If only Martin Lawrence was around to provide commentary while you tried. —Russ Bengtson


  • 4. Just Don x Air Jordan II “Arctic Orange”

    The Air Jordan II is by no means the most popular Air Jordan sneaker, but when Don C got his hands on the silhouette, he gave it a new life. Taking a high-end luxury approach, the Just Don x Air Jordan IIs feature suede, quilted leather and leather lined insoles. The silhouette previously released in “Blue” and “Beach” colorways, so for the third installment Don C went in a completely different direction with an “Arctic Orange” colorway—which really looks more like a pale pink.

    DJ Khaled was the first person to be seen with the new Just Don IIs, as he rocked them with a pink satin suit to announce the title of his forthcoming album Grateful. Shortly after, his son and fiancee were blessed with pairs, which ramped up hype for the release of the first Just Don x Air Jordan IIs coming in youth sizes. When official released information surfaced, it was announced that the sneakers would be available from toddler to grade school with sizes extending up to 9.5, which left out most guys out of copping a pair. It’s rumored that the “Arctic Orange” Just Don x Air Jordan IIs will re-release in full men’s sizes, but for now DJ Khaled and Just Dons are the only ones with pairs. —Amir Ismael


  • 3. Air Jordan 1 “Royal”

     As long as Jordan Brand keeps putting out original Air Jordan 1 colorways, people will buy them and that was surely the case for the “Royal” colorway. Following two of 2016’s Best Air Jordans—the “Black Toe” and “Banned” Air Jordan 1s—the “Royal” 1s came as huge treat for fans of the silhouette. When the sneakers last released in 2013, they were of a much lesser quality when compared to its 2001 predecessor. Still, the shoe sold out and even resold for hundreds of dollars more than the $140 retail price. Despite using a new tumbled leather, this year’s release was a breath of fresh air. The sneakers use a true high-top construction, Nike Air branding on the tongue and insole, and are packaged unlaced with extra royal blue laces, just like in 1985. These are an absolute must-have for any Air Jordan collector. —Amir Ismael

     

  • 2. Air Jordan 1 “Satin Royal”

    A lot of purists will say that making an Air Jordan 1 in satin is sacrilegious, and they have good reason: Making a shoe completely in a delicate fabric is counterintuitive to how you design sneakers. But there was something special about the “Satin” version of the “Royal” Air Jordan 1s. 

    For starters, Jordan Brand made 700 pairs, so people were going to want them regardless. But they were also following up last year’s “Bred” version of the shoe, which now resell for upwards of $2,000 a pair. Where Jordan Brand nailed it with the “Royal” version was the rollout. Many people will tell you that “Black/Royal” is the best colorway of the Air Jordan 1, and they’re not wrong. So it’s not hard to sell folks on the sneaker, but Jordan Brand decided to only launch them at Walter’s Clothing in Atlanta and Active Athlete in Houston, two old-school, mom-and-pop sneaker shops. It’s those details that elevated these “Satin” Air Jordan 1s to one of the best sneakers that the brand has put out this year so far. Because satin sneakers are stupid, except for these. Matt Welty

     

  • 1. KAWS x Air Jordan IV

    If you call yourself a streetwear fan and you never were into KAWS, you don’t deserve to have say in what’s cool or not. Or you’re under the age of 15. The man has been at the heart of the culture for decades now, and everyone who’s had an interest in sneakers since the rise of hype culture on the Internet is familiar with his work and past collaborations. It took Jordan Brand sometime, however, to make a project happen with KAWS. And it was pretty damn solid.

    The reaction to the KAWS x Air Jordan IV, however, was mixed when it first came to light. There were many who thought it was too simple or past its prime, but the execution on the collaboration was top notch. The suede was through the roof, and KAWS’ “hands” art was stitched throughout the upper. But the most important detail on the sneaker was the replacement of the “Nike Air” on the heel with “XX Air,” a nod to KAWS’ signature style (the same artwork came on the hangtag, too). The glow-in-the-dark outsole with the KAWS hands just added to the project, although an early sample showed that the sneaker first featured the Xs on the sole. When it comes down to it, what makes this sneaker great is that Jordan Brand took one of its best sneakers and made it a bit more covetable. It’s really, really easy to fuck these sort of things up, and KAWS and Jordan didn’t do that. So everyone is a bit more grateful. Matt Welty

     

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In the episode, Butler talks about playing basketball against Michael Jordan, but there's one thing he didn't do: Talk about Adidas, his former sponsor. He also got to visit the White House and meet Barack Obama, all while wearing a pair of Air Jordans. Turns out that Obama was feeling his bold style choice.

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