We all know sports and sneakers are heavily intertwined, with sneakers – and, by default, sneaker culture – being entirely founded on sports footwear needs. But we can often forget the ongoing presence of sports, not just in the lanes of athletic footwear, but in what we casually wear on a day-to-day basis. So we thought it might be nice to take a brief look at four of our favourite sports that have shaped, and continue to shape, sneaker culture as we know it.
These days, Tennis’ impact is often overlooked, bar the occasional hype around a Roger Federer release or Naomi Osaka x Nike collab. But the foundation of sneaker culture was heavily intertwined with Tennis and its fashion. We have all heard of Stan Smith’s, named after the 1972 Wimbledon champion, and may have come across Andre Agassi’s relevance to the Nike Air Trainer 1 or Arthur Ashe’s legacy with Le Coq Sportif. But, more generally, the formation of the classic sneaker, the Tennis Shoe, as the name suggests, has its legacy steeped in the all-white sports shoes needed to play tennis.
Possibly the most relevant sport to sneaker culture right now is basketball. The star power of the NBA players who reach the pinnacle of the sport is unparalleled. And, with the legacies of players like Jordan, Kobe and LeBron, come very lucrative endorsement deals and yearly signature shoes that are sold to the players’ millions of fans. The Air Jordan line and the Air Jordan 1 in particular are often seen, not as the first sneakers to be part of a cohesive sneaker culture or as the most popular ones, but the sneakers that caused the largest impact on how we consume sneakers to this day. Basketball shoes’ typical high-top shape, fuelled by their star athlete endorsements, have allowed them to transcend the courts and become some of the most popular shoes to wear casually.
Although the youngest sport on this list, and the one with the fewest participants, skateboarding is no little sibling compared to its other sporting counterparts when it comes to its impact on sneakers. Skateboarding culture and style have led the way for rebellious fashion movements and the free-spirited aesthetic that has had such a grip on young adults over the last few decades. From its mix with surf culture in easy-going California, where Vans was first created, to the Nike SB Dunk becoming everyone’s favourite collectable, queuing outside their local sneaker store to get their hands on a pair. Something about skateboarding looks so effortlessly cool. And its heavy ties to fashion, no more noticeable than in the Parra X Nike get-ups of many skateboarders at the Tokyo Olympics last year, have bled into the shoes we wear. Sometimes, to skateboarders’ despair, these shoes have made it onto the feet of those who have never thought to step on a board.
Heavily engrained into the history of almost every sneaker brand, the demands of running have often caused the sport to push the limits of sneakers to where they are today: from the creation of waffle traction and improvements in cushioning to Kipchoge’s sub-2-hour marathon in a prototype of the Nike ZoomX Alphafly. Runners have merged with athlesiure fashion to create some of the most popular styles to date. Take, for example, the Adidas UltraBoost. The comfort these sneakers provide has now been realized for their everyday usefulness, to the extent that they are now casual shoes first, before they are running shoes.
Image: Sneaker Magazine