When it comes to basketball, everyone and his uncle have an opinion on who the GOAT is. Whether you're a worshipper of His Airness, a die-hard Black Mamba fan, or a loyal subject of King James, there's always a new argument to suit your stance. These discussions can drag on forever, and the points of contention can vary from the ridiculous to the mathematical—numbers like field goals, points per game, scoring records, and rings are usually hot buttons.
So perhaps it's better to take the debate down to a different matter. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James—arguably the most disputed picks for the "Greatest of All Time"—each has signature sneaker lines to their names. So if the GOAT question were about the shoes, who would win?
This wouldn't be a good old-fashioned basketball debate without some solid numbers. Through SportsScanInfo, Forbes reported that the sales of LeBron's signature sneakers hit a total of $340 million in 2014. That means Nike moved A SHITLOAD of 11s and 12s (not to mention Soldier 7s and 8s). So many, in fact, that 'Bron almost doubled the sales of Kevin Durant's signatures, which were estimated at $195 million for 2014. Over the same year, Kobe's name moved but $105 million worth of sneakers—less than a third of King James's.
But all of Nike's big ballers were blown out of the water by Jordan's 2014 figures. The same source reported that Jordan Brand's U.S. shoe sales rose by 17% in 2014 to a whopping $2.6 billion. One could argue that Jordan Brand has the signature shoes of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Carmelo Anthony under its wings, but it's hard to imagine that any of those names comprise a significant part of that $2.6 billion when the release of the "Legend Blue" Air Jordan 11s alone raked in $80 million within a week. You can't argue with numbers like that.
Ultimately, Michael Jordan is still the world's greatest shoe salesman.
People go crazy for sneakers, and Filipinos go crazy for basketball superstars. That much we know. But among Jordan, Bryant, and James, whose sneakers make people go the craziest?
A few noteworthy Kobe releases, like 2014's Zoom Kobe 9 "Perspective" (which coincided with the release of the Air Jordan 3 "Infrared23") and Zoom Kobe 9 EM "Philippines" come to mind. Both releases caused quite a stir in the local sneaker scene as crowds flocked to Nikes and Titans all over Metro Manila. And for Nike to come up with a Philippines-themed colorway of the Kobe 9 (pictured below) in the first place tells of how much love we have for the Black Mamba.
Image via Sneakernews
Some LeBron releases also drew a lot of attention; like the Zoom LeBron 10 "Denim," which was even the cause of a shooting and unfortunate death in Atlanta. It's hard to believe some of the things that people do for a pair of shoes.
But as far as sneaker releases go, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything crazier than when Air Jordans come out. In June of 2011, Jordan Brand decided to make the U.S. release of the Air Jordan 1 "Banned" a factory store-exclusive. Madness ensued.
Like a scene straight out of World War Z, all hell broke loose as crowds of people scrambled to get to the front door of the Nike Factory Store in Houston, Texas. What's even more troubling is that it's not an isolated incident. Air Jordan release events are often met with incredible levels of hype. When the Air Jordan 11 "Concord" came out in Black Friday 2011, a literal stampede of people poured into a retailer in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Locally, the same sneaker drew lines that snaked around Nike stores everywhere.
The "Gamma Blue" 11s of 2013 and the "Space Jam" 11s of 2009 are also among the more historically violent Jordan drops that show just how coveted His Airness's signature sneakers are. That people would go to these lengths for a pair of shoes can be confounding, but throw Michael Jordan's name on them and it starts to make sense.
When it comes right down to it, none of the three signature sneakers would be as popular or as profitable as they are if they weren't well designed. Whether it's the way that cutting-edge technology is incorporated into their shoes or just how just how damn good they look, each of the three players' signature kicks are products of intelligent innovation.
The Air Jordan 1, designed by Peter Moore and released in 1984, was equipped with Nike Air heel cushioning. More importantly, it was a visually striking shoe that launched with a controversial "Bred" colorway, which was famously banned by the NBA.
The Jordan 1 design laid the foundation for Nike and Jordan Brand to redefine sports marketing. It also paved the path that designer Tinker Hatfield carried on with Jordans 3 through 15—a range that contains some of the most influential sneaker designs, which are still stylish to this day (go ahead: list five famous rappers that don't own a pair). Jordan Brand continues to innovate, as the Air Jordan XX9 and its impressive FlightPlate technology (pictured below) will prove.
But in terms of tech and innovation, the younger guns seem to make excellent cases. The Zoom Kobe 9 Elite, for instance, was the very first basketball shoe to incorporate Flyknit technology. This provided the shoe with tensile strength where it was needed while drastically reducing overall weight. Coupled with Flywire cables, Lunarlon cushioning, and the groundbreaking (read: neck-breaking) high-top design that the Zoom Kobe 10 Elite would eventually sport, the Kobe 9 is a great example of how Bryant's recent signature shoes have been pushing the envelope, both aesthetically and in terms of performance.
And then there's King James' line of signature sneakers, which you probably know as the "Gundam feet" on the shelves of your local Nike. (The 12 is shown below.) That's nothing against them, though—they're bold, brash, and they command attention. They're precisely like the athlete whose name they bear, and that's probably the coolest thing about them: They represent his character and career well. Colorways like the "South Beach" 8s, which commemorated his move to Miami, and the "Sprite" 2s, which referenced his soft drink endorsement show how LeBron's sneakers are truly fit for The King.
SO WHO TRULY HAS THE G.S.O.A.T.?
If it were a matter of sales, then Jordan reigns undisputed. Air Jordans and all their frenzied fans are also frequent newsmakers, with chaotic release events all over the world to prove that Mike's name continues to matter long after his retirement. But in terms of technology, innovation, and design, it's a tougher battle. While Jordans will always be iconic, Kobes and LeBrons are at the forefront of Nike's greatest innovations.
The question of "Who's the Greatest of All Time" remains a tricky one to settle, but each of their signature sneakers certainly tells stories of their own.
OTHER G.O.A.T.s AND THEIR HOOVES
There's so much more to the argument when you bring in other basketball greats. Popular opinion also puts these players among the greatest, and while not all of them have their own signature lines, they've all been known to lace up in a good pair of kicks.
Wilt Chamberlain played his 100-point game in Converse Chuck Taylors
Image via Complex
Bill Russell in Converse Chuck Taylors
Image via Pinterest
Kareem Abdul Jabbar's sky-hooks in his signature adidas shoes
Image via Sneakerlab
Larry Bird bagged his third straight MVP in the Converse Weapon
Image via Sneakerpedia