Complex Sneakers: The 20 Most Iconic NBA On-Court Sneaker Matchups of All Time

The only thing that ever makes our favorite sneakers better is seeing our favorite players rocking them while lighting up their biggest rivals and walking away with the victory. For sneakerheads, what’s on a player’s feet during the game is equally as important as the box score. And sometimes the footwear matchup is as hard-fought as the game itself. Whether it was Michael Jordan fighting off the pesky Reggie Miller, Eddie Jones stepping up to face Ray Allen’s sharpshooting, or Hoya alumni like Ewing and Mourning facing off, the battles on court are as much ingrained in our memories as the performances. With that said, check out the 20 Most Iconic On Court Sneaker Matchups Of All Time.




LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant

James’ Notable Sneakers:Nike Zoom LeBron II. Nike Zoom LeBron VI, Nike Air Max LeBron VII, Nike LeBron 8, Nike LeBron 9, Nike LeBron X                                                                                                                           Bryant’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Air Huarache 2K5 PE, Nike Zoom Kobe IV, Nike Zoom Kobe V, Nike Zoom Kobe VI, Nike Zoom Kobe VII, Nike Zoom Kobe 8

Years: 2004 – 2013

Outside of Mike, no two athletes have had so much success with their sneakers on and off the hardwood.


Charles Barkley vs. Michael Jordan

Barkley’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Air Max Force, Nike Air Force 180, Nike Air Alpha Force II, Nike Air CB 34
Jordan’s Notable Sneakers: Air Jordan 1 through VIII, Air Jordan XI through XIV

Years: 1985 – 1993, 1995 – 2000

Two of the strongest forces on Nike’s roster since the mid ’80s — the brand wouldn’t be what it is today in basketball without Chuck and Mike. Charles’ Air Max infused sneakers were always hot on the streets but Jordan was Jordan. Barkley just couldn’t top him, despite repeated attempts.


Tracy McGrady vs. Vince Carter

McGrady’s Notable Sneakers: adidas T-Mac 1, adidas T-Mac 2, adidas T-Mac 3

Carter’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Shox BB4, Nike Shox VC, Nike Shox VC II, Nike Shox VC III

Years: 2001 – 2003

McGrady started off his NBA career alongside third-cousin Vince Carter up in Toronto and then made his way to Orlando via a sign-and-trade in 2000. The plan was to team him up next to Grant Hill and body a Jordan-less Eastern Conference. Hill had some injuries that slowed him down, but before McGrady’s back took him out the game he was one of the most lethal scorers in the league. Face-offs with his former teammate turned into classic Sports Center segments and one of the best adidas vs Nike battles of all time.


Kevin Garnett vs Tim Duncan

Garnett’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Air Garnett, Nike Air Garnett III, Nike Flightposite KG, adidas TS Commander, Anta KG
Duncan’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Air Uptempo 3.0, Nike Air Flightposite One, Nike Air Max Duncan

Years: 1997 – Present

Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan have been battling in the paint for nearly two decades. Garnett has bounced around from one brand to another more often than Duncan but it’s safe to say their best battles came while both players were sporting The Swoosh. Both had underrated signature sneaker lines back in the day but in recent years, KG has made some questionable moves, while Duncan just keeps it moving and seems to never falter.


Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Shaquille O’Neal

Olajuwon’s Notablle Sneakers: Spalding Hakeem The Dream, Spadling Olajuwon
O’Neal’s Notable Sneakers: Reebok Shaqnosis, Reebok Shaq Attaq IV, Reebok Shaq Attaq

Years: 1993 – 1996

The battles between Hakeem and Shaq were great for the game during a time when the league desperately needed help after MJ went to Birmingham. Shaq did his thing for Reebok and became one of the first big men to really be able to push a shoe to mainstream consumers. Hakeem’s move with Spalding helped kids who couldn’t drop a hundred dollars wear something that would last and still looked pretty good on foot.


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Kobe Bryant vs. Kevin Durant

Bryant’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Zoom Kobe IV, Nike Zoom Kobe V, Nike Zoom Kobe VI, Nike Zoom Kobe VII, Nike Zoom Kobe 8                                                                                                                                               Durant’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Zoom KD I, Nike Zoom KD II, Nike Zoom KD III, Nike Zoom KD IV, Nike Zoom KD V

Years: 2009 – 2013

In case you missed it, we gave you the full history of when these two connect on the court and although Kobe has more seniority with The Swoosh, KD’s team is already chasing KB for the best signature line after LeBron. Kobe is still sitting at a different lunch table for now, though.

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Ray Allen vs. Eddie Jones

Allen’s Notable Sneakers: Air Jordan XIII, Air Jordan XX, Air Jordan XVI

Jones’ Notable Sneakers: Air Jordan XIII, Air Jordan XIV, Air Jordan XI

Years: 1996 – 2008

Two players who have had some of the sickest Jordan player editions created used to face off in some serious heat before Jones left the league and Jesus Shuttlesworth finally got his first ring in Boston. Those Ray Allen Seattle days still have people droppin’ stacks on eBay and Jones’ PEs aren’t too far behind.


Michael Jordan vs. Allen Iverson

Jordan’s Notable Sneakers: Air Jordan XII, Air Jordan XIII, Air Jordan XVI, Air Jordan III
Iverson’s Notable Sneakers: Reebok Question, Reebok Answer V, Reebok Answer VI

Years: 1996 – 1998, 2001 – 2002

Old School versus New School — A.I. was the new MJ when he first came in the league. He was the kid with the baggy shorts, chains, and the fresh sneakers that most people envied. Mike always propped the former Hoya for his heart and tough play and A.I. got the best of Mike with that double-cross in his Reebok Questions. Once.



Michael Jordan vs. Penny Hardaway

Jordan’s Notable Sneakers: Air Jordan XI, Air Jordan X, Nike Air Flight One
Hardaway’s Notable Sneakers:
 Nike Air Up, Nike Air Flight One, Nike Air Penny I

Years: 1994 – 1998, 2001 – 2003

These two didn’t have the same type of history as other players, but after Michael left the game Penny had became one of the league’s top stars and Nike’s new face. Their battles on the court featured a handful of sneakers that sit on everyone’s all-time favorite lists. Not to mention the fact that Jordan rocked Penny’s Nike Air Flight Ones and Penny sported MJ’s IXs, which is a sure sign of mutual respect.


David Robinson vs. Hakeem Olajuwon

Robinson’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Air Force V, Nike Air Command Force, Nike Air 2 Strong High, Nike Air Strong, Nike Air Unlimited
Olajuwon’s Notable Sneakers: Spalding The Dream Hakeem Olajuwon, L.A Gear Signature

Years: 1989 – 2002

The Admiral and The Dream held in down in Texas as two of the greatest centers to ever play the game. Somewhat evenly matched on the court, Robinson held a tremendous advantage when it came to kicks — his Nikes easily eclipsed Olajuwon’s assortment of L.A. Gears and Spaldings. That said, he who had the best sneakers didn’t always win — a valuable lesson for anyone.

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LeBron James vs. Carmelo Anthony

James’ Notable Sneakers: Nike Zoom Generation, Nike Zoom LeBron II, Nike Air Max LeBron VII, Nike LeBron 8 V2, Nike LeBron 9, Elite PS 9, Nike Lebron X
Anthony’s Notable Sneakers: Air Jordan XII PE, Air Jordan XIX, Air Jordan Melo 5.5, Air Jordan Melo M6, Air Jordan Melo M7, Air Jordan Melo M8, Air Jordan Melo M9

Years: 2003 – 2012

These two came into the league together, number one and three in the draft (sorry Darko) and have been gunning for the top spot in terms of rings and sneaker notoriety ever since. LeBron probably has the edge here since Melo’s signature kicks have been suspect some years but his PE Jordan resume from his rookie campaign alone is one of the greatest in the game.


Julius Erving vs. Larry Bird

Erving’s Notable Sneaker: Converse Pro Leather
Bird’s Notable Sneaker: Converse Pro Leather, Converse Weapon

Years: 1979 – 1987

Aside from trying to choke each other out on the court, the rivalry between Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Larry Bird was one that was always hard fought. Both Dr. J and Bird were long-time partners with Converse but despite the shared footwear choice, Larry and Julius played with a fierce competitiveness that was unparalleled. Erving regularly laced up the Converse Pro Leather, while Bird was proponent of the Weapon.



Reggie Miller vs. Michael Jordan

Jordan’s Memorable Sneakers: Air Jordan III, Air Jordan IX, Air Jordan X, Air Jordan XIII
Miller’s Memorable Sneakers: Nike Air Total Max Uptempo, Nike Air Way Up, Nike Air Flight 89

Years: 1987 – 1998, 2001 – 2003

Reggie Miller and the Pacers weren’t much concern for MJ and the Bulls in the earlier years but Miller’s competitive nature carried Indiana pretty far in the early ’00s. By the time Reggie laced up the Total Max Uptempo, the Pacers were giving MJ all sorts of headaches. We all know who had the last laugh and the better sneakers, though.


Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant

Jordan’s Notable Sneakers: Air Jordan XIII, Air Jordan XVII, Air Jordan XVIII
Bryant’s Notable Sneakers:
 adidas KB8, adidas Kobe II, Air Jordan III “True Blue”, Air Jordan VII PE, Air Jordan VIII PE

Years: 1998, 2001 – 2003

The heir apparent to Jordan when he entered the league in ’96, Kobe went an alternate route and initially signed with The Three Stripes. By the time Jordan returned a third time with the team he helped run, Kobe was leaving adidas and the crew at Jumpman thought it would be fitting to lace Kobe in some dope Lakers-edition PEs for battles with Mike before His Airness exited for good.


Derrick Rose vs. LeBron James

Rose’s Notable Sneakers: adidas Crazy 8, adidas adiZero Rose 1.5, adidas adiZero Rose 2, adidas TS Supernatural Creator
James’ Notable Sneakers: Nike Air Max LeBron VII, PS VII, Nike LeBron 8 V2, V3, Nike LeBron 9

Years: 2008 – 2012

It has been a minute since adidas has secured a star like D. Rose and outside of Nike he has proven himself as one most valuable athletes to a brand. Since LeBron left Ohio for MIA, Rose’s squad has won more games and his sneakers are even proving to be somewhat of a competition with The King. Since Rose went down last year with the ACL, can we get the return and an Eastern Conference Finals match-up to make up for lost time?



Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson


Bird’s Notable Sneakers: Converse Pro Leather, Converse Weapon, Converse CONS ERX-300
Johnson’s Notable Sneakers: Converse Pro Leather, Converse Weapon


Years: 1984 – 1990


One of the most iconic match-ups period. You couldn’t talk about pro basketball in the ’80s without mentioning these two and Converse had them locked up rocking Converse Weapons for a better part of the decade. No new model each year or 30 different colorways — if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.



Patrick Ewing vs. Alonzo Mourning


Ewing’s Notable Sneakers: Ewing Athletics 33 Hi, Nike Metal Force, Nike Air Force Authority
Mourning’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Air Force High, Nike Air Alonzo, Nike Air Force Authority


Years: 1993 – 2000


Two of the best centers to ever do it both hailing from the heralded Hoyas program. Ewing and Mournings on-court battles are more historic than their footwear moments but they still rocked some significant basketball sneakers that often don’t get enough credit for performance and aesthetics.



Shawn Kemp vs. Dennis Rodman


Kemp’s Notable Sneakers: Reebok Hexalite, Reebok Kamikaze II, Reebok Reignman III
Rodman’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Air Shake Ndestrukt, Nike Air Up, Converse All-Star I


Years: 1996 – 1999


Kemp and Rodman were two of the most entertaining forwards in the ’90s for various reasons, but both of them were equally well known for their crazy kicks on the court. It was nice to see the Kamikaze IIs make their way back last month but damn, can we get a legit Air Shake Ndestrukt release in the near future?



Scottie Pippen vs. Charles Barkley


Pippen’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Air Maestro, Nike Air Flight Lite Mid, Nike Air Max Uptempo
Barkley’s Notable Sneakers: Nike Air Force Max, Nike Air Force 180 Low, Nike Air Max 2 CB 4


Years: 1987 – 2000


After Mike and Penny, Barkley and Pippen had the most recognizable signature lines in the league. During a few face-offs in the Finals and All-Star Game they rocked some of Nike Basketball’s classic ’90s kicks before teaming up in Houston and failing to get that ring as one of the NBA’s first trade/free agency Big Three.



Kobe Bryant vs. Allen Iverson

Bryant’s Memorable Sneakers: adidas EQT Top Ten 2000, adidas KB II, adidas Kobe I, adidas Kobe II
Iverson’s Memorable Sneakers: Reebok Question, Reebok Answer II, Reebok Answer IV, Reebok Answer V

Years: 1996 – 2010

Part of the Class of ’96 Rat Pack, AI and Kobe hit the ground running when it came to sneakers. Kobe’s adidas EQT Top Ten 2000 is such an underrated shoe from The Three Stripes and his other signature kicks still hold weight as some of the best shoes from a great brand. As for Iverson, you can argue that his run of Reebok Questions to Answer Vs is one of the best signature streaks in basketball sneaker history along with MJ and Bron’s.

* Repost via Complex Sneakers


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