Though it will never be as popular as the Air Jordan line, LeBron James’s run of signature sneakers will go down in NBA lore as one of the best to ever hit the hardwood. From his very first shoe, the Nike Air Zoom Generation, which he sported during a riveting 25-point, 9-assist rookie debut in Sacramento, to the recently announced LeBron XII, each sneaker has had something iconic about it. Nike is even being urged to start retro-ing the line. But which of LeBron’s signature sneakers is the best? We chatted with three prominent sneaker writers to find out.
Brett Goliff, color and trim lead designer for Chevrolet Performance and former footwear designer for New Balance
“To me there are two eras of LeBron shoes—the Ken Link era and the Jason Petrie era. Link assisted on the Zoom Generation and designed the LeBrons 2 through 6, and Petrie took the helm after that shoe. Both designers provided unique directions for what the LeBron [sneaker] is, which relates directly to LeBron’s uniqueness as a player. Because of this, I can’t pick just one. I am going to pick two.
Nike LeBron IV “Fairfax”
“The LeBron IV is one of my favorite aesthetics of all time. That shoe was a tank. I am pretty confident the only person on the planet it was light for was LeBron himself. Even though it was so heavy, it was still visually light. Link created a graphic that split the shoe in half with a line that organically flowed around the whole waist of the shoe. It is quite beautiful. The impressive part about the Foamposite design was how flexible it was. Ken had precisely placed vertical lines that ‘freed up’ the design and sole unit. Those two elements alone push that shoe to the top of the LeBron line for me.
Nike LeBron IX “China”
“For Petrie, I have to go with the LeBron IX. Aesthetically it isn’t my favorite shoe—not to say that it doesn’t look astonishing, because it does. But what I really love about the shoe is its use of materials. It features every possible material you can think of by Nike, and it balances them all very well. Plus on the Elite version, its use of the real Carbon Fiber wing is perfection.”
George Kiel, associate editor at Nice Kicks and host of “Sneak Peak“
Nike LeBron VII
“My favorite LeBron model, without a doubt, is the Nike Air Max LeBron VII, for a few reasons. In my opinion, the VII is the best-looking model, aesthetically. Everything about it—from the full-length Air Max bag to the new Flywire design—was great. It was also one of the better performing models Petrie ever created. It featured a super locked-down feel, and it’s the one LeBron shoe I still consistently play ball in.
“The biggest reason this shoe represents my favorite LeBron is that it symbolizes the first big media event I attended. The Cleveland-based event, obviously promoting James’s seventh signature shoe, was held in 2009. It’s still one of the best and most informative media summits I’ve attended, and I still have the original colorway from that event.”
Nike Air Zoom Generation
“The LeBron VIIIs were strong, but the first joints—the Nike Air Zoom Generations—were tops among LeBron’s signature shoes. From comfort to the aggressive look, the AZGs had all bases covered. They were modeled after Hummers, built like tanks and could withstand a beating, an attribute likely owing to the fact that they used leather, which we hardly see in basketball shoes anymore. The low profile feel of the sole, plus the Zoom Air, just made these dreamy to wear on and off the court. To top it all off, they were heavily slept on when they first dropped, so finding a pair for less than a buck wasn’t hard to do. Hindsight makes me wish I would’ve grabbed two or three pairs of the black joints
Jordan Zirm, assistant content editor for STACK
“The first pair of ‘cool’ shoes I ever bought was the LeBron X, but the LeBron VIII deserves the crown of ‘Best LeBron’ in my book. It’s obviously the shoe that started the whole ‘South Beach’ colorway bonanza, but I think its tongue is what put it over the top. The lion has always been a huge element of LeBron’s branding, and its presence on the VIII’s oversized tongue is on point. Plus, the ‘Entourage
‘ and ‘Miami Nights
‘ colorways are, in my opinion, two of the best to ever grace a shoe in the LeBron line. It’s a sleek shoe that looks even better off court than it does on it.”