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Black Culture’s Role in Sneakerhead Culture – and some of our favorite NBA Signature Sneakers!

Sneakerhead culture is on the rise, but do those new to the community know where it came from and how it started?

Off-White Jordan 1 is in the Public Domain

Black Culture’s Role in Sneakerhead Culture – and some of our favorite NBA Signature Sneakers!


Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Sneakerhead Culture Today

We all know what Air Jordans are. We all know someone who knows someone who considers themselves a “sneakerhead”. But the culture seems to have changed quite a bit in the past couple decades. What used to be a community of devoted folks with a historian-like knowledge of sneakers (largely made up of Black people) is now teeming with members of Gen Z and people who want a pair of Nike SB Dunks because a Jenner or influencer wore them on social media.

Sneaker companies market to this new, younger generation of sneakerheads, who likely don’t know the history of the culture. Teens and 20-somethings who buy shoes from sites like StockX or Grailed don’t know that kids in the 80s and 90s lined up for raffle spots for the chance to get their hands on the latest release. While the growth of sneakerhead culture in itself isn’t a bad thing, I think it’s important to acknowledge where it came from, and that’s Black culture.

Who is the culture for now?

I run a small business part-time selling vintage and secondhand clothing (shoutout the environment). I remember hearing about Benjamin Kickz, nicknamed “The Sneaker Don”, a few years ago. Benjamin Kickz started reselling sneakers to the rich and famous as a teenager and has since grown his business to crazy numbers. The sneaker reseller community has massively changed sneakerhead culture, making the most coveted releases more easily accessible. More easily accessible if you have money, that is. Considering the wealth gap, this fact leaves out a large population of the people who made sneaker culture what it is today – Black people.

While sneakers existed before the 1980s, they rose in popularity as a fashion statement and status symbol during that period. A great deal of this rise can be attributed to the rise of hip-hop culture, and sports, of course. The first Air Jordans were released in 1985, and Run DMC released their ode to sneakers, “My Adidas”, the following year. During Black History Month, I spent a lot of time thinking about and acknowledging that many things we obsess over, collect and consume are contributions of Black culture. There is no sneakerhead culture without hip-hop/NBA basketball. There is no hip-hop or NBA basketball as it is today without Black culture. Remember that and celebrate it.

I asked some team members at The Turf what their favorite NBA signature sneakers are, so here they are!


Air Jordan 1

The original Air Jordan doesn’t really need an explanation, I don’t think. The silhouette is iconic and was the first shoe of many Air Jordans to come.

Air Jordan 3

The Air Jordan 3 was the first Air Jordan shoe designed by Tinker Hatfield. Hatfield went on to design the shoe through the XV. Additionally, he designed the XX and XX3. This shoe was the first featuring the iconic Jumpman on the tongue.

Air Jordan 4

Alright, these are the last Jordans, I promise. The Air Jordan 4 was the first Air Jordan to be released to the global market. They’re also the shoes MJ was wearing when he made the series-winning shot against the Cavs in the first round of the playoffs in 1989. These shoes were featured in Spike Lee’s film, Do The Right Thing. Do yourself a favor and watch the iconic scene featuring Giancarlo Esposito. There’s nothin’ like Gus Fring freaking out about his Jordan 4s.

Reebok Question

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the Reebok Question on this list. The Question is Allen Iverson’s first signature shoe, and is also Reebok’s best-selling shoe ever. AI is the most influential player when it comes to changing the fashion game in the NBA. He brought streetwear to the NBA, before the league was “ready” for it. David Stern, the NBA Commissioner at the time, implemented a dress code in 2005 – an effort to restore the “clean-cut” image of the league. All of the amazing outfits in the league today were made possible by Allen Iverson.

Nike Kobe 6 Grinch

Kobe Bryant debuted this delectable shoe on Christmas Day of 2010 when the Lakers took on the Miami Heat. The snakeskin texture paired with the high-voltage colorway makes these shoes an absolute gem. Nike released the Protro this past Christmas because the shoe is just that good.

Nike LeBron 8

LeBron James’ 8th signature shoe was released in 2010, when he first started playing for the Miami Heat. The shoe features a 360-degree Air Max outsole, and seemed to work out pretty well for LBJ.

Reebok Kamikaze II

The Reebok Kamikaze 2 is by far the best shoe released in Shawn Kemp’s line. The extravagant zig-zag pattern can be spotted from a mile away, while the dark green accents give the shoe that something extra. Reebok actually revived this original colorway in October of last year.

Nike Air Jordan 6 “Jimmy Butler”

This diffused blue Air Jordan was released in December of 2018, when Jimmy Butler was with the Minnesota Timberwolves. I’m obsessed with the retro feel and dusty blue upper with the translucent sole.


Those are just some of our favorites! There are tons more, so leave a comment and let us know what your favorite NBA signature shoes are. And next time you lace up your favorite shoes and avoid creases at all costs, think of those sneakerheads who came before you.

Jamie is an actress, bar manager (and frequenter), beauty blogger, INFP, and of course, NBA fanatic living in Los Angeles. She spends most of her free time curating her Spotify playlists, eating Korean BBQ with her boyfriend, and deciding what color lipstick to wear.

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