The Greatest Playoff Sneakers Of All Time

The Greatest Playoff Sneakers Of All Time

June 04, 2021

With the 2021 NBA Playoffs underway, many fans are excited to witness history in the making. From the big plays, moments and even sneakers on feet, the NBA Playoffs are a magical moment for every NBA fan and Sneakerhead. From Klay Thompson's three point record breaking quarter to Ray Allen’s corner three with 5 seconds left, at each game, series and moment a player can be cemented in history as well as the sneakers they had on feet. These moments can be captured and relived in nostalgic ways for many years in ways most people wouldn’t expect, by showing off their footwear. We gathered these iconic sneaker moments and put them in a bracket to see which pair trumps the rest. This is the STAY FRESH Sneaker Battle.


One Game At A Time

Legendary individual performances in the NBA playoffs have become an exciting highlight for any NBA fan to witness players become stars and stars become legends while also creating a brand for themselves within the sneakers they wear.

In Game 5 of the 1997 finals, Jordan immortalized himself as the GOAT when he battled “flu like symptoms” dropping 38 points to take a 3-2 series lead on Karl Malone’s Utah Jazz. Formally known as the Black/Red 12’s, The Jordan 12 “Flu Games” were renamed to honor his legendary performance.

Although this Jordan performance was outstanding, his 63 point Arrival in Boston leading the 30-52 Bulls to the playoffs in his sophomore year will be one of few great moments that were made while wearing the Jordan 1 silhouette. Fresh off an injury, a 23 year old Michael Jordan was able to drop 63 points in Game 2 against a Hall of Fame rostered Boston Celtics dawning a pair of Chicago Jordan 1’s. Arguably the greatest Air Jordan of all time, the Jordan 1 is the sneaker which continuously evokes nostalgia and connects generations of basketball fans and sneakerheads.

Many have attempted to replicate Jordan’s playoff greatness but only a few have succeeded. Lebron, considered to be this generation's Jordan, was the one to finally do it. In the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, Lebron James was able to stop the Celtics from closing out the series by dropping 45 points in his one of a kind Lebron 9 “Hunger Game” PE’s. James was able to close out the following games of that series and went on to win his first ever championship and finals MVP, cementing the Lebron 9 as a pinnacle basketball sneaker for every sneakerhead in the 2010’s.

With many superstars emerging in the playoffs, duels and rivalries are bound to be created within the intense environment of an NBA playoff series.


Road To 4 Wins

A player's performance in a series can lead to many historic events. Teams can become champions, and sneakers can become grails. It all comes down to capturing those 4 wins.

Following his first retirement, Jordan returned to the 1996 NBA season rocking a pair of Air Jordan 11’s, which were a familiar face due to the success of his blockbuster film, Space Jam. The Jordan 11 secured its place in the sneaker hierarchy when Jordan was able to win his 4th Championship against the Seattle Supersonics, averaging 30 points in his MVP performance on Father’s Day, a game dedicated to his late father; James. Till this day, the Air Jordan 11 is worn by many and remembered as one of Jordan and Tinker Hatfield’s greatest creations.

The moments of highs and lows made throughout a playoff series is what makes them so memorable. They’re moments which bring you to the edge of your seat. Kawhi Leonard’s shot over Joel Embiid in the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals still gives Raptors fans goosebumps. While wearing his signature sneaker, the New Balance Omni 1’s, Kawhi challenged the Sixers down to the last 4 seconds of Game 7. He ended the game by hitting a circus shot in the corner to eventually lead the Raptors to their first championship in the 2019 Playoffs. This shot resurrected New Balance’s basketball brand and created a wave for Kawhi’s line.

Series closers are haunting for anyone who’s on the receiving end. Kevin Durant being the “Slim Reaper” has built a reputation to be the assassin of the league. KD was finally able to receive his first championship ring wearing his signature KD 10’s by hitting a series changer in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals over Lebron James. KD’s shot changed the momentum of the whole series, as much as the Cavs tried, they couldn’t contain the Finals MVP from averaging 35 points and shooting 55% from the field.

An NBA series can intensify as the games progress, but the basketball moments made within the playoffs are what makes them truly memorable.


Defining Moments

Era defining moments are created countless times by many NBA players. However, it is rare that the heat they were wearing became as equally historic.

Although Nike has been the frontrunner for sneaker brands for years, the Converse brand was the king of the court in the 1970’s. The Converse Weapon was able to showcase the iconic duels of “Magic and Bird” off the court and eventually lead these two rivals to participate in the “Choose your Weapon” campaign.

As a player who was able to make waves on and off the court, Allen Iverson’s Hall of Fame career created an iconic moment in the 2001 NBA finals when he crossed up Tyronn Lue, then continued to step over him in his Reebok Answer 4’s. AI remains as one of the most impactful players of the 90's who wasn’t able to grasp an NBA title but his eye-catching style on and off the court progressed his line of Reebok Sneakers for years to come.

In the first round of the 1989 playoffs, Jordan faced two opponents; the Cavs and the NBA Press. Many news outlets had speculated that the Bulls would go home early. However, Jordan was able to extinguish the Cavs as well as the Bulls’ slump by hitting a 12 foot jumper, labeled “The Shot,” in the Jordan Bred 4’s over Craig Ehlo in Game 5 of the 1989 playoffs.

Years later, Jordan would replicate this moment in his Jordan 14’s, hitting his “Last Shot” over Byron Russel, winning his 6th NBA championship and cementing his historic career as arguably the greatest player in the history of the game.

Our appreciation for basketball and sneaker culture goes to great lengths. STAY FRESH carries the brands and sneakers in which many of these NBA Superstars reached their highest career heights. When seeding the sneakers for the STAY FRESH Sneaker Battle Bracket, we used moments which these sneakers were a part of to compare their historic events beyond the ones made just on court. To celebrate these moments, series and games, which resonate within every fan of basketball and sneakerheads alike, we are asking you to participate in helping us decide which NBA playoff sneaker is the greatest of all time.

Can you name all the sneakers in our Sneaker Battle Bracket? Click here to play.


Written by: KJ Mishra
Layout by: Matthew Chan

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