In the beginning was the Converse All Star Chuck Taylor. The world's first basketball shoe, launched in 1917, had a thick rubber sole and an ankle-covering canvas upper. Taylor, a player for the Akron Firestones and later the fitness consultant for the US Army during the Second World War, had his name added to them in 1923. Since then, the design has not changed.
From the Chuck Taylor – the best-selling sports shoe ever with more than 550 million sold so far – came all other basketball boots. Classics such as the Converse Weapon, the shoe worn by Magic Johnson at the height of the rivalry between the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics, and the Nike Dunk Force, the very first basketball boots worn by the Chicago Bulls superstar, Michael Jordan, were 1980's archetypes.
But as shoe manufacturers and sports stars developed closer relationships, Nike seized the upper ground with the Air Jordan. The technology changed, too. Players became bigger – the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal weighed more than 300lb, stood 7ft 1in tall and had a shoe size of 22 by the time he was 25 years old – so shoes had to provide more support. Lino Frattin, the coach of the London Towers basketball team, says "the heavier a person is the more weight needs to be supported on the ankles and lower leg rather than the knees."
According to Frattin, basketball players have to find a balance between comfort and support while keeping the weight of the shoes low and the flexibility high for running from end to end of the court. Some leagues have footwear regulations and shoes are becoming tailored for certain positions. Style is also crucial: "players like to look good," says Frattin. Professionals' shoes can cost £130 and will be replaced every two months, with most players having three pairs in rotation.
The most significant innovation has been the use, pioneered by Nike and Reebok, of air cells in the sole to cushion feet, especially heels. Air pockets have been controversial though; a study earlier this year by researchers at La Trobe University in Australia found they increased injuries to players four-fold. Frattin believes that it is a simple trade-off: much better shock absorption but also, arguably, a higher risk of twisting an ankle.
Nike Air Solo Flight Lite
Not quite as light as Nike's £100 Hyper Flights but a reasonably priced alternative.
Stockists: 0800 056 1640
Full-grain leather uppers and non-scuff rubber sole. As worn by Magic Johnson in the 1980s.
Stockists: Size? 020 7287 4016
Reebok Middleman HEX
Reebok's middle-of-the-range boot, cushioned by small, cone-shaped air cells.
Stockists: 0800 3050 5050
Nike Dunk Force Hi-Top
Another classic design from the 1980s, the shoe that became the market-leading Nike Air Jordan.