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The Team USA Sneakers Starting Five

Celebrating the greatest kicks to ever win gold

Getty Images
Getty Images

By Carl Brooks Jr. and Chris Almeida

Whether it’s Chris Paul running the point in 2012 or Larry Bird getting loose for 19 points against Germany in 1992, there’s one thing each Team USA men’s basketball player has had in common: They were rocking sneakers. Olympic sneakers have become an event in and of themselves, with companies using every resource at their disposal to have an eye-catching model to display every four years. But not all Olympic kicks are created equal, and some are more iconic than others. To pay respects to these pieces of patriotic sneaker art, we created our own team, consisting of the shoes that have dazzled as much as the athletes wearing them.

Point Guard, 2004: Reebok Iverson Question 2s

Carl Brooks Jr.: When I was 11 years old, these shoes changed my life. I had never felt more proud to be a U.S. citizen. I can neither confirm nor deny it, but I’m told that when you hoop in these, every third dribble becomes a crossover.

Chris Almeida: As a Georgetown alum, I have never been prouder of my school. These are the shoes that started me down the dark and wasteful path that I have walked these last dozen years. The period since has spawned many overdone monstrosities, but Reebok and A.I. showed that simple is just fine.

Shooting Guard, 1992: Air Jordan Olympic 7s, a.k.a. the GOAT Olympic Shoe

C.B.: The GOAT. It’s just that simple. This pair changed all Olympic-themed shoes going forward. I wore these in a few games during my senior year of high school, and I can confidently say that they are 41 percent responsible for the perfection that was the Dream Team and 0 percent responsible for my high school losing in the conference semifinals. If Hercules were to compete in the modern Olympic Games, he would rock these.

C.A.: These are collection centerpieces. I have had an unworn pair of these sitting in a box under my bed since 2010 and have never dared to step outside with them on my feet. A few years after thinking up this pair, Nike’s Tinker Hatfield would produce his most popular design, but these, the only shoes that Bulls Jordan™ ever wore at the Olympics, benefit from the unbeatable combo of an already-popular silhouette and the memory of the Dream Team.

Small Forward, 1996: Nike Zoom Flight ’96 (Penny)

C.B: The official shoe of the Wise Swingman. Seeing someone wear these gives me so much confidence in their decision-making. These sneakers say, “I like basketball, but I am studying for my CPA exam.”

C.A.: Has any athlete ever had a better (or worse) basketball-impact-to-sneaker-popularity ratio than Penny Hardaway? These shoes, like all Penny-branded kicks, are wonderfully ’90s. But for anyone who wasn’t watching the NBA during the ’90s, Hardaway may as well be Ser Arthur Dayne; you know he was a big deal a long time ago, but the only young people who know what he did are those who spend a lot of their time on Wikipedia/Westerosi Wikipedia. Imagine how strange it would be if people all over Westeros used Dayneposite swords, but nobody said anything about who “Dayne” was. That’s how I feel about these shoes and Penny Hardaway.

Power Forward, 2000: Nike Air Flightposite II KG

C.B.: I am old enough to appreciate these (and this). These shoes look and feel like the Future.

C.A.: These have retroed over the course of my sneaker-buying career, and I admit I have been tempted. But … zippers have not aged well.

Center, 1992: Ewing Eclipse (Welp)

C.B.: I rock with these heavy. Possibly related: I picked the shield at the beginning of Kingdom Hearts I. The strap in the back is perfect for supporting your heel as you make defensive slides. I was always one of the shortest people playing, so the extra 2–3 inches of height I would get from these makes them real game changers. These are low-key the Hufflepuff of the Olympic kicks game, but I’ll be damned if I don’t rock with a fellow Jamaican.

C.A.: I have never been more ashamed of Georgetown. What and who allowed this to happen to the greatest Hoya of all time?

Sixth Man, 2012: Nike Kobe 7s

C.B.: These are the cleanest lowtops of our generation. This was Nike’s best year for designing Kobes, and the 7s were best in class. This would have been a perfect shoe for Kobe to retire on, but instead we got these. The 7s are the footwear equivalent of a high-quality haircut; sharp edges but not too flashy.