There’s a cliché in sports that you play for the name on the front of the jersey and not the one on the back. And if you talk to any athlete who has ever donned the red, white, and blue, he or she will tell you that feeling is magnified when the name on the front reads, “U-S-A.”
It doesn’t matter what heights those athletes have reached in the professional or amateur arena, or how much money they’ve made, few feelings rival the pride of playing for one’s country. Yes, that’s even true for the NBA players who will be competing in the Olympics in Rio over the next two weeks.
Sure, they may be the most well-compensated people who walked during the Opening Ceremony (I’ll try to hold back on any IOC bribery jokes), and they may be staying aboard a luxury cruise ship instead of the athlete village during their time in Brazil. But make no mistake, those athletes understand the weight of playing for Team USA and fully understand that nothing less than gold will suffice.
To help them in that quest, the 12 NBA stars on Team USA’s roster will be wearing some of the coolest sneakers out right now. Starting with the first Dream Team in 1992, when Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley sported Olympic editions of the Air Jordan VII and Air Force 180, respectively, Olympic players have used the Games to rock special kicks. It isn’t quite the NBA All-Star Game in terms of on-feet heat, but the Olympic sneakers are certainly special. And this year’s crop is no exception. While Nike caused a minor kerfuffle when it not so subtly obscured the shoes of the athletes it doesn’t endorse (there’s only three of them) in a team photo, all the members of Team USA will be wearing special edition colorways in Rio.
While some players may switch models throughout the Games, most will stick with one. Based on what the players have been wearing leading up to the Games, we found each one’s primary Olympic sneaker and ranked them.
11. KLAY THOMPSON: ANTA KT1 LOW
When the Golden State Warriors sharpshooter first introduced his signature shoe with Chinese brand Anta, even he had a tough time looking excited about them. For the Olympics, Thompson is wearing a low-top version—and they aren’t much better. It’s tough to even find a place to buy the KT1s in the United States, not that anyone is clamoring to do so.
10. HARRISON BARNES: ADIDAS CRAZY BOUNCE
The Crazy Bounce looks like a sneaker that was first released 15 years ago and brought back, even though it wasn’t that popular the first go-around. The thick white stripes around the ankle collar seem like they could be part of a collab with Virgil Abloh’s Off White. Aside from that, it’s hard to point out any other features that would make you want to lace a pair of these up.
9. CARMELO ANTHONY: JORDAN MELO M12
After being called out as “Old Man Rivers” by Draymond Green on Snapchat, it’s a little hard not to look at Melo’s latest signature kicks as “old man shoes.” Anthony may actually lace up the Air Jordan XXXIs a bit during the Games, but has stuck to the M12 in the lead up. The M12 is actually one of the better iterations of Carmelo’s kicks in recent memory, but there just isn’t a whole lot to get super excited about.
8. DEANDRE JORDAN, DEMARCUS COUSINS: NIKE HYPERDUNK 2016
There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with the Nike Hyperdunk. It’s just that after you’ve seen how awesome the Elite Flyknit version can look, the standard-issue shoe seems a little average. It’s essentially the shoe of choice for big men who need a lot of cushioning when they’re banging underneath. But outside of that, it doesn’t have a ton of crossover appeal.
7. DRAYMOND GREEN: NIKE ZOOM CLEAR OUT
The Zoom Clear Out isn’t the kind of sneaker that is going to incite any Saturday morning lineups ahead of a new release. But for a main line basketball shoe, it’s pretty damn good. The angled collar gives it a speedier flair and the rest of the upper has a fairly minimal design, which allows it to be nicely accented with bolder prints and patterns.
6. DEMAR DEROZAN: NIKE KOBE 11
One knock on the Kobe 11 is that it’s been around for awhile. It would’ve been cool to see DeRozan take the court in a sneaker that’s a little more current. But regardless of age, the Kobe 11 is a solid shoe to ball in. If anything, it’s too low profile, reminding one more of a pair of martial arts shoes than basketball ones.
5. KYLE LOWRY: ADIDAS CRAZY LIGHT BOOST LOW 2016
Adidas is onto something with its Boost technology. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more comfortable cushioning material out there right now. The Crazy Light Boost 16 features the highest amount of Boost that Adidas has ever put in its basketball shoes. And the low-top cut ensures they look as sharp in the streets as they do in a game.
4. KYRIE IRVING: NIKE KYRIE 2
Like Durant, Kyrie Irving is another player who has quietly assembled an impressive sneaker portfolio. While Irving is only on the second iteration of his Nike signature model, a clear design language has alread emerged with the midfoot strap and mid-cut profile. The shoes don’t have a lot of bells and whistles because they don’t need them, and they don’t change drastically from year to year. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
3. JIMMY BUTLER: AIR JORDAN XXXI
One of the most noticeable aspects of the newest Air Jordan is the Swoosh on the upper. The Air Jordan XXXI is the first in the series to feature that logo since the original. But while there are plenty of elements on the shoe that look back, it also is markedly forward-facing with an innovative leather-Flyweave upper and low profile cushioning that makes players feel more connected to the court.
2. KEVIN DURANT: NIKE KD9
While his game and his sneakers will forever be compared to contemporaries such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant has consistently put out the best signature kicks in the Nike family. The latest edition, the first of KD’s sneakers to feature a Flyknit upper, is no exception. The shoes have plenty of properties ballers are looking for, but they also look just as good off the court with a pair of jeans or shorts.
1. PAUL GEORGE: NIKE HYPERDUNK 2016 ELITE
This isn’t just a high top. It’s an ultra high top and sometimes that can come off a bit weird. But with the Flyknit upper on the Nike Hyperdunk 2016, it just works. The fact that you can fold down the cuff makes the height a tad less dramatic, but even fully extended this is a shoe that is destined to be retro’d 10 to 20 years down the line. It’s somewhat surprising that George will be the only one rocking these in Rio.