From the one-model-fits-all era of the Converse All-Star "Chuck Taylor" Basketball shoes, where the only consumer choices were a high-cut or low-cut model, the modern basketball shoe is a high-tech enhancement of player performance, as well as a fashion accessory that has swept beyond basketball to penetrate the world at large.
Basketball places significant and spontaneous forces upon the feet, ankles, and lowers legs of the participants, which their shoes must be able to both absorb and direct. The game places a premium on instant acceleration and deceleration, lateral movement, and jumping ability. For these reasons, a basketball shoe must be constructed with the combined features of support, cushioning to absorb shock, flexibility, and stability.
Both the physical build of a player as well as the individual style of play will also bear upon the type of basketball shoe to be worn. Larger players, who are supporting a heavier frame, should wear a shoe that provides significant stability, ankle support, and cushioning to better protect this player when running and jumping. A smaller player will often seek a balance between those features, and a lighter, more flexibly constructed shoe that will give advantages in quick movements and acceleration.
For both safety and performance reasons, female basketball players should seek out a specific women's model rather than selecting a men's shoe for competitive play. As the female foot is typically narrower than that of a male, wearing a shoe designed for the wider male foot may lead to a less-stable platform upon which to run, which in turn can contribute to decreased performance, ankle sprains, or other more serious leg injuries.
As with any athletic shoe, the basketball shoe has four primary parts: the upper, the insert, the midsole, and the outsole. The importance of the characteristics of each component of the shoe should be assessed according to the player's playing needs, physical structure, and athletic capabilities.
The upper part of the basketball shoe is responsible for keeping the foot secure; a snug-fitting upper is essential to the performance of a basketball shoe. Loose-fitting shoes will tend to create blisters by rubbing against and irritating the skin, and will also tend to be an unstable shoe, causing the player's foot to strike the floor in a fashion that creates a risk of ankle rollover or cause excessive pressure on the Achilles tendon or the knee joint. The upper may be constructed in varying styles, including high-, mid-, or low-cuts. High cuts offer the greatest degree of support to the player's ankle (assuming that the player does not wear an ankle support), while the lower the cut of the shoe, the typically greater degree of flexibility and turning capability for the player. The upper will also have a lacing or similar closure system for the shoe, which may be accompanied by a strap that adds support for the ankle by securing the top of the upper.
The insert is a feature that appears on some basketball shoe models. It is a detachable insole designed to provide arch support. Some inserts are designed to fit with a custom orthotic, a device used to correct irregularities in the motion of the foot or ankle caused by the skeletal alignment.
The midsole of the shoe is the material designed to absorb the forces of running and jumping. As a general principle of physics, the stiffer the midsole material, the better able the player to explode from the floor; the softer this material, the better cushioned the player will be. Seeking the appropriate balance between these factors is an important function of basketball shoe selection. The midsole has been the focus of specific shoe research over the past 25 years, as various compounds, including EVA (a synthetic rubber-like compound), air, gel, and different combinations of synthetics, have been introduced.
The outsole is generally flat, without a pronounced cut-out for the human arch, and with a tread designed to assist in maintaining traction. For those players who participate in outdoor basketball on paved courts, there are shoes designed with a heavier, more durable rubber outsole to resist wear.
Basketball shoes are the most important equipment associated with the sport. Modern advertising of the shoes is almost universally focused on the linkage of a particular brand with an identifiable National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar. However, the physical qualities of the product, particularly the capabilities of a shoe to withstand one or more of the particular forces that it will be subjected to in play, are rarely mentioned. The basketball shoe will have more potential impact on both the health and the performance of a basketball player than any other item of equipment. Therefore, individual research by an athlete as to the best type of shoe is of paramount importance to competitive success.