Like many sneakerheads who claimed the title before it became a thing, it was basketball that brought me into this silly little world of ours. Writing Carmelo Anthony in my hometown Denver Nuggets introduced me to the sport for the very first time, and it was his first signature shoe, the Air Jordan 1.5, which would be my first of many Jordans.
The ball became life, and I eventually discovered a much larger world of Jordan than what Carmelo wore on the court through fledgling sneaker blogs and forums. The encyclopedia of Air Jordans and the meaning of each model and variant have become ingrained in my brain. Knowing, for example, that the Air Jordan 3 was the sneaker that kept Michael from leaving Nike or that the Air Jordan 6 was the shoe with which he won his first championship was key to the appeal of each shoe. And while my sneaker craze would eventually spill over outside of basketball, nothing was more important than hoops in the end. Some of my favorite non-Jordanians from college through college were, in chronological order, Kevin Garnett’s Adidas KG Bounce, Converse Wade 1, and Nike LeBron 8 “South Beach.”
Today, basketball isn’t nearly as central to sneaker culture. Air Jordans may still be the cream of the crop, but fewer people who buy them share the same love of basketball than those who did 10-15 years ago. Outside of Michael’s line, few people still wear basketball shoes, especially for anything other than playing the sport. The space has been in decline for more than five years, as NDP senior adviser Matt Powell regularly reports, which is only 3 percent athletic shoes sold in the United States from its peak at 14 percent.
I lament basketball’s loss of relevance in the space it eventually created, but I’m not surprised either. The performance basketball shoes of the past few years have gotten ugly and more alike in every way – which is why I was so excited to get my hands on Nike’s new Cosmic Unity. Finally, I thought, sneakers that look good enough for me to wear everyday.
So far in a week of wearing the Comic Unity and when I’ve gone to throw bricks, the sneaker has held me back at every stop. At first I was reminded that basketball shoes take a little time and found them to be a little too tight to be comfortable. But as I started doing more runs, the tight upper became less constricting and allowed me to appreciate the support of the Crater Foam midsole below.
I have a basketball sneaker in my Daily rotation again.
The (relative) durability of the Cosmic Unity’s midsole and other components is also a big part of its appeal. Crater Foam uses at least 11% recycled rubber and foam, while the laces, thread and even the marbled Swoosh are partially made from repurposed materials to bring the shoe’s total recycled volume to 25%. That number isn’t exactly staggering, but it’s the highest yet for a performance basketball shoe from Nike.
What matters to me most, however, is how good the shoe looks and how easily I can incorporate it into my wardrobe. The speckling of Crater Foam is gorgeous, and it’s molded into a bulbous shape that reminds me of another favorite sneaker of mine – the Adidas Crazy BYW, which was inspired by the ’90s FYW basketball shoe that also influenced the Yeezy 500. the wavy knit upper and laces, and the entire shoe is held together by a beautiful marbled Swoosh and tongue badge. The total package is not it doesn’t look like a basketball shoe, but its performance elements don’t overwhelm its lifestyle appeal.
It warms my dumb little heart to know that I once again have a basketball sneaker in my daily rotation, which reminds me of my time in middle school and high school where I picked up Melo’s signature shoe every year. I certainly wasn’t getting worked up then – the UNC basketball shorts that fit me now perfectly show how ill-fitting my clothes used to be – but now I get the best of both worlds with a stylish shoe that doesn’t screw up my whole set.
18 East cargo pants, vintage, well-washed Levi’s 501s, and even my Ralph Lauren pleated pants – they all work with my Cosmic Unitys. I couldn’t say the same about the shoes of LeBron James or Steph Curry or anyone. And maybe it’s because the cosmic unit isn’t tied to a specific athlete, and maybe it’s not quite at the same level of performance, that it’s able to fit so well into the lifestyle space.
Basketball shoes may still be far from relevant, but at least cosmic unity has given us the first small step in the right direction in years.