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The Players, Teams, and Sneakers of Legendary March Madness Runs

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March Madness is upon us, with the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament now underway. With only a few games in the books so far, we’ve already seen some serious upsets, clutch shots, and the inevitable shattering of dreams for the losing teams. March Madness is always an exciting time, whether you’re a hardcore college basketball fan or haven’t watched a game all season long. Just like the tournament’s nickname implies, the games can indeed be madness for all involved. Even the most casual basketball fan can get hysterical while watching the games—especially if they filled out a bracket and have some money on the outcomes.

Wins, losses, and dollars won are the focal points for most March Madness participants not out there on the floor actually playing, but here in the sneaker world there’s another thing we all pay attention to: the shoes worn for the big dance. Jordan retros seem to have become the norm for the hottest on-court kicks during recent times, but in years past, various models have had their names made during the tournament as certain players and their performances make a great shoe legendary, or sometimes a totally random shoe at least remembered. Going back through March Madness history, we picked a few of the most legendary performances to see what the players had on their feet.

Danny Manning and Kansas – 1988
Danny Manning proved the popular opinion that he was the best player in the country during the 1987-88 basketball season when he almost single-handedly willed his nationally unranked, tournament sixth-seeded Kansas Jayhawks to the national title. Despite injuries plaguing the Jayhawks and ten losses in the regular season, the Jayhawks A.K.A. “Danny and the Miracles” took it all home for Kansas’ first ever championship behind Manning’s incredible tournament performance. It was capped off by 31 points, a career-high 18 rebounds, and 5 steals in the championship game against heavily-favored Oklahoma. That year the Jayhawks were wearing Nike, and Danny’s shoe of choice was the fittingly named sneaker in regards to his dominant play, the Nike Air Assault.

Michigan and Chris Webber’s Infamous Timeout – 1993
After being bested by Christian Laettner and the Duke Bluedevils one year earlier in the championship game, the Fab Five from Michigan were back again in 1993, where they faced North Carolina in the national title game. After a closely contested game from both teams, disaster struck for Michigan in the final twenty seconds of the game when they were down only 2 points. Chris Webber first got away with a travel after a rebound, and then dribbled the ball down the court and called timeout. One problem: the Wolverines had no timeouts left, which meant a technical foul was called. Michigan ended up losing by six points in one of the most infamous championship games ever, but at least they did it in style. On their feet throughout the tournament was the all-black (with matching black socks, of course) Nike Air Force Max.

Mike Bibby and Arizona – 1997
In one of the most difficult NCAA tournament runs to the championship ever, the fourth seeded Arizona Wildcats led by Mike Bibby defeated three #1 seeded teams to take home the title. If you know anything about college basketball sneaker history, then you probably know that this team laced up one of the most impressive collections of footwear for any team ever. Included in the arsenal of heat was the Nike Zoom Flight V, Nike Air Max Uptempo III, Air Jordan XII, and one of the most iconic college hoops shoes ever thanks to Mike Bibby, the Nike Air Foamposite One in its original royal colorway—before Penny Hardaway even wore them.

Rip Hamilton and Connecticut – 1999
1999 was the year of Rip and the Huskies, as Hamilton helped UCONN dominate throughout the regular season, and then led the team all the way to the national championship. Rip simply killed it that 1998-99 season, winning the nation’s scoring title as well as being the tournament’s top scorer and Most Outstanding Player.
Rip wore a number of great shoes throughout his Huskies career including the Air Penny 2, Zoom Flight 98, and Foamposite One, just to name a few, but capped it all off in the championship game where he scored 27 points wearing the white/red Air Jordan XIV.

Mateen Cleaves and Michigan State – 2000
In 2000 the Michigan State Spartans finished as the regular season as the #1 team in the nation, and continued their dominance straight through the tournament by winning it all. Led by Mateen Cleaves—a classic case of a college hoops star that didn’t do much in the pros—the Spartans destroyed their competition, winning every game of the tournament by double digits. Sponsored by Reebok, the team was ahead of the curve in the retro game, with a few members of the team wearing the early retro of Allen Iverson’s Reebok Question, which had just originally released four years earlier.

Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse – 2003
One of the most dominant college freshman ever, Carmelo Anthony averaged a double-double (22 points, 10 rebounds) during his only season at Syracuse and led the school to its first-ever national title. Melo was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, which was in no question after his 33 point performance against Texas and leadership in the championship game win over Kansas. On his feet for the memorable run were the Nike Shox Supremacy.

Stephen Curry and Davidson – 2008
Before Steph Curry was a sharp-shooting, flashy-passing, ankle-breaking NBA MVP candidate, he put his name on the basketball world map in 2008 as a member of the unknown 10th-seeded Davidson Wildcats that made a well-remembered run to the Elite 8 after upsetting #2 and #3 ranked teams. In the Elite 8, Curry and Davidson narrowly lost to #1 seeded Kansas, but not before capturing the nation’s heart as the latest Cinderella story. Curry dominated with a tournament-leading 30+ point average while wearing the Nike Zoom BB2, which was even then inscribed with his now very familiar “I can do all things” verse.

Gordon Hayward and Butler – 2010
Little-known private school Butler University from Indianapolis, Indiana stole the basketball nation’s heart in 2010, when they had a Cinderella run during their first-ever tournament appearance. Ranked #5 in the West region, baby-faced Gordon Hayward led the team effort from Butler past #1 seeded Syracuse and #2 seeded Kansas State before defeating fellow #5 seed Michigan State in the Final Four. The Bulldogs ran into Duke for the Championship game, where a last second would-be game winning half-court shot by Hayward narrowly missed, clanging off the rim and proving their are no such things as “basketball gods” as much-hated Duke took home another title. For their memorable tournament run, Gordon and most of the Bulldogs team wore blacked-out Nike Zoom Soldier IIIs.

Kemba Walker and Connecticut – 2011
Even though Gordon Hayward turned pro in the off-season, Butler was back in the title game the next year. But they were no match for Kemba Walker and the UCONN Huskies in 2011, who had the last truly dominant run in the tourney to date. It all started in the Big East tournament where Kemba was virtually untouchable, and the impressive run continued all the way through March Madness where UCONN shattered Butler’s dreams for a title a second year in a row with a 12 point victory in the championship game. On the way to his Most Outstanding Player award for the tournament, Kemba went with an interesting choice for footwear: the Air Jordan 6-17-23 in the black/teal/purple colorway—that didn’t even match his team colors.

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