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The Top 10 Sneakers Of 2021

By Sneaker News

In more ways than one, the year 2021 felt much like an extension of 2020. A good bulk of the year’s most buzz-worthy releases were mere variations of last year’s best (the Dunk, the Air Jordan 1, the 350 v2, the 550), but there were plenty of redeeming drops interspersed within some provoking changes that have firmly laid the groundwork for a wildly different 2022.
 
Among the unexpected developments was the ending of Nike’s contract with Kobe Bryant’s estate. The late athlete’s name is synonymous with the brand’s identity and its push for innovation, but the Black Mamba’s union with the Swoosh, which began back in 2003, officially came to an end after negotiations of a renewal finished without a signature on a dotted line. Kobe’s widow Vanessa cited a number of valid reasons to forgo extending the partnership, leaving the future outlook of Kobe footwear unclear. 
 
While the year in tangible footwear seemed relatively lackluster compared to recent years, the industry giants – namely Nike and adidas – boldly inserted themselves into the Metaverse. The Swoosh’s acquisition of RTFKT was just one of its notable strategic moves in terms of its positioning in the virtual world, while adidas Originals’ launch of its own NFT collection promised bigger plans for 2022. 
 
2021 came to a close with two tragedies that will profoundly shape the future in footwear releases. While the needle-moving Travis Scott enjoyed another healthy year in shoe collaborations, the fatal events of Astroworld in November have indefinitely postponed any future projects he’s had in place, with no appropriate timing in sight. But that pales in comparison to the loss of Virgil Abloh, the Off-White founder and Louis Vuitton creative director that succumbed to a secret battle with cancer. Still, the renaissance man worked mightily to leave behind a robust catalog of designs, potentially leaving his fans a wealth of posthumous drops and extending the already massive legacy he’s left behind in such a short time. 
 
Now, without further ado, here’s our 10 Best Sneakers Of 2021.

10. Air Jordan 11 “Cool Grey” Continuing the brand’s annual tradition was the return of the “Cool Grey”; still considered to be in the upper echelon of Retro colorways, this Air Jordan 11 surfaced for the first time in a decade in the celebrated Remastered form. To this day, no tradition can beat the December AJXI release. 
9. Nike Go FlyEase A true marvel in functional and purposeful design, the Nike Go Flyease was unquestionably one of Nike’s most impactful sneakers of the modern era, garnering unprecedented levels of mainstream media attention. Still, the hands-free sneaker designed for the physically challenged was met with controversy as the shoes were nearly unattainable by the individuals they were designed for, let alone the general public. 
8. Air Jordan 1 “University Blue” Although Air Jordan 1s in its various types are being brought to market at an exhausting rate, great colorways will never be denied. Hardly an OG in terms of colors and materials, the “University Blue” struck a chord and rose to become one of the most sought-after sneakers of the year. 
7. CdG x Nike Air Foamposite One When COMME des GARÇONS lifted the curtains on their Autumn/Winter ‘21 runway, the label previewed much more than the usual avant garde fare. Their collaborative Nike Air Foamposite One, too, walked in black and white, impressing the audience for its zen garden reminiscent upper. And this touch marked a huge moment for the silhouette, as it was the first time the mold has been changed since its inception. 
6. Salehe Bembury x Crocs Pollex Clog An indescribable, inimitable talent, Salehe Bembury has very quickly made a name for himself since departing from Versace, turning to gold any and all collaborations with which he’s been involved. And while not exactly a sneaker, the designer’s Crocs Pollex Clog is easily one of the best releases of the year as the footwear brand allowed Bembury to reimagine their most beloved silhouette with seemingly no constraints. 
5. Off-White x Air Jordan 2 Virgil Abloh, despite battling cancer for the better part of the past few years, went above and beyond with the Off-White x Air Jordan 2. Alongside Jordan Brand, the beloved designer paid homage to the silhouette’s roots, offering an OG-inspired shape whose every detail was modeled after an actual game-worn pair from the archive. 
4. Bad Bunny x adidas Forum Buckle Low It’s difficult to imagine the adidas Forum’s high visibility throughout 2021 without mentioning one person: Bad Bunny. While the Three Stripes may be working on a signature model for the Puerto Rican superstar, it capitalized on his global stardom with a mighty “The First Café” launch inspired by his morning routine. The joint-effort’s functional robust buckle and removable tongue shrouds also demonstrated that the German sportswear giant isn’t afraid to modify its classic designs for a new generation. 
3. adidas Yeezy 450 Ye – the being formerly known as “Kanye West” – and the Three Stripes re-released more adidas Yeezys than ever before throughout the year, but that didn’t stop them from continuing to think about the future. A number of knit slip-ons and winter-ready boots expanded the Yeezy empire’s design catalog, but arguably none were as divisive as the Yeezy 450. The single piece, prehistoric claw-like sole unit brought something completely new to sneakers, and handfuls of leaked designs suggest Ye’s eye-brow-raising tooling is here to stay. 
2. Off-White x Nike Dunk Low “The 50” Originally intended to deliver a single sneaker at a higher volume than previous collaborations, “The 50” demonstrated the late-Abloh’s ability to cheekily push the boundaries as the project was “one” sneaker after all. Furthermore, the capsule’s launch was proof-of-concept for the Swoosh, validating the Nike SNKRS app’s “Exclusive Access” program as a viable way to mass-release product without making it feel any-less-special.
 
1. A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 3 A completely-subjective, highly-debatable recognition, the near-unanimous “Shoe of the year” was A Ma Maniére’s Air Jordan 3. No shoebox was left unturned by James Whitner and The Whitaker Group: high-quality materials made up the retro, which struck a perfect balance between heritage and modern-day design; fair roll-out processes both in-store and via the Nike SNKRS app made the release accessible to a much wider audience than most hyped-up drops; a compelling backstory highlighting women – in particular Black women – established A Ma Maniére as an institution with its sight set on impacting the world in ways that go beyond simply creating cool product. Other collaborators: take note.
THE HONORABLE MENTIONS/PERSONAL FAVORITES 
 
Yu-ming Wu: 
Patta x Nike Air Max 1 “Noise Aqua” 
BAPE STA “Green Camo Sta” 
New Balance 550 “Multicolor” 
 
John Kim: 
Undefeated x Nike Dunk Low “Canteen” 
Nike ZoomX VaporFly NEXT% 2 
Invincible x Neighborhood x adidas Campus 
 
Michael Le: 
Kiko Kostadinov x ASICS GEL-Levitrack 
AURALEE x New Balance 550 
Stray Rats x New Balance 991 
 
Jovani Hernandez: 
Nike Air Tuned Max ‘Celery’ 
Run The Boroughs x New Balance 991 
Andersson Bell x ASICS GEL-1090 
 
Ji Choi: 
CdG x Nike Air Carnivore 
GYAKUSOU x Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 
Nike Dunk Low “Seoul”