via: Complex


2016 may be, to some people, the worst year in collective memory, but when it comes to sneakers, the past 12 months were pretty solid. The year started off slow, and many grew bored with brands milking a multitude of colorways out of the same shoes, but it turned out to be a time in which everyone was able to get what they wanted. Kanye West’s Adidas Yeezys became available to more people, Nike brought back the Air Force 1 in a meaningful way, Pharrell Williams had an amazing and original Adidas sneaker, and Jordan Brand brought back the retros that everyone wanted, the way they wanted them. Nike also finally released the Mag the way Marty McFly had them in Back to the Future Part II.

With all of this happening in 2016, it wasn’t easy to pick our favorite sneakers. If you were in Long Beach, California, for ComplexCon, you saw how heated our Complex Conversations panel with Clark Kent, Wale and other renowned connoisseurs about the Sneaker of the Year was. We sat down, talked, argued, and argued some more until we came to a final decision. See how the debate panned out in the clip below, and then check out our picks for the 15 best sneakers of 2016.

Complex Conversations Sneaker of the Year Debate

Complex Conversations: The Sneaker of the Year Debate

15. Nike Zoom Solider 10

Image via Nike

As if creating shoes for LeBron James wasn’t a difficult enough task, consider what happened with the Soldier 10: An entirely laceless, fully synthetic shoe designed expressly for a 6’9″, 270-pound lightning bolt who once wore a Foamposite-encased, carbon-reinforced brick (the LeBron IV, for those who don’t remember). Not only did the designers succeed, they succeeded to the point where LeBron himself chose the Soldier X over his own $200 LeBron XIII Elite as the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from being down 3-1 in the NBA Finals. In the games with the highest stakes, the best player in the NBA chose to wear his mid-priced shoe. That’s the ultimate endorsement. The shoe was also high-fashion futuristic enough that John Elliott, who’d previously outfitted runway models in LeBron XIIs, turned out a collab even as it was still being worn on court. It’s hard to imagine a sneaker doing more. Russ Bengtson

14. Y3 Pure Boost Primeknit ZG

Image via The Good Will Out

Any sneaker that has Boost on its name will sell these days, but there are still some that are better than others. Yohji Yamamoto’s Y-3 line was able to elevate the typical Boost running shoe with the Primeknit Pure Boost ZG. That name might be a mouthful, but the design is simple—in a good way. It’s not that much different than the normal Adidas Pure Boost ZG, but the white/black colorway was sick and it got healthy cosigns from the likes of Jerry Lorenzo and fashion-forward sneakerheads around the world. The price on the shoe, $350, places it above a typical Boost offering from Adidas, and the priced-out exclusivity​ is what made it that more coveted. When you saw someone wearing these, you knew they dropped a chunk of change on them. And it made you want to be able to get a pair a little more. It also didn’t hurt that they looked clean as ever. —Matt Welty

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13. Air Jordan XXX1

Image via Nike

“Best” is a very subjective thing, so it’s difficult to proclaim without a doubt that the Air Jordan XXX1 is the best Air Jordan that Michael Jordan never wore in the NBA. But let’s say it anyway: The Air Jordan XXX1 is the best Air Jordan that Michael Jordan never wore in the NBA. It’s got something for everyone, from the double-stacked full-length Zoom cushioning to the hybrid FlyWeave/leather upper to the nods to the past in the fade-out Swoosh (the first to appear that prominently on an Air Jordan upper since the 1) and the embossed ball-and-wings logo on the medial ankles. It’s a fully modern basketball shoe—if you haven’t already, check the modular pods on the inside that lock your heel in place—that properly pays homage to the entire lineage of Air Jordan as established over the past 31 years. It also takes color wonderfully, as evidenced by the initial “Banned” launch colorway, the gum-bottomed Shattered Backboards and, most of all, the patent-heeled Space Jams. If the XXX1 represents a new beginning, it’s going to be fascinating to see where Air Jordan goes next. —Russ Bengtson

12. Nike Air Force 1 “Linen”

Image via Kith

Raise your hand if you expected the Nike Air Force 1 “Linen” to be retroed in 2016? I sure as hell didn’t. But it happened, and Nike had a powerful rollout on the sneaker, which included it being sold exclusively at Ronnie Fieg’s Kith in Miami during Art Basel. Here’s a quick history lesson: The “Linen” Air Force 1 was first released in 2001 as a Japanese exclusive, and it quickly became viewed as one of the best makeups of the shoe of all time. People weren’t ready for a pink-Swooshed Air Force 1 in New York City in the early 2000s, according to DJ Clark Kent, but it changed people’s feelings on the color pink when they saw it. It also became a favorite of Bronx sneaker legend Fat Joe and a real grail for sneaker connoisseurs on the deepest parts of the Internet. The sneaker would fetch around a $1,000 a pair, if you could even track them down. They were a shoe that most people never thought they’d own—until Nike re-released them this year. So it’s not hard to see why they were met with such fanfare. Matt Welty

11. Nike Air More Uptempo

Image via Nike

Nike designer Wilson Smith has taken a lot of big risks in his career, but one of the largest ones was how massive he made the word “Air” on the side of the Nike Air More Uptempo. The shoe was made famous by Scottie Pippen when he won a championship with the Chicago Bulls in the 1995-96 season, followed by capturing gold in the Olympics that summer. The sneaker had been retroed in the past, but it didn’t have the same impact that it did in 2016. It transcended itself thanks to a huge fashion cosign by John Elliott, who grew up loving the model. It’s moments like this that make certain shoes special and prove how “timeless” they are, no matter how cliche that might sound. It’s been 20 years since Hatfield made the decision to place a screaming exclamation of Nike’s most famous technology on the side of the shoe, and he proved that sometimes the gutsiest decisions are the right choice in the long run. Matt Welty

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10. Just Don x Air Jordan II

Image via Nike

For the second year in a row, Don C did the impossible: he made the Air Jordan II cool again. Okay, well it’s largely considered to be the first luxury basketball sneaker of all time so it’s always been cool, but not necessarily a sneaker people were willing to camp out for. That all changed when Don C stamped his “Just Don” style on it in 2015 with the release of the blue quilted model. It would have made a lot of sense for him to chalk up the W and move onto another more design-friendly Air Jordan model the second time around, but Don C doubled down on the II and delivered a follow up colorway that was even better. The “Beach” colorway instantly reached grail territory for sneakerheads and breathed new life into a forgotten model. We don’t know what’s next for Just Don and Jordan Brand, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give him the keys to other underappreciated silhouettes. He’s proven he can bring them back to life.  Marco Negrete

9. Air Jordan IV “White/Cement”

Image via Nike

The “White Cement” Air Jordan IV could make this list every year if Jordan Brand wanted to drop it annually. From being an O.G. colorway that Michael Jordan actually played in to crossing over to mainstream popular culture in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, it’s a safe bet that this sneaker will always rank amongst the best Air Jordans. Even with a Jumpman logo on the back, the 2012 pair still sold out instantly, so when news broke that this year’s would have a Nike Swoosh, we already knew it was doing to fly off shelves. In a year that saw the borderline over-marketing of the “Banned” 1 and “Space Jam” XIs, this pair was just as big without the advertising dollars behind it. Marco Negrete

8. Air Jordan XI “Space Jam”

Image via Nike

Michael Jordan first wore the Air Jordan XI that would eventually be dubbed the “Space Jams” in the 1995 NBA Playoffs, before Space Jam was even filmed. The only reason they’re not called the Playoffs is because Jordan’s Bulls did the unthinkable, falling to Shaq and Penny’sOrlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Semis. Over the summer, Jordan worked harder than ever on his game, once again indisputably becoming the best player in the world—and filmed a little movie starring some of his animated best friends from Warner Bros. He wore those black and Concord Jordan XIs once again as he took on the Monstars, and they forever became the Space Jams. Since then they’ve been released three times, in 2000, 2009 and this year, each time capturing the imaginations of a new fanbase. True, he didn’t win a championship or a dunk contest in these, but he did keep Bugs Bunny and friends free from intergalactic servitude. That’s gotta count for something. This year’s release was the truest to the originals, from the Concord trim to the white-edged patent leather. That didn’t hurt either. Russ Bengtson

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7. Nike Special Forces Air Force 1

Image via Nike

I honestly hated the Nike Special Forces Air Force 1 when I first saw it. I vehemently hate sneakerboots, and I instantly dismissed this shoe as the same mashup nonsense that brands push year after year. But I have to admit, I was wrong. The SF-AF1 debuted at ComplexCon in an all-white colorway, and it was a certified success. Nike then released the shoe in “Olive/Gum” and “Black/Gum” versions, and they’ve both been a hit. It’s a super-high edition of the Air Force 1, but it works. It’s even been referred to as a “swaggier version” of the original shoe. What’s best about the SF-AF1, though, is that it’s a new design that’s getting love in 2016. It’s also one of the first Nike sneakers from the brand’s newest designer, Ben Kirschner, who previously worked with Jordan Brand and designed the Jordan Future as well as contributing on collaborations with the likes of Supreme and Just Don. He’s got his hands on the pulse of what sneaker consumers want in this day and age, and this is just the first taste of what he’s offered to the public. Matt Welty                                                        

6. Adidas Pharell Human Race NMD

Image via Adidas

Pharrell Williams and Adidas have been working together for the past two years, and they had their best project in 2016. It wasn’t Pharrell putting his logo or spin on one of the brand’s older silhouettes, which they had previously done. It was an all-new shoe—the Pharrell Human Race NMD. The sneaker was a reworking of the already popular NMD, but it added something else: Pharrell’s humanitarian side. The shoes played off the concept that everyone around the world is one collective group of people, and he made versions of the shoe whose proceeds benefited Native Americans in North Dakota and, coincidentally, released in the midst of the Standing Rock protests. The first colorway of the Pharrell NMD, the yellow pair, is one of the most coveted shoes of the year, with pairs reselling for $1,000, while the wine-colored friends and family edition goes for upwards of $7,000. Pharrell’s been creating hyped sneakers for over a decade, and his star isn’t diminishing. In fact, it may be stronger than it’s ever been. —Matt Welty

5. Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 v2

Image via Adidas

For all intents and purposes, the Yeezy Boost 350 is the sneaker that made Kanye West’s partnership with Adidas a global success. The flow of that first design has slowed down, but Adidas followed it up with the v2, a slightly modified take on the original. The biggest differences on the newer sneaker is a higher cut on the upper and the noticeable “SPLY 350” that appears on the side of the shoe. Oh, and the fact that Adidas decided to make an exponentially more v2s than the original 350. Some say that it may have devalued the Yeezy line, but it also made it more accessible to the average person. Adidas also did something unheard of for Kanye’s sneakers this time: It released three pairs in one swoop, then followed it up with another pair a few weeks later. Kanye’s promise of everyone getting Yeezys has nearly came true, and we’re not mad at it. Neither is Adidas. Matt Welty

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4. Air Jordan 1 “Black/Red”

Image via Nike

The black and red Air Jordan 1 might not be the best Air Jordan of all-time, but even if it’s not, it’s what set the whole thing off. “The whole thing” being not only Air Jordan, but what we know as sneaker culture as well, transforming it from an esoteric hobby of obsessives to a mainstream pursuit. It’s a big enough shoe that it became known for something that never even happened—at least not in the way we’re led to believe. The initial “Banned” colorway was indeed tossed out by the NBA, but Jordan never attempted to wear the black and red Jordan 1 in a game, instead wearing black and red Air Ships in the preseason. He only wore the black and red Air Jordan 1 in the 1985 Dunk Contest—the lone NBA dunk contest he entered and didn’t win—and in an incredibly influential series of commercials that made “Air Jordan” a household name. That was enough to sell millions upon millions of shoes over the years, and every time the black and red Jordan 1 returns is a celebration. This year more than most. Russ Bengtson

3. Nike Mag

Image via Nike

If we’re talking about the biggest and most talked about release of the year, or maybe even all-time, the Nike Air Mag is it. Decades in the making, this sneaker not only crossed over the line between sneaker culture and mainstream, it completely blew by it in a DeLorean DMC-12. While it was initially revealed in 2015, it’s true release came this year, which seemed even more appropriate given that the Chicago Cubs were in the World Series like Back to the Future Part II predicted. As expected, a limited run was available for charity, but it was more than just those willing to spend big bucks that got a pair. For all of the complaints about only the rich and famous being able to get a pair in 2011, it seemed like even the common person was able to throw their name in the hat this year. We don’t know what’s better, the fact that they were truly powerlacing this time, or that this released raised over $6 million for Parkinson’s research. —Marco Negrete

2. Adidas NMD “Pitch Black”

Image via Adidas

In terms of impact that shifted the direction of the sneaker industry, there wasn’t a more important sneaker in 2016 than the Adidas NMD. It’s a lifestyle sneaker that features a full-length Boost sole, the brand’s highest-performing technology, but it wasn’t created with athletics in mind. Rather, it’s a lifestyle shoe meant to meet the challenges of a life on the run. And the public ate the concept up. Adidas made over 100 different colorways of the shoe this past year, but the best was one that was limited to 500 pairs. The “Pitch Black” NMD was the perfect execution of the sneaker. It was the first time Adidas put a black Boost sole on any sneaker, but the rollout of the “Pitch Black” version turned it into one of the most-coveted shoes this year. Out of the 500 pairs that were made, 50 were put in a special suitcase and given to the media and friends of Adidas, while the rest were rationed between influencers and the public. But only 100 pairs were given away via SnapChat, making it a nearly impossible shoe to get. According to StockX, the sneaker had a resale value of around $3,000, and that’s for the pairs without the suitcase that came with a selection of one-off, all-black traveling essentials (Oral B electric toothbrush, Sigg water bottle, etc.). Simply put, it was the best execution of the most popular sneaker of 2016, and, man, was it good. Matt Welty

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1. Acronym x Nike Air Presto

Image via Nike

Errolson Hugh of Acronym was tasked with one of the most daunting tasks: Improve the Nike Air Presto, the shoe that revolutionized the footwear industry with its T-shirt-like sizing system and comfortable design. And he did just that. The result was high-top version of the sneaker first designed by Tobie Hatfield in 2000 that came with a design similar to a moccasin with its zippers and straps on the upper. It was released in three different colorways: Two were muted and drew their inspiration from military-esque palettes, while the third was loud and impossible to miss. It was one of those sneakers that you had to be in the know to appreciate, and that made it all the better. Everyone who wore the Acronym x Prestos was in on why the sneaker was so great. It was spotted on the likes of John Mayer and Chance the Rapper. It wasn’t a mainstream sneaker by any means, but it breathed a new bit of life in a stale footwear scene. The rollout for the shoe was even greater, though. Nike kept things quiet on when the shoes were actually going to drop, only giving vague hints in German as to when they’d come out. And they eventually dropped in the wee hours of the morning in the U.S., keeping true with the European origins of this collaboration. All of that aside, the shoes have gotten better as the year has gone on, which is something you can’t say about a lot of sneakers. These Prestos, though, were in their own league, even if they were just an upgrade on a 16-year-old sneaker. Matt Welty

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