When you think of the typical NBA player, my guess is that like me, you imagine a insanely tall human being. Probably somewhere between that 6’7” - 6’8” range and you’re not far off, the average height of the NBA in 2015 was just under 6’7”. But, if you looked at the average height of only the current players that have signature shoe lines with major shoe brands like Nike or Adidas, the image of the NBA player shrinks down two inches shorter to 6’5”. Interested in looking at this more, I took a deeper dive.
A Quick Lesson in Basketball Positions
For those who have never watched or played basketball before, there are essentially 3 positions on the court. Guards, forwards, and centers. Of the 5 players who are on the court at a time, the typical setup is 2 guards, 2 forwards, and 1 center.
Guards are typically shorter and for that reason are quick and nimble. They primarily focus on scoring and assisting on scores. Forwards are a mix between guards and centers and typically are slower players and taller than guards. Forwards can range in their sizes and score using both their speed and also their body. Finally, centers are your Yao Mings and Shaqs. Typically the slowest on the court, centers use their height and body to dominate the court at close range to the rim.
Some Quick Numbers
The shortest player with a signature shoe is Chris Paul who is signed to Jordan Brand in 2006 after his rookie year. Standing 6’2”, he’s not short by everyday standards. The tallest player with a signature shoe is 6’11”, Dwight Howard, who was originally signed with Adidas but switched to Chinese brand, Peak, in 2015.
Guard Signature Shoes Overwhelm the Market
Of the twenty two athletes who had signature basketball shoe lines, sixteen are guards including some of the most recognizable names in basketball such as Stephen Curry, James Harden, etc. Below, you can see a distribution of the number of signature shoes based on position type.
With only 1 center with a signature shoe line, it’s possible that brands today are hesitant to put ink to pen with these larger players. The 5 remaining signature shoe lines belong to players who occupy the forward position. Recognizable names like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony can be found here.
Interestingly, for those who are familiar with those forwards and their type of play, there appears to be a trend of signing forwards who have “guard” type play. Instead of only using their bodies to score, the forwards with signature shoes all display traits of a guard such as having a good handle of the basketball, the ability to shoot at distance, and agility on the court.
Signature Athlete’s Reliability to the Mass Market
One of the hypothesis as to why there is an overwhelmingly high amount of guard shoes is that large shoe brands are trying to appeal to the mass markets of individuals who play basketball. If shoe brands were attempting to have an equal coverage of the 3 positions, there would hypothetically be 9 guard shoes, 9 forward shoes, and 4 center shoes in the market currently.
When we watch sports, who do we relate to?
Players who are similar to our size and play like us. It’s much easier for the mass population to idolize a 6’2” guard who can dribble and is quick on the court versus a 6’11” center who can dunk from a stand still. To explain the importance of reliability further, imagine you walk into your local gym. How many people on the basketball court are over 6’6”? Probably no one. For the large majority of the population, we are tiny compared to the NBA and it’s players.
The Style of Game and Its Effect on Signature Shoes
Another hypothetical reason to explain the dominance of guard shoes in the basketball market is the highlights that each position typically has. As mentioned earlier, guards are typically smaller players who are quick and nimble when playing. They focus on scoring points and assisting their teammates. Centers on the other hard are focused on rebounding, defense, and scoring close to the basket.
The types of highlights that guards have versus centers are drastically different. Guard play is filled with highlights while center play is much more fundamental which isn’t the most exciting. A quick and acrobatic guard who can dribble between defenders before pulling up for a jump shot is arguably more entertaining to watch than a slow center who takes two dribbles with his back to the defender then drops the ball in from 2 feet away.
However, a couple decades ago the game of basketball was played a lot different than it is now. The game was a much more physical game and was dominated by players who knew how to use their bodies to score. Think Charles Barkley, Tim Duncan, Hakeem the Dream.
Compared to the 6’5” image we get when looking at today’s average signature shoe athlete, the signature athlete of past years stands five inches taller at 6’10”. That’s quite a large difference and it’s also exemplified in the distribution of signature shoes based on position.
Clearly, how the game of basketball is played at a certain time frame has some influence on which positions will have signature shoes. Looking at the trends of today's game and the increased focus on guard play, one can only assume that guard signature shoes will be here for some time.