By Avi Zaleon
No other silhouette and franchise does as good a job of turning sneakers into a blank canvas as the SB Dunk. Sure, older sneakerheads like to roll their eyes at the recent trend of Dunks blowing up in popularity, but the truth is that for some Dunks the hype is completely warranted based on the unparalleled creativity that comes with these shoes.
No we’re not talking about the 80+ different generic release Dunks. Rather, I want to spotlight some of the best SB Dunks of the last two years (2020, 2021) that have been part of the impetus for this craze and transcended skate parks to NBA locker rooms and red carpets.
These shoes may have the best combination of telling a story, being unbelievably unique and just looking damn good. The level of detail on the Carpets is incredible with panels on the heel being able to peel away to have English on one side, Arabic on the other, everything in blue being able to be torn away to reveal an entirely different yellow colorway, a stitched Carpet logo on the side and written on the bottom, as well as a customized insole and Arabic stitched on the inside.
Whereas others on this list may have similar levels of creativity, they are done in inspiration of Ben & Jerrys or the Grateful Dead. These Carpets tell the story of the Habibi brothers and their roots in Baltimore and Egypt. In a way, it’s a win for the little guy, and done beautifully with sky blue, sail and white.
Brands can be extremely fickle about their image. The way consumers view them is paramount and protected at all costs. Virgil Abloh’s Off-White collaborations got to loosen these reins with Nike and Jordan brand, but the general feeling of these shoes was still serious and fashion-forward. To make a sneaker that portrayed the same swoosh -synonymous with performance and winning– as silly, fun and a bit outrageous, was a risk that paid off big time.
I can picture designers walking into a meeting with Nike execs and the former saying “we want to make the Swoosh melt like ice cream” and the latter responding “Get the f*ck out of here.” But Nike didn’t. It allowed creativity to shine through in the form of the melting swoosh, the cow-print pony hair and a general look and feel that makes you smile much like a pint of Ben & Jerry’s famous Half-Baked ice cream
Even if the stock was higher and the resale price was lower, this would still make the list.
Like the Carpets, I love the Street Hawkers for giving a platform to an underrepresented group or culture. Simply saying these shoes reflect Chinese food might give the misconception that we’re talking about the generic grub from Panda Express. Rather, how the details on these Dunks bring to life authentic Chinese street vendors is pure art from Jason Deng. It’s difficult to even nail down a single color on these shoes with six distinct watercolor patterns reflecting six different cities and six different foods.
The amount of passion truly comes out in the Street Hawkers to form wearable art that may be a little “out there” for some, but ultimately forms some of the best Dunks of 2021.
Avi Zaleon is a writer living in New York City, but originally from the Baltimore area. He worked in sports journalism writing for MLB.com, The Dallas Morning News and other outlets before crossing over to marketing. Currently his favorite sneakers (that he actually owns) include the A Ma Maniere Jordan 3, Off-White Jordan 5 and Salehe Bembury New Balance Water Be The Guide.