The 7 Buzziest Sneaker and Athletic Industry Moments of 2018

The athletic market dominated headlines in 2018.

Nike’s Colin Kaepernick-led ads, Adidas mass releasing a pair of Kanye West-designed sneakers and brands including Puma entering the basketball category were among the most talked about topics this year.

Below is a breakdown of the seven newsworthy topics that defined 2018.

Colin Kaepernick’s Return

Colin Kaepernick, Nike campaign
A Nike billboard with Colin Kaepernick.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has arguably made more headlines on the field fighting for social justice than he ever did on it. The polarizing ex-football player, whose anthem-kneeling protest generated both acclaim and outrage, was the star in Nike’s “Just Do It” 30th anniversary campaign, a move that marked the latest testament to his ability to make waves. Though largely applauded — Nike reportedly scored major digital sales gains and raised its clout among key constituents — his inclusion received its share of criticism, with President Donald Trump among the campaign’s biggest detractors.

Losing Steam

Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Triple White
Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 “Triple White”
CREDIT: Courtesy of Adidas

Maybe it’s Kanye West’s controversial political views or perhaps it’s a change in fashion tastes, but momentum surrounding the once red-hot Yeezy franchise appeared to cool in 2018. The year marked the first time Adidas mass-produced a style, the September release of the Yeezy Boost 350 V2 “Triple White,” which was still widely available a week after its release date. Subsequent drops from West and Adidas also sat on shelves.

Los Angeles State of Mind

Bodega Los Angeles
A shoe of Bodega’s store in Los Angeles.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Bodega.

There are plenty of reasons to move to L.A.: the sun, the palm trees and the relaxed vibe. But top boutiques this year gave sneaker fans another reason to love the city. Kith and Bodega opened in the City of Angels in February and March, respectively, and Sweden standout Sneakersnstuff announced in September it would open a Venice Beach door in January.

The Rise of Smaller Brands

Gary Vaynerchuk K-Swiss
A K-Swiss behind-the-scenes shot with Gary Vaynerchuk.

Athletic giants Nike and Adidas have long held the largest shares of the athletic market, but when it comes to buzz, 2018 was owned by smaller brands. Fila enjoyed a resurgence, thanks to heritage styles (including FN’s Shoe of the Year, the Disruptor 2), Greats opened its first brick-and-mortar stores, and collaborators such as Gary Vaynerchuk and Anwar Carrots boosted K-Swiss’ profile.

Deal of a Lifetime

Grant Hill Fila
NBA great Grant Hill for Fila.

It’s been years since NBA greats Grant Hill and Walt “Clyde” Frazier stepped onto the court — or tennis star Stan Smith held a racket — but they’re all still getting checks from the brands they wore during their playing days. In 2018, all three signed lifetime deals — a rare offering received by only a handful of athletes — with Fila, Puma and Adidas, respectively.

Rookie Year

Puma Clyde Court "Peace on Earth"
Puma Clyde Court “Peace on Earth”

The basketball shoe market is struggling, but one could not tell by looking at the sheer number of brands clamoring to get back into the category. Puma led the push in June, returning to the game after 20 years, introducing a new performance sneaker (Clyde Court) and signing four rookies ahead of the NBA Draft. Converse followed in November when it added Kelly Oubre Jr. of the Washington Wizards to its ambassador roster. That same month, New Balance signed NBA champion Kawhi Leonard to a deal.

Watch the Throne

Nike LeBron 15 Griffey
Nike LeBron 15 “Griffey”

Historically, basketball lovers had not been able to get their hands on the player’s edition sneakers NBA superstar LeBron James has worn on the court. That changed in January when Nike and King James unveiled LeBron Watch, making select PEs available on the SNKRS app the moment he rocked them during game action.

Want more?

NBA Star Kawhi Leonard Inks Deal With New Balance

Carmelo Anthony Refuses to Stay Silent on Politics, Kaepernick & the Fashion Business

Here’s When the Yeezy Basketball Sneaker Will Hit Stores

Access exclusive content