The cushioning setup of basketball sneakers can differ wildly. There are shoes like the Kyrie 3 that make you feel like walking on a slab of concrete while others (Lebron 15) provide cushion that feels like a soft pillow.
Not everybody needs soft and comfortably-cushioned basketball shoes, but there are a lot of reasons why basketball shoes with a lot of impact protection might make sense for you:
You are a big and heavy guy
Large players put a lot more stress on their joints and profit the most from well-cushioned shoes
You experience a lot of knee pain
If your knees are hurting after every game you should look for more impact protection!
You play a lot
If you are absolutely crazy about basketball and play hours every day it might make sense to get a second pair that provides additional cushioning to relieve the stress on your joints
To help you find the best cushioned basketball sneaker I am constantly checking out the latest shoe releases and record the ratings of every honest and qualified performance review I can find. So far I have summed up the findings of 680 reviews of 138 different performance basketball shoes.
The following overview shows the top ten sneakers, ranked by the average score they received for their cushioning. This list was last updated on Sep 18, 2020. Scroll down further to see a more detailed summary of each shoe, or click on the links to see quotes and ratings from every review I gathered for each shoe.
The KD12 is a huge step up from the disappointing predecessors.
The full-length Zoom sits directly beneath the feet and provides a ton of response and bounce.
The cushioning is a bit divisive, some reviewers are raving about it, others found it to be a bit too inconsistent on dusty courts.
The look and feel of the materials aren't very premium, but the performance of the flywire upper is top-notch.
The fit should work for most basketball players as it isn't as long and narrow as we are used too from the KD line.
Overall, the KD12 is a great performer with outstanding cushioning and no real weaknesses!
The nicest part of the KD 13 is the full-length Zoom Strobel which provides one of the best cushioning setups in basketball.
The traction pattern does a good job in all directions and is tough and thick enough to last outdoors.
The materials are thin, lightweight, and perform well but the quality doesn't feel premium in-hand.
Support comes from the wide base and good fit however the minimal upper doesn't provide as much lockdown as previous KD models.
As for most KD models, the fit of the KD13 is very comfortable if you have regular or narrow feet, wide-footers should go up half a size or look elsewhere.
Overall, the KD 13 is a great basketball shoe with outstanding cushioning.
Shoe reviewers almost unanimously call the Lebron 15 the best Lebron signature shoe yet. The combination of Air Max and Zoom provides an insanely comfortable cushioning that works extremely well for big guys that need a lot of impact protection. The new premium Battleknit upper is very comfortable and provides excellent fit and containment. The only slight downside is the traction which needs a while to break in and has slight problems with lateral cuts. Overall, this is the perfect shoe for heavy and powerful guys looking for maximum cushioning and comfort.
The Adidas Marquee Boost is a modern performance basketball shoe with a bit of retro flair.
The traction sticks like glue on clean courts but can be problematic on dusty courts, especially in the beginning.
The Boost cushioning provides a lot of impact protection in the heel and responsiveness in the forefoot.
If you are looking for a shoe with a lot of ankle support then the high version has you covered with a firm and supportive ankle collar.
The materials are rather basic but they look and feel nice and get the job done.
Overall, the Marquee Boost is a very good all-around performer that should work for basketball players of all positions.
With the XXXIV, Jordan Brand decided to take less inspiration from their retros and instead focus on providing a lightweight, top-notch performer. Did they succeed?
The traction of the AJ34 features a herringbone traction pattern that works well in all conditions.
The cushioning isn't as plush as in previous models, but it's also much less clunky and provides a fun, well-balanced ride.
The materials aren't super-premium, but they are flexible, lightweight and breathable.
Even though the AJ34 is much lighter than other Air Jordans, support and stability don't suffer because of the wide and stable base and the Eclipse plate in the midfoot.
Overall, the Air Jordan 34 is a great performer and by far the best Air Jordan since the AJ29!
The Harden Vol.3 is by far James Harden's best signature sneaker.
The traditional herringbone traction pattern performs extremely well - even on dusty courts.
The Boost cushioning is low-to-the-ground, comfortable, responsive, and definitely the best implementation of Boost in a basketball shoe.
Materials feel premium and comfortable and support is much improved compared to previous Harden models.
All sneaker reviewers agree: the Harden 3 is a huge improvement in all areas and one of the best basketball shoes currently on the market.
The 4th edition of Paul George's signature sneaker changes things up a little.
A Nike Air strobel board that sits directly under your feet replaces the Nike Zoom Air cushioning. This setup gives you a softer and super comfortable, cloud-like feeling.
The circular traction pattern works well in all directions and keeps performing solidly even on dusty courts.
The biggest weaknesses of the PG4 are the support and lockdown: most critics reported sliding out off the footbed on sharp lateral cuts and some experienced mild heel slippage.
Overall, the PG4 is a solid performer that works best for lighter players who don't rely on explosive lateral cuts.
The Lebron 17 is one of the most expensive basketball shoes on the market, does it justify it's $200 retail price?
Reviewers' opinions on the traction were split: the Solebrother called it "god-levels" especially on a translucent rubber pair while Nightwing2303 didn't like the white solid rubber, even on clean courts.
The cushioning, however, was loved by everyone. A huge Max Air unit in the heel is combined with Zoom in the forefoot and they provide a ton of impact protection and bounce.
The new Knitposite upper material is thick, soft and comfortable - but it gets pretty hot after a while.
Overall, the Lebron 17 is a great performer, especially you are a heavier player looking for a comfortable and supportive shoe.
With the Air Zoom BB NXT, Nike included a lot of new technology focused on providing the most responsive basketball shoe ever.
The traction is insane and the multi-directional pattern works well on clean and dusty courts.
The cushioning setup is the highlight of the shoe with full-length double-stacked React and Zoom Air in the forefoot creating a super comfortable ride.
The materials give good support and breathability but could be a little more premium considering the price point.
The lockdown is nice, but the support suffers at times because of the high ride and plush cushioning setup.
Overall, the Nike Air Zoom BB NXT provides great cushioning and traction with next-gen technology.
After his epic performance in the 2019 NBA playoffs, there is a lot of anticipation for Dame's latest signature sneaker - but does it fulfill expectations?
The Lightstrike cushioning is the clear highlight of this sneaker. Experts praise the great balance of impact protection in the heel and responsiveness and court feel in the forefoot.
Unfortunately, the translucent rubber of the outsole picks up a lot of dust on dirty courts - be prepared to wipe a lot!
The materials feel a little cheap and not super durable, but they get the job done on foot.
Support features are standard but one reviewer complained about the narrow, rounded and therefore unstable outsole.
Overall, the Dame 6 is a good performer with flaws (traction, durability) that might be dealbreakers for some players.
Available at 7 shops:
Colorways of the Adidas Dame 6:
Frequently asked questions about cushion in basketball shoes
What types of cushioning are there? And which cushion is the best?
It is impossible to say which type of cushioning setup is the best because they each cater to different needs and styles of play.
There are firm cushions like pure Phylon that provide great court feel and responsiveness which are perfect for light and quick guards. Other types of cushion like Nike Zoom Air provide a lot more impact protection and are better suited for heavy players or older athletes that want to go easy on their joints.
These are some of the most popular cushioning systems often used in basketball sneakers:
Nike Zoom Air
Zoom Air was first released in 1995 and is one of the oldest and most popular cushioning systems. It is made of tightly stretched tensile fibers in a pressurized “Air” unit. It is most often used in high-end basketball shoes and expensive signature lines like the Lebron or KD shoes.
Nike Zoom Air is a very bouncy cushioning that provides great energy returns through the way the fibers expand back to their initial state after every impact. It is also very versatile and can be used in different ways: from small Air units like in the heel of the Kyrie 4 to one huge full-length Zoom unit like in the Jordan Why Not Zero.1
Adidas Boost is still relatively new and was first used in basketball shoes for the Adidas Crazylight Boost in 2014. Since then it has taken the sneaker world by storm because of the incredible comfort it provides and is used in popular lifestyle models like the NMD or the Yeezy Boost
Boost outsoles are made of hundreds of tiny thermoplastic urethane pellets that are fused together using hot steam. What makes these pellets unique is that they are incredibly soft while still remaining springy enough to provide great energy return. This allows Adidas to make shoes that are insanely comfortable but still provide enough responsiveness to be used in quick sports like basketball.
Boost is used in most of Adidas’ high end basketball sneakers like the Crazy Explosive, D Rose 8 or the Harden Vol. 2. Check out this video to learn more about the Boost technology:
Other foam-based cushioning
Every shoe brand has multiple versions of foam cushionings usually made of EVA which is a mixture of two plastics (Ethylene and Vinyl Acetate). EVA is a foam that includes a lot of tiny air bubbles which provide the intended bounciness and comfort.
A well-know example of a simple EVA cushioning is Phylon which is used in a lot of Nike sneakers. Other more advanced forms of cushioning like Nike Lunarlon, Adidas Bounce or Under Armour Micro G use a mix of EVA and other rubbers to create lighter and more comfortable foam.
While the characteristics of foam cushioning can vary wildly, they are usually very responsive and provide great court feel but lack elite impact protection.