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 610 reviews of 116 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 Jan 20, 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 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 of 2018 in general!
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.
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.
The Adidas Next Level is probably the most futuristic performance basketball shoe currently on the market. Even though it comes without any lacing system, the support works surprisingly well. Reviewers experienced absolutely no heel slippage, side-to-side movement or other support issues. The traction works well on clean courts, but the rubber compound has problems on dusty courts - be prepared to wipe a lot! The new Lightstrike cushioning offers a lot of court feel and responsiveness without ever compromising impact protection.
Overall, the Adidas N3XT L3V3l is a great performer that will definitely get you noticed on the basketball court.
Sneaker reviewers like almost everything about the PG3 - except its looks. The "moon crater" traction pattern works very well on all surfaces but might take a little while to break in. The Zoom Air cushioning in the forefoot is responsive and bouncy and the foam in the heel provides decent impact protection. Materials feel a little cheap in-hand, but are comfortable on-foot and absolutely get the job done.
Overall, the PG3 is a great performer that will work for a wide array of players and comes at a very fair price of only $110.
The design of the Why Not Zero.2 is almost as extravagant as Russell Westbrook's clothing style, but how does it perform?
Most reviewers gave the traction good grades, but the majority of them liked the traction of the predecessor even better. The cushioning is no longer full-length Zoom, but that is not a big loss as the forefoot Zoom Air performs very well and the Phylon heel is very comfortable. Support and lockdown are strong features of this shoe -perfect for explosive players like Russell Westbrook!
Overall, the Why Not Zero.2 is a great allrounder without any glaring weaknesses, that comes with flashy design and at a fair price.
All sneaker critics agree: The Lebron 16 is a huge improvement over the XV and one of the best shoes of Lebron's signature line in a long time. The traction works on all surfaces, the cushioning is a little more versatile but still very comfortable, and stability is much-improved thanks to the use of tiny lateral outriggers on the outsole. The Battleknit 2.0 looks and feels very premium and provides great lockdown and containment.
Overall, the Lebron 16 is an outstanding performance hoops shoe that is especially recommended for explosive and powerful wing players.
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.