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Counting Down The Best Sneakers of 2023: What will be No. 1?

Andy Silva breaks down his picks for the top sneakers of 2023.

It’s that time of year once again. Christmas is nearly upon us and as 2023 is winding down, people are in a reflective mood. Thus, it is the time for year-end lists. And what better year-end list could there be than a Best Sneakers of the Year list?

Last year, I wrote up the top five sneakers I was able to cop and the top five I was not. Luckily for me, or perhaps unluckily for my wallet, I had a much greater ratio of success this year. So I decided to just write up my top five sneakers I was able to cop. I like only ranking the sneakers I bought because that way I have first-hand experience with the materials, the build quality and how the shoe looks and feels in the real world. This is, of course, my list, which means it may be different than your list. And that's OK. I recognize that sneakers like the Tiffany Air Force 1 were not for me, but may be someone else’s best sneaker of the year. And that’s good — there is no “right” answer. Buy and wear the sneakers you like because YOU like them, not anyone else.

This was a year that saw the continued growth of New Balance and a glow up for other brands such as Asics, while Nike/Jordan Brand continued to chug along churning out retros from their legendary back catalog. We saw signs of the sneaker bubble bursting for the first time since before the pandemic, with shoes that would have sold out in an instant now sitting and falling below retail price on the secondary market. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so, unless, of course, you’re only in the sneaker game to flip. If you’re a true sneakerhead, it’s great to have a better shot at getting your favorite kicks for retail or even in some cases less.

All that being said, let’s get to my list of the Best Sneakers of 2023!

5. Concepts x New Balance MADE IN USA 998 C-Note

Let’s start with the unexpected return of Concepts’ classic collab with fellow Boston-based company New Balance on the 998. The original C-Note first dropped in 2013, so it makes sense to drop a 10th-anniversary release to celebrate the collab and give folks who didn’t already have these in their collection a shot to add them.

As I noted back in October, these shoes were initially inspired by then-new $100 bills, “and like its muse, is easy for anyone to appreciate at first sight” and paid “homage to the New Balance and Concepts legacy, as well as the relentless craft and character that comes with cash-only businesses, and the discerning attitude of those who run them.”

Since they carry the MADE IN USA designation, this shoe contains a domestic value of 70% or more and the materials on this collab are next level. Boasting a mesh upper with suede overlays, toeguards and heel counters. Concepts branding has been added to that money green heel counter, which is nicely contrasted by off-white, copper and grey hits of color in the upper, as well as reflective silver elements. The midsole, meanwhile, features ABSORB technology and a combination of white, blue, grey and dark off-white accents. This shoe is not a straight re-release, with slight differences in coloring and minor details, as well as a new box. As I said in the fall, all these elements combined produce a beautiful shoe that has a true premium vibe that is straight money.

4. Air Jordan 11 Gratitude

This is the newest shoe on the list and also the most surprising inclusion.

I’ve been clear that the Air Jordan 11 is my favorite sneaker of all time (for what it’s worth, it’s the design GOAT Tinker Hatfield’s too). That being said, I initially wasn’t even sure I was going to buy these sneakers, considering I still have a pair of the 2018 Concord retros, which to me are the perfect Air Jordan 11s. However, when I saw these in person in store and tried them on, I knew it was a wrap. Once I had them in my possession and began wearing them regularly, they quickly moved up the ranks and into the top four of the year.

Despite being similar to past releases, most notably the 2006 DMP 11s but less so the Concords, as I noted in my initial article, there are subtle differences on the Gratitudes. These include what SNKRS calls a “luxe leather” replacing the ballistic mesh on the upper for an elevated feel, as well as the translucent outsole taking on more of a milky appearance. The materials feel nice and there is no more beautiful shoe on the market when it comes to a top-down view.

The Air Jordan 11 has become a December mainstay, and after what felt like a lackluster colorway in 2022 in the Cherry Reds, the Gratitudes are a fine addition to Jordan Brand’s holiday tradition.

3. Kith x Asics x X-Men Gel Lyte III

There’s no denying it — I’m a nerd. In addition to sneakers, I love Star Wars, Marvel and action figures. That’s why this special collab between Kith, Asics and Marvel to celebrate the X-Men’s 60th anniversary was right up my alley.

As I noted back in the summer, this release was noteworthy as it celebrated the X-Men’s 60th anniversary and drew on the art of collecting, right down to the blind box aspect and the inclusion of a special throwback X-Men trading card inside every package, including some especially limited Kith-branded PSA-graded cards. These nods to collecting made for an especially fun unboxing with DKN’s very own Nick Friar.

As you can see, I was lucky enough to pull one of my favorite colorways of the collab. The special edition shoe came in seven colorways, nodding to characters such as Cyclops, Wolverine (x2), Storm, Beast, Gambit and Rogue. Kith is one of Asics’ premier collaborators thanks in part to founder Ronnie Fieg’s personal history with the Gel-Lyte IIIs and it shows in the buttery materials utilized in this collab. As you can tell by the list, I love Nike/Jordan Brand, largely thanks to growing up during the height of Michael Jordan’s legendary career, but there’s no denying other brands deliver higher quality materials and more flawless build quality, although in fairness it could be argued that this is also due in part to these other brands being smaller.

All of that aside, the combination of story, experience and aesthetics make the Kith x Asics x X-Men Gel-Lyte IIIs one of my favorite shoes of the year.

2. Air Jordan 3 White Cement Reimagined

This was a no-brainer. The Air Jordan 3 White Cement is perhaps one of the most classic Air Jordan colorways of all time and we hadn’t gotten a proper retro of this colorway since 2013.

This drop followed my top sneaker of 2022, the Air Jordan 1 Lost and Found, in the “reimagined” line, that has since been continued with the Air Jordan 1 Royal Reimagined. The Royal Reimagineds have struggled some since they’re such a departure from the OG Royal 1s, swapping leather out for nubuck and suede (although, I think it should be noted that these are better than the reputation they’ve gained, and as Jacques Slade said recently on his excellent YouTube channel, just because something is available doesn’t make it a brick). But, where the Royal Reimagineds were a stark departure, the Air Jordan 3 Reimagined was more subtle in its reimagining of the classic. Similar to the Lost and Found 1s, the White Cement Reimagineds simply swapped out white for sail “aged” accents in spots like the beautiful back heel tab. As good as these look in still images, they look even better on foot, and to take it a even a step further, as I noted in my initial writeup these look good clean or cooked.

Given that 2023 was the 35th anniversary of the shoe that it could easily be argued saved Nike, this Air Jordan 3 White Cement Reimagined is more than worthy of its spot on Best Of lists as the year draws to a close.

1. Nike SB x Air Jordan 4

Putting this shoe at No. 1 was something of a no-brainer and hardly a unique choice. But, there is a reason for that — this is one of the best Jordan retro releases of the past decade, in my opinion.

From the OG shape to the high-quality materials to the softer wings and heel tab to the extra comfort to the striking color combination, the shoe had it all. As I said when I wrote about the shoe back in March, the Air Jordan 4 is one of the most popular Air Jordan models of all time and this was bound to be one of the most popular releases of the year. Luckily for me, I was able to hit on the shock drop and unbox these early.

The heel tab is sheer beauty with its Nike SB branding, and my favorite aspect of the shoe might be that the heel tab does not dig into my Achilles like every other Air Jordan 4 ever has thanks to its more malleable rubber. In fact, I loved these SB 4s so much, that I actually sold my 2020 pair of the Fire Red 4s. I just knew it was going to be hard for me to justify wearing another version of the 4s, this may be my perfect version of this model. It’s going to take a lot to top them. No matter how many times I’ve worn these, someone has commented on them or complimented me. The shoes are still beautiful many wearings later and still turn heads.

When it comes down to it, I simply want to wear these all the time, whether it be a special event, night out or night in. They’re classic but contemporary. To me, they represent the gold standard of what Jordan Brand is capable of (and the standard we should hold them to). Let’s hope that the upcoming Military Blue 4s take a page out of the Nike SB x Air Jordan 4 playbook.

Honorable mention: Bodega x Asics Gel-NYC “After Hours”; Nike Air Max 1 ‘86 Big Bubble; Social Status x Nike Attack; Bodega x New Balance 610; Air Jordan 13 Playoffs

What are your top pickups of 2023? What about your most painful L’s? Let me know on X at @byAndySilva.

I hope everyone had a great year in sneakers and enjoyed reading my work here on DraftKings Network. Let’s have a great 2024!