Once known rather famously for banning sneakers that didn’t match the team’s colour identity, the NBA has become a lot more relaxed as the shoe game has evolved.

Each year, the NBA sets aside ten special event days, most notably the Christmas Day program where teams can break from traditional policy and celebrate events with colours that differ from their team’s standard look. And even within the team’s colour rules.

The NBA has been rather free and generous as the sneaker game has grown, especially over the last decade, and it seems that teams that feature players with lucrative deals moving from requiring to wear one colour as the majority colour on a sneaker to a policy that allows team colours on sneakers in any proportion.

“When we were expanding our uniforms in such a way to create different categories it made sense for the footwear to hook up with that,” said Christopher Arena, the NBA’s vice president of identity, outfitting and equipment to Sole Collector.

“It makes sense to give players the opportunity to showcase whatever that design is in a more robust way. So, if we are celebrating Hoops for Troops and suggesting the teams wear a specific shooting shirt, or if it is MLK Day, Black History Month, or Christmas – there are so many platforms – and we are giving teams a shooting shirt or a uniform, there is a hook involved and giving them freedom to hook footwear to, that makes sense. And if the All Star Game is a showcase of the best of the game, let them wear different shoes there as a beacon to see the best. Having more of those beacons seems like a good idea.”

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade and Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James with different coloured sneakers on Christmas Day, 2014. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade and Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James with different coloured sneakers on Christmas Day, 2014. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

And while it isn’t 100 percent because of the relaxing nature of the league, it does play a part in the many colourways you see on an LeBron Soldier 10 or a Nike Kyrie 2, and it even transcends into popular everyday sneakers like the Air Force 1 or the Adidas ZX Flux running shoe.


The popular sneaker culture that we see in the NBA and in leagues around Europe unfortunately doesn’t resonate with the Chinese Basketball Association, where the league is tied to a shoe deal with Li-Ning.

And Yi Jianlian is not a fan.

After a solid showing at the Rio Olympics, Yi Jianlian signed a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, making a glorious return to the NBA. But Yi’s comeback was extremely short-lived as he asked to be released by the team as the role he envisioned in Los Angeles didn’t materialise.

Now playing for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, Yi, for years a Nike athlete was forced to wear a Li-Ning sneaker, as per the CBA rules.

Yi stopped playing, removed his Li-Ning sneakers, left them on the court and subbed himself out. According to reports, the veteran cited discomfort as the reason for his actions, along with continued frustration over the CBA’s mandatory Li-Ning sneaker policy.

He later returned to the floor, wearing a pair of Nike Hyperdunk 2016. Going against the colour way and more importantly: the CBA’s sneaker policy.

As a result, the 29-year-old Chinese international has been suspended for one game by the Southern Tigers.