Even as he held himself up on crutches Sunday night, Heat guard Dion Waiters wanted to make one thing absolutely clear regarding his badly sprained left ankle: Don’t blame his low-top Kobe sneakers for it.
The Heat’s starting shooting guard, who was injured late in the first half of last Friday’s win over Minnesota when he landed awkwardly on the foot of T’Wolves forward Gorgui Dieng, said he’s been wearing low top sneakers for years and believes the injury would have happened to him regardless of his footwear.
“That’s all I’ve been wearing my whole career,” said Waiters, who wears the low-top Kobe A.D. model by Nike. “It’s hard to adjust. Even if you go back to college, I wore low tops. I like low tops. Even though I play the way I play and attack the rim and things like that, these type of things happen if you have high tops on. It happens.”
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There’s long been a debate about whether NBA players really have enough protection for their ankles whether they’re wearing low tops, mid tops or high tops. In the end, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the most important thing is how well players protect themselves regardless of the shoes they’re wearing.
Spoelstra said the Heat’s head athletic trainer, Jay Sabol, works with shoe companies, who send him the models and he gets input on whether it’s an appropriate shoe or not for the players. After that, it’s all about the ankle braces, good tape jobs and pads.
“We’re more proactive with that than we ever have been before,” Spoelstra said Tuesday after shootaround. “For me I think the most important thing is that there is ankle protection. We can’t demand it of all the guys, but we’re pretty aggressive in our recommendations of ankle braces or tape and pads – the things that might be able to help. Dion was taped. If he wasn’t we may be looking at a different scenario.”
Waiters, who was spotted wearing a boot on his ankle at practice Monday, said Sunday his hope is to return to the court before the end of the regular season. Spoelstra said Tuesday the swelling in Waiters’ ankle still hasn’t subsided.
“It’s still there,” Spoelstra said. “That’s normal actually. Even when he came back and played after the last [sprained ankle], he had swelling for a couple of weeks.”
It’s not uncommon for the league’s fastest players to wear low top sneakers. According to NBAShoesDB.com, which tracks the shoes worn by NBA players, the Kobe A.D. model Waiters wears is the most popular in the league, worn by at least 51 players.
Veteran three-point shooter Wayne Ellington, who has had a breakout season with the Heat, also wears the same Kobe low-top sneakers. Others to wear the shoe include All-Star guards John Wall (Washington), Isaiah Thomas (Boston) and DeMar DeRozan (Toronto).
“I've been wearing Kobe’s for years now,” said Ellington, who said he stopped wearing high tops his second season in the NBA. “Knock on wood I’ve been fine. Obviously we don’t all have the same feet, the same build. Different shoe structure is different for different guys.
“I like the type of support I get from the shoe that I wear. For me, high tops are a little restrained. I can’t move as freely as I would like to. Obviously they say the high tops give you more support. But if you look at some of those high tops they’re just as flimsy. You might as well not have anything there as far as covering up your ankle. I’ve been great so far in my low tops.”
Heat point guard Goran Dragic wears Adidas brand low tops. He said when he played in Phoenix trainers tried to convince him to wear high tops. But Dragic said he stopped wearing Derrick Rose’s Adidas brand high tops because he was actually injuring his ankle more frequently in them than in low tops.
“Back in the day in Phoenix, I had high tops and I rolled my ankle eight times that season,” Dragic said. “So, I don’t think that’s the thing. At the end of the day, Dion was taped. Everybody is taped on this team. It’s just an unfortunate play. He landed on the guy’s foot. And when you’re in the air, it’s really tough to control your body if you land on somebody.
“Each player different. In my career I’ve worn high tops, mid tops, low tops, but the most comfortable that I feel is in low tops. I feel that I can move better. I can explode and everything. It’s maybe just in my head.”
Though some players have worn low top sneakers since the 1970s, it was Kobe Bryant who started the trend of going from the traditional high tops to lighter, faster low top sneakers almost a decade ago.
Studies suggest high-top and mid-top sneakers provide more ankle support for athletes who have had ankle injuries in the past. Waiters said he broke his ankle in high school.
“A lot of people ask me why I don’t wear high tops and things like that,” Waiters said. “But they weren’t saying that when I was playing well and we were winning. So don’t ask me when I get hurt.”