Basketball and tennis are great sports that so many of us played growing up. If you continued to college and professional play, someone likely recommended shoe options to you. At some point, though, you might wonder if you can use basketball shoes for tennis, especially if you’re playing both sports for fun.
In general, you can play tennis in basketball shoes, but your tennis game may suffer. Basketball and tennis shoes are designed differently for a reason. Both provide stability and traction specific to their respective playing surfaces and game movements.
Aside from differences in look, what are more subtle differences between basketball and tennis shoes? How do these design differences optimize your basketball or tennis game? What can happen if you wear basketball shoes for tennis? Let’s find out.
Can Basketball Shoes Be Used for Tennis?
You could wear basketball court shoes to play tennis, but to excel at either or both sports, you’ll want shoes that support your game.
Basketball and tennis shoes are designed to facilitate and optimize movements specific to both sports. Basketball shoes are not made for the repetitive lateral movements found in tennis. Therefore, wearing basketball shoes for tennis can put stress on your ankles and knees.
There’s a lot of back and forth around the utility (or not) of just buying and using one pair of shoes for basketball and tennis. Reasons why (or why not) basketball shoes shouldn’t be used for tennis and vice-versa usually include these:
- Basketball shoes aren’t optimized for tennis, but they’re a good alternative if you play more basketball than tennis.
- Basketball shoes don’t have the structural features tennis shoes have to help withstand the friction of playing on a tennis court—especially around the shoe’s front.
- Tennis shoes are lighter and less bulky than basketball shoes, facilitating quick movements on the tennis court but lack the support needed for vertical basketball moves.
- Tennis shoe soles have the traction for the quick moves required in playing on different court surfaces; basketball shoe soles are not and may slide on tennis court surfaces.
The consensus is it’s better not to wear basketball shoes for tennis, especially if you play frequently. If you only play tennis occasionally, then you can wear your basketball shoes, but again, it’s not the best choice for your ankles, knees, and game. You owe it to yourself to enjoy playing as safely as possible by wearing the right court shoes for each individual sport.
What Makes Basketball Shoes Different from Tennis Shoes?
Basketball and tennis shoes optimize player movements unique to each sport. Each of these court shoes also protects players as much as possible from injury—for example, knee and ankle injuries from rebounding in basketball or strain from lateral movement in tennis.
However, before comparing how each type of court shoe is specifically designed to suit basketball or tennis, it’s worth understanding the components that make up both.
- Shoe upper: The part of the shoe that covers your foot. The front part of the upper is the toe box. Having a good fit for the toe box is critical, as this part of the shoe deals with forwarding force; a tight toe box constrains movement and can cause blisters. For basketball shoes, the shoe upper is usually made from a breathable mesh material. Some tennis shoes may still use leather.
- The midsole is in-between the shoe upper and the part of the shoe that contacts the court. The type and number of materials used govern shoe flexibility and cushioning. Tennis shoes generally have less cushioning. For basketball, midsoles may also incorporate gel or air for additional cushioning.
- The outer sole (portion contacting the court) is made of stiffer rubber compounds. Tennis shoes may add stiffer rubber to accommodate toe drag during the serve. Blown rubber, which is softer, may be used for the rest of the sole.
- The insole protects your foot from rubbing against the stitching of the shoe. For both basketball and tennis, the insole can be replaced with custom inserts to personalize comfort, arch support, and fit.
- A heel counter provides stability via rigid support for the back of the shoe. Tennis shoes may have a plastic insert in the heel counter to provide firmer support.
- Shoe tongue provides cushioning from whatever is used to secure the shoe—shoelaces or Velcro. Tennis shoes tend to be laced; basketball shoes may use Velcro.
Given their shared features, there are several ways basketball and tennis shoes are similar:
- Both sports require agility, direction changes, and footwork, and both basketball and tennis shoes are designed to facilitate these movements.
- Both of these court shoes enable your foot to sit “flat” on the court surface.
- Both tennis and basketball shoes are available in “low-top” lighter-weight versions, lending themselves to a basketball guard or tennis player’s quick movements.
- For the most part, both court shoe uppers are made with lightweight and breathable mesh fabric.
- Both provide some traction on most playing surfaces.
There are, however, key differences between basketball and tennis shoes worth noting as well:
Physically, basketball is all about agility and power that translates into acceleration, speed, and velocity. Players are in constant motion running, dribbling, defending, and shooting the ball. Players need to change direction and motion, both horizontally and vertically. A player going for a lay-up, dunk, or rebound may rotate a full 360 degrees in the air.
Basketball shoes must absorb the vibration and maintain stability in landing. With that said, basketball court shoes are designed to facilitate “plant, cut, pivot, jump, run” movements while also protecting from injury from those movements.
Basketball players tend to need more ankle support than tennis players. Given there’s much more up and down, and rotation movement in basketball than tennis, basketball shoes are designed to provide support and cushioning for vertical movements.
The outer sole of basketball shoes is designed for play on wooden floors. The tread will not hold up well on other surfaces (like tennis courts).
An average point in tennis can involve anywhere from 4-15 directional changes. Although tennis involves movement in all directions (including backward), over 70% of tennis movements are lateral, including pivots. You need to wear a court shoe that supports these kinds of actions.
Although both basketball and tennis shoes support lateral movement, tennis shoes are specifically designed to provide protection and support during side-to-side movements.
Unlike basketball, which is usually played on a hardwood court, you can play tennis on various surfaces, including clay, grass, and composition. Tennis shoes can have different tread designs to accommodate different court surfaces. Players on hard courts will benefit from more cushioning in the shoe, and clay-court players will benefit from a good tread and lighter shoe. (Tennis shoes are lighter than basketball shoes, which benefits quick court movement.)
Finding a Basketball Shoe that You Can Use for Tennis
Finding the best basketball shoe has a lot to do with your game. For example, if you’re a point guard, you’ll want low-top and lightweight court shoes (giving up some ankle support.) If you’re a power forward or center, then high-tops are for you—maximum cushion and ankle support. Meanwhile, mid-tops are a great compromise if you play various positions.
If you want to wear your basketball shoes for tennis as well, then a mid-top basketball shoe is your best bet. Here are other things to look for in basketball shoes if you also plan on using them for tennis:
Weight and Cushioning
You’ll want basketball shoes that are lighter weight as you’ll need that for quick tennis movements. However, basketball shoes have more cushioning than tennis shoes, so you don’t want to sacrifice that either if you want the right kind of foot and ankle support for basketball and tennis.
Soles and Traction
Tennis shoe soles are made of harder materials than basketball shoe soles. You’ll want a relatively firm basketball sole. Your best bet for good traction is a herringbone or hexagonal pattern in the basketball shoe sole.
Pay attention to the wear and tear on your basketball shoe soles if you use them frequently for tennis, especially if you’re playing tennis outside on courts that are subjected to dirt and weather. If you’re going between outside tennis courts and inside basketball courts with wooden floors, be mindful of cleaning off your shoes’ soles before basketball play to help the shoes last longer (more on durability later).
Size and Flexibility
Try for mid-top height and a lightweight, breathable mesh upper. Be sure there’s no heel slip and that you have enough room in the toe box. If you drag your foot when you serve, try and find a basketball shoe that won’t impede that, and that’s somewhat reinforced in the front.
Tennis relies on flexibility in the front of your foot, so be sure the lacing system doesn’t restrict that (shoelaces may be a better choice than Velcro in that regard). And be sure the shoe stays on your foot (“containment” in shoe lingo) as you make quick stops and direction changes.
The proper court shoe will stabilize your ankles, provide support and cushioning through all sport movements, all helping keep you injury-free by reducing the stress on your knees and feet.
Whether you’re interested in basketball or tennis shoes, understanding your foot type before selecting either will help ensure a good fit. Does your foot tend to overpronate (roll forward) or supinate (foot and ankle roll outward)? Either of these conditions can be managed for both basketball and tennis with correct fit and inserts.
By the way, if you’re a woman, you may be wondering if you can get away with wearing men’s court shoes? The answer is a qualified yes because overall, the shoes are the same. However, know that you may end up sacrificing proper fit and deal with a heavier shoe. This is particularly true for basketball because of the horizontal and vertical movements.
Additionally, to accommodate differences in hip width, women’s shoes differ in the angle the shoe meets the court. Because women weigh less, a softer and lighter midsole reduces the weight in women’s shoes. With that said, you may be better off searching for women’s court shoes, and there are plenty of great options to choose from.
You won’t be going through 50-100 pairs of shoes per season as the pros do, but if you use basketball shoes for tennis, they will wear out more quickly, given the court surfaces. Note: depending on your budget, you can expect to pay over $300 for higher-end basketball shoes.
Finding a Tennis Shoe You Can Use for Basketball
Earlier, we noted that tennis involves quick starts and stops, running forward and backward, and lots of lateral movement; tennis shoes are designed specifically to provide support and comfort through all of those movements. Here are some suggestions for finding a tennis shoe that you can also use for basketball:
Weight and Cushioning
Find a tennis shoe that provides as much cushioning as possible. You’ll need that to help reduce the shock factor on your knees and feet when rebounding. Be sure and check out the arch support; placement may differ between tennis and basketball shoes.
Soles and Traction
Be sure the tennis shoe’s sole grips the hardwood floor so you don’t slide during play. On the other hand, also be sure the tennis shoe doesn’t “stick” to the floor to the point your foot cannot move enough to recover from a change in direction.
Size and Flexibility
Remember, tennis shoes may have a plastic insert is used in the heel of the shoe to help support your ankle and heel during play. Try on the shoe to ensure this doesn’t impede the flexibility you need for vertical movement. The front of the tennis shoe is flexible to facilitate bending your foot during play. Be sure you’re comfortable with this during basketball.
Unlike basketball shoes, the greatest strain on tennis shoes used for basketball will likely be around the shoe’s collar rather than the sole. Over time, this may compromise shoe support and comfort.
Note: Budget-wise, like basketball shoes, good tennis court shoes can also run into the hundreds of dollars.
Other Considerations Before Choosing Court Shoes
So far, we’ve discussed whether basketball shoes are suited for use with tennis. However, you may be wondering if you can customize your court shoes to work with both sports or even use shoes from other sports for both basketball and tennis.
Designing Your Own Court Shoes
There are a few options for creating your own court shoe. Most of these applications start with a basic court shoe for the sport you’re interested in (i.e., basketball and tennis) and provide you with options to modify the basic shoe to your tastes and needs.
Some common brand name sites that offer customization are Nike By You and Converse Custom Shoes. Name brand sites usually have “Ask an Expert” popups to help you with design questions. Sites can also offer “Best for You” options to help you find the best combination of features in a basketball or tennis shoe.
If you’re trying for a court shoe for both basketball and tennis play, keep in mind the features covered earlier—if you start with a basketball shoe, select mid-tops with good support for lateral movement and soles that won’t slide on tennis court surfaces.
Using Other Types of Athletic Shoes
Can you wear cross-training shoes to play basketball and tennis? Generally speaking, no. While basketball and tennis shoes are similar enough, cross-trainers are designed for completely different activities—running, high-intensity workouts on mats, etc.
The same goes for trying to use racquetball or volleyball shoes. These shoes are highly specific to the sports they’re designed for and won’t work for basketball or tennis.
To summarize, yes, you can wear your basketball shoes for tennis. Additionally, it’s better to wear your basketball shoes to play tennis than to wear your tennis shoes to play basketball, especially if you primarily play basketball and only occasionally play tennis. However, keep in mind that you’ll wear out your basketball shoes more quickly if you use them to play on tennis courts.
Suppose the other way around, you mainly play tennis and occasionally play pick-up basketball games. In that case, you’ll need to trust your tennis shoes to provide support—specifically for all those times when you go for a rebound and land off-balance. You’ll also be subjecting your knees to more stress as tennis shoes have different (harder) soles and less cushioning.
If you play basketball or tennis seriously, then you really should do justice to your game and your body by selecting court shoes specific to one or the other sport. Remember, there are many good resources available to help you decide which basketball or tennis court shoe is the best for you. Keeping your budget in mind, you can always purchase a less expensive court shoe option for a sport you do “just for fun.” Enjoy your game!