TGRR Blog: State of the Industry, Part 2: adidas Basketball

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

In part one of our State of the Industry series, we took a look at the present and future of Jordan Brand. The face of the basketball sneaker industry and leader in market share, we looked for Jordan Brand to continue to push the limits of design and innovation while being led into the future by the Jordan namesake, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and newcomers Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin. While I jumped straight into the JB review and the future of the brand, the adidas story requires more of a history lesson.

Overview
The adidas basketball division is one that has undergone massive changes in terms of the branding and design of its products. Back in the late 90s and early 00s, adidas basketball launched a largely successful “Feet You Wear” campaign that made the company competitive it the basketball market.

Feet Your Wear was more a philosophy rather than an actual, tangible technology. Basically, Feet You Wear differed from a traditional shoe “last” (the shape of the outsole that the shoe is built on) by curving and molding the midsole and outsole to better fit the wearer’s foot. Adidas shoes built on the Feet Your Wear philosophy feature midsoles that wrap up higher on the foot than typical shoes while molded and form-fitting outsoles that targeted specific areas of the foot. This provided better lateral stability and torsional rigidity underfoot and promoted a natural footstrike. The upper was then brought close to the foot to provide better fit all the way up.

Behind Feet You Wear shoes like the adidas Real Deal, Top Ten and Crazy 8, adidas brought models to the consumer that were distinctive and performed well. They also had a strong presence on-court behind a young, budding superstar named Kobe Bryant. Feet You Wear proved to be short-lived, and once Bryant got his signature line – with the Audi-inspired Kobe and Kobe Two – adidas created some of the most loved/hated signatures of all-time.

Here’s a banger of a commercial with Kobe in the Top Ten:

Later on in the 2000s, adidas moved into the a3 and Bounce era as a response to the Nike Shox craze. While neither technology ended up enjoying much longevity, adidas’ versions were basically always seen as the little brother to the Vince Carter-led Shox series. Adidas had some moderate success with the a3/Bounce line as team shoes – I wore the a3 Pro Team during my time with the Indiana Elite AAU program – and the a3 Superstar Ultra was probably the most comfortable basketball shoe I’ve ever owned (though the outsole peeled off and the a3 pillars literally disintegrated after two weeks – and a couple of other teammates had the same thing happen).

Then, adidas trended back towards Feet You Wear with the Formotion campaign behind young stars like Gilbert Arenas while incorporating Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett (who had a couple of adidas signature models). They also pushed the limits of design with Tracy McGrady’s signature shoes (particularly the T-Mac IV and V). Finally, we got to the Team Speed line and with 2010’s TS Supernatural Creator and Commander. Adidas had created two of the best performance shoes of all time with the Creator and Commander, and were beginning to be led by Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard. The Creator is one of my all-time favorite performance shoes – its heel-toe transition, fit, cushioning and traction were nearly perfect. The shrouded upper also gave it a sleek, clean silhouette. The outsole was vintage Feet You Wear – perfectly tuned and molded, as well as stable and form-fitting with the pod outsole. Adidas was back and Feet You Wear was better than ever. I was prepared to buy whatever guard-geared TS shoe they cranked out…

And then adidas moved away from it all. Again.

In late 2010, adidas introduced its SPRINTFRAME and SPRINTSKIN on Rose’s first true signature shoe and thinned out the midsole. Then within the first two months of 2011, adidas rebranded their basketball line – under the adiZero campaign – in the name of speed. They launched the Crazy Light  – the lightest basketball shoe to date. At 9.8 ounces, the shoe and the campaign changed the idea of how light a shoe could be built. Even with Nike’s Kobe line pushing the low-top limits, adidas still clocked in lighter. And at $130, they were testing the limits of the consumer who’d pay top dollar not for superior technology or comfort, but for a lack of weight. They’ve continued with the Crazy Light 2 (as well as other light-driven models like the Ghost and Crazy Shadow), and appear committed to pushing the weight barrier on all its shoes for the near future.

*Market Share: 5.5% (via @MattSOS)

Latest Performance Models
Adidas Crazy Light 2
Adidas Rose 3/3.5
Adidas D Howard Light
Adidas Crazy Shadow/Crazy Fast
Adidas Top Ten 2000/Real Deal

The Crazy Light 2 has been a popular shoe at the professional, collegiate and high school levels. It was lauded as an improvement over the original Crazy Light (which had some durability issues) and beefed up the midsole and targeted stability of the SPRINTWEB upper. It’s available in a myriad of colors and we’ll likely see the Crazy Light line continue as a go-to team shoe in the future.

The Rose 3 was an interesting release to me because of the price point. At $160, the Rose 3 was priced to compete with the high-end Nike and Jordan Brand products such as the Hyperdunk and XX- line. But in my opinion, the shoe didn’t provide the type of technology or innovation that I want if I’m dropping $160+ on a shoe. Yes, the fit was very good and the SPRINTFRAME chassis was very well-sculpted. The full-length herringbone traction was a sight for sore eyes (especially after the embarrassment that was the Rose 2), but looking at the entire package the Rose  3 simply didn’t bring the requisite luxury feel and technology it should have at that price point.

Howard’s signature shoe has been lightly marketed and isn’t the prettiest shoe aesthetically. His line has been lauded in terms of performance for providing an extremely light but protective shoe (with top-notch Alive cushioning and cilia traction pattern) suitable for many positions, but as I’ll talk about later, Howard himself is limiting marketing opportunities. His shoes simply aren’t that good-looking and the namesake isn’t endearing himself to the public.

The Crazy Shadow and Crazy Fast silhouettes have also been popular among athletes at all levels, providing a lightweight option without the $130 price tag. Both the Top Ten 2000 and Real Deal are retro performance models – a welcome nod to the Feet You Wear days. The Top Ten has been seen on the feet of John Wall and Damian Lillard, while Avery Bradley was the first to break out the Real Deal.

Technology
When adidas went light with their basketball line, two technologies drove the weight cutting measures: SPRINTWEB and SPRINTFRAME. The SPRINTFRAME component is one that I personally loved. The idea of a single piece chassis makes a ton of sense in terms of cutting out excess material and providing a consistent fit and stability. SPRINTWEB is similar to Nike’s Fuse technology, as it’s a layered outer skin with targeted zones of overlays for durability. Where that support isn’t needed, such as the toebox of the original Crazy Light for example, it’s basically just a thin layer of mesh.

Further adi tech is pretty well known. Adiprene and adiprene+ have been cushioning staples for years, and the Torsion system has been providing lateral stability for a long time.

A quick note: adidas unveiled new Boost cushioning last week in their running shoes, and look for it to creep into the basketball line in time. Boost reportedly is three times more responsive than traditional foam, and seems to be a natural candidate to be employed on a basketball court to compete with Nike’s Zoom Air and Under Armour’s Micro G.

Top Athletes
Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Tim Duncan, Ricky Rubio, Damian Lillard, Eric Gordon, Harrison Barnes, Jrue Holiday, John Wall, Serge Ibaka

Adidas is obviously led by Rose and Howard in the signature shoe department, but they’ve also featured Smith in adizero Ghost ads. Adidas does deserve serious props for the job they’ve done in terms of bringing young, marketable talent to the brand. Rubio is one of the most watchable guys in the league and has international appeal, Lillard is far and away the best rookie in the league and Holiday is 22 and already an All-Star. Barnes has the potential to be a starter for years to come, and Gordon and Wall are young, productive vets who could still become stars.

I didn’t even include guys like Avery Bradley or Arron Afflalo, who both deserve mention for being the first to preview the Real Deal and Crazy Light 2 Low, respectively. In terms of drawing young talent to the brand, adidas has done a great job in the last two years.

Future Outlook
The Rose signature line is now six signatures deep (three regular models and three “.5” models, plus a low-top version of the Rose 2) and Howard has four officially to his name. One year ago, adidas had to be thrilled with their two headliners. Rose was the reigning MVP and Howard was the best big man in the league.

But today, various circumstances have clouded each players’ future and put adidas in a precarious spot with their top two basketball athletes. Rose endured a horrific ACL tear on April 28 and has yet to return to the floor this season (a minor dustup involving Nike designer Jason Petrie implying that Rose wouldn’t have gotten hurt had he signed with Nike put adidas basketball in the spotlight too). Adidas went ahead with the release of his third signature shoe before the 2012-2013 season and marketed “The Return” of Rose to the floor. It was a quality strategy due to the circumstances, but it’s still going to be hard to sell a $160 signature shoe behind a player that can’t play. It was nobody’s fault, but it is what it is.

Howard has quickly become one of the least-liked players in the league for his perceived lack of competitiveness, petulance, selfishness in Los Angeles and the way in which he left Orlando. This could not have helped sales of his signature shoe, which wasn’t exactly the most popular shoe on the market based on looks or marketing beforehand.

With Howard taking a hit in terms of public perception and Rose’s playing future somewhat in question, adidas may have to rely on its young talent to carry the brand. Luckily for them, the trio of Rubio, Lillard and Holiday appear ready to step up and be the face of the brand. This doesn’t necessarily mean signatures shoes all around, but adidas could have three All-Star point guards under 23 years old as soon as next season. And with the brand already driven by lightweight performance, the Three Stripes could end up with a perfect combination of product, players and performance.

*3/12/13 Update

Last week adidas unveiled the CrazyQuick, a shoe that may bridge the gap between reduced weight, comfort and performance. The shoe was the most weartested ever from adidas, and features a 17-piece outsole for greater stability, comfort and transition while keeping the midsole thin. The shoe also features the first-ever TechFit upper which keeps the weight down. To me, this shoe is a hybrid between the Feet You Wear adidas and the CrazyLight school of thought. Hopefully, they’ve found a way to incorporate the great fit and comfort of a Feet You Wear model while still making a competitive lightweight product. So far, John Wall is the most visible athlete associated with the Crazy Quick (personally, I don’t think he has the clout to carry a shoe) but I expect to see other guards in it very soon. For TGRR purposes, I plan to cop and review the CrazyQuick when it drops on May 1.

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