Prose: Finch (@Sir_Stymie)
Weight: 18 oz (in size 11)
Size Tested: 13
After several weeks of waiting with little to no information about the release, I was able to get my hands on a pair of the Nike Air Way Up retro. Now this shoe either has a very celebrated or very murky past depending on your kicks history knowledge and many of today’s generation are unaware of how great a retro of this kind is when it comes to performance kicks. The Way Up, much like the Air Force 2 Strong (which I have have written about in previous posts), was one of the most popular shoes of the late 90s among many prominent NBA players. Although Penny Hardaway had a PE of the Way Up and the Way Up shares some striking similarities with the Penny I (thanks to the large lateral wing) the colorway that released on 4/13 was a predecessor of both models.
The Way Up was worn most notably by Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman in the 1995-1996 season when the Bulls went 72-10 and became known as the greatest team in NBA history. This is also the same season that MJ debuted the Concord XIs, perhaps in a way lending to the lack of attention given to the Way Up. This shoe was also the flagship for Nike’s youth movement of the early 90’s which included Jason Kidd, Eddie Jones (who got some damn good team Jordan PEs down the road) and Kevin Garnett.
The Way Up retroed in three colorways: black/white, grey/white and white/black/red. I was able to cop from my place of employment and I had to get the “Chicago” white/black/red colorway. I love the color blocking and felt it only natural to give a nod to the 96 Bulls. Although I am not a Bulls fan, I’m not one to spit in the face of history.
In my lifetime of trying on shoes, I have come to the realization that shoes from the late 80’s and early 90’s have lots of cushion in the ankle, tongue and inner bootie that aids in overall fit. Because of this, I have become a fan of the shoes from this era from a comfort standpoint and was intrigued on how the Way Up would perform in this regard. In short, it did not disappoint. I was impressed with the overall fit, and although it differs greatly from my ultimate in fit, the Adidas Commander TS, that doesn’t make the design flawed. The Commander TS fits best in the heel and in the toe box; the Way Up fits more comfortably at the ankle and forefoot. In a perfect world, I’d like the Way Up to fit a little more snug in the toes. This is due to the shape of the last (basically, the shape of the footbed) in the Way Up probably not being engineered narrower like most modern shoes. The padding of the tongue and the heel makes for a very secure and locked-in feel though, and with the adequate space in the toe box there is little chance of stubbed toes or broken toe nails.
One aspect of the shoe that I thought was a cause for concern was the placement of the laces and eyelets. I have had instances when while walking or running the heel of my foot would slip slightly off the midsole. The lace holes are spaced rather far apart and you have to pull the laces pretty hard in order for you foot to stay firmly planted. The shoe has to be laced to the top eyelet in order to get close to the desired ankle fit and support, but there are only five eyelets total. While these weaknesses are more of an inconvenience than an actual problem and I am able to over look them when I play, in the same voice I feel I would be doing you a disservice if I did not at least mention them as a deficiency. Once the shoelaces are tightened and tied firmly, I had little to no issue with the lockdown and/or fit.
Heel-Toe Transition: 6.5
I was very excited to test out the heel-toe transition when looking at the profile of the shoe. There’s a noticeable drop from the heel to the toe and it looked similar to my best example of heel to transition the, Nike Force Max. Thus, I thought that I would have a similar experience with this shoe…and I was wrong. The Way Up was not great in terms of heel-toe transition because the Phylon midsole is relatively flat on the interior, almost Air Force 1-like. (The Force Max, on the other hand, had a rounded toe for a nice toe-off and roll through the footstrike.) It did have a slight flex or transition point in the toe, but no more than something like an Air Max 1. I generally like my transition point to start in the forward third of the shoe near the ball of the foot and almost where the big toe flexes.
The shoe also has a rather firm midsole. It does give some under the forefoot but it has a hard rubber outsole (and firm Air Max bag) on the heel which hinders the natural bending a bit, but I wonder with further break-in time if the transition will improve. The jury is still out, but for now I’m giving it an average score.
Though the Way Up is a retro design, it features technology that makes it timeless as far as cushioning goes. The main example is obviously the visible Air bag in the heel and also an encapsulated Air bag in the forefoot. This Air to Air combination makes the shoe very comfortable and absorbs impact very nicely; although I was not a fan of the midsole firmness in terms of heel to toe transition, I believe that it actually helps the shoe in terms of cushioning.
In my review of the Nike Zoom Hyperdisruptor, I explained how the softness of its midsole took away from the effectiveness of the the Zoom bags. In the case of the Way Up, I feel that its firmness makes the Air bags more effective thus making the shoes more comfortable. Though I am married, it seems to the Zoom/Max Air Combination, I feel that Air/Air is an effective and long-lasting cushioning system on-court and in everyday wear.
If you’re a hooper, you know what good traction feels like and the security it brings. To me it can make or break a shoe, and personally its herringbone or bust. The Way Up features a wavy pattern that is more segmented in the toe section. It has some stippling but it’s not very grippy. For the most part, it doesn’t seem functional compared to most of today’s top performance models (but it does look nice, and most of you will probably be rocking these off-court anyway). When it is on hardwood it grips the floor respectably since it is a new shoe, but I am concerned that it will wear down quickly. This may simply be a case of outdated technology, but I will not know for sure until I wear them in a few more games.
Materials and Durability: 7.5
When it come to durability, to me, you can’t go wrong with a leather upper. Call me old fashioned, but it’s what I like. The Way Up does have an all-leather upper which would usually make for a solid score from me, but I’ve learned over the years that not all leather is created equal. I generally prefer tumbled leather, since the quality of most of today’s synthetic “leather” is poor. That being said, the quality of the leather on the Way Up reminds me of the Air Force 1 – which means it’s average but at least not as bad as a Reebok Classic. Whereas tumbled leather moves with you, this leather is stiff and I’m concerned with deep creasing from an aesthetic standpoint, though that shouldn’t be a worry for a shoe you are gonna hoop in and beat up anyway.
With that being said, the cushioning in the tongue and inner bootie are quite nice – no paper-thin tongue here. The seams appear solidly glued together and the the paint seems to be good quality and hopefully will not crack and flake off like other retros.
Overall, I’m glad that Nike was able to put out a retro team shoe that is not only a classic, but will also stand up performance-wise with today’s athletes. Performance-wise, this shoe does have its downsides (like most retro models) in terms of transitioning and traction, but I believe that what it provides make up for its faults. If you’re looking for a good hooping shoe for your rotation or for some retro flair in your wardrobe, I’d pick them up. At $120, they don’t necessarily break the bank either for such a versatile shoe. They’re available at footlocker.com in all three colorways and at finishline.com in the gray/white and black/white colorway.
Overall Score: 38/50 x 2 = 76/100
Heel-Toe Transition: 6.5