Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)
As I wrapped up my testing of the Kobe XI Elite, I have to admit I didn’t feel great about the whole thing. It’s definitely been one of the tougher reviews I’ve done in awhile. I was pretty conflicted about the shoe and how it performed and while I really liked playing in it at times, I always felt like there were things that it could have done better. As I write that, I think that’s theme that will run through the XI as we go.
As I mentioned in the preview, I went with my normal off-court size of 11.5 rather than my usual 11 in hoop shoes. Things get a little narrow in the toe box and I’d suggest going true to size.
The biggest tech innovation on the Kobe XI Elite is the use of TPU-reinforced Flyknit for the upper, rather than the pure knit weave. You can see the little iridescent strands woven into the upper upon close inspection and you can definitely feel them. This version of Flyknit is much more rigid and structured than any setup I’ve seen before. It works too – the upper containment and support is good, as is lockdown from heel to toe. I didn’t necessarily love the laces and lacing system (really would have liked some paracord laces or something heavy duty) but it’s a small gripe.
This version of Flyknit feels closer to Fuse than original Flyknit, and that’s not a bad thing on a hoop shoe. I hope they stick with the TPU weave, although I do have my doubts as I’m sure it adds some complexity to the manufacturing process.
Once the heel molded to my foot more, the collar area became very comfortable; it’s stiff and well-padded in order to lock the heel down and eliminate slippage. Overall, it fits really well and inspires confidence from a low top. I didn’t find any issues with containment, lockdown or stability.
Transition is extremely smooth and natural. The outsole and drop in Lunar midsole are flexible – maybe too flexible – but nonetheless make for a very natural footstrike.
I have a feeling this will be the most polarizing aspect of the shoe, so here it goes with my opinion.
First, the shoe is plenty comfortable on foot. Lunar begins as a pretty responsive platform and the Zoom bag in the heel is definitely noticeable and plays a role in impact protection in the footstrike. It’s plenty of midsole for casual wear or if you only hoop intermittently (but then why drop $200).
Day in and day out, over the course of a 40-minute game, I just don’t think a drop in Lunar midsole is the answer for me. Some folks may be able to tolerate it – I’d like to see what Kobe actually plays in and whether it’s a stock midsole – but it’s just not for me. That slab of Lunarlon (which has a bunch of geometric flex grooves in the forefoot) is basically the only thing between me and the gym floor, and it’s just not enough protection or support over the course of a game.
My complaint here is this: a full Zoom midsole is already and option for NikeID, why not make it THE midsole for your Elite version? I feel like it would make a world of difference to beef up that midsole with a full Zoom bag. And yes, I tried swapping in the LeBron 11 midsole and it did not fit.
It’s difficult because it is a comfortable shoe and the cushioning overall isn’t bad at all. It’s pretty responsive and definitely stable (two lateral outriggers aid lateral stability also). But I have never found the drop in system to work all that well, especially long term.
Without a doubt the weakest area is the traction. The outsole is extremely thin and flexible (two things that made the Kobe IX have fantastic traction) and the pattern features a deep flex groove down the middle of the foot surrounded by a multi-directional pattern.
These things absolutely collected dust and I was constantly wiping and worried about sliding laterally if the courts were even slightly dirty. On a good, clean court it was adequate but not the level I’d expect from a Kobe model.
The upper is sturdy and well made, and is sewn into the outsole – similar to the old double lasting technique. I couldn’t find any glue spots or loose strands in the upper, and I the XI holding up pretty well to normal wear and tear. I would hesitate to use them outdoors because of the thin outsole and a traction pattern that is not very deep. I dinged the materials a bit because I would have liked to see full Zoom on a $200 Elite model – especially when the midsole setup already exists.
Good but almost great is probably how I’d characterize the Kobe XI Elite. With a different midsole and a better traction design, these would have been fantastic. The lockdown, fit, transition and some aspects of the cushioning platform were all very good. The shoes are gorgeous in person too. But unfortunately, these will probably be relegated to casual wear and passed up for the HyperRev 2016 or Lillard 2 next.