Prose: Jake Sittler (@thegymratreview)
If you’ve followed the site for some time, you may know that the Zoom Kobe VI is my all time favorite performance shoe. For me, it’s the shoe that all others are measured against. The Crazyquick 1, Rose 6, Rose 4.5, TS Supernatural Creator, and Zoom BB II are also worthy of mention, but the VI tops them all. It’s a subjective thing of course, but it’s fun to dig into why they’re the best performance hoops shoe for ME.
Thanks to one of my consistent readers, I was lucky enough to stumble across a deadstock pair of ZKVIs in the red team bank colorway. These would be my third pair – the other two long destroyed on the court – and I had to pull the trigger. I also figured they’d be a great backup shoe to play in if the shoes I was testing were not cutting it (lo and behold, I’m on a run of two subpar performers with the Curry 2 Low and Ultra.Fly).
As a #tbt, I decided to put these through the testing process and compile my thoughts.
I’ve always gone with my standard 11.5 in the Kobe VI, as its narrow toe box allows me to go true to size rather than down a half to get a good fit all around. Back when the shoe first released, I was a little skeptical of the upper. I had owned the Kobe V as well, and the Skinwire kept tearing along the lateral side of my foot. The VI continued the progression of a second-skin upper, with Flywire embedded in a Kurim-enhanced urethane upper.
This upper though, was thicker and more durable than the Skinwire on the previous version. The scale pattern not only looked sweet, but also provided some scuff and abrasion resistance. The upper still flexes naturally and it really provides a supportive shell. No containment issues to be found.
As far as lockdown goes, I always thought it was perfect for a low. They laced up tight and the eyelets went up just high enough to help lock the heel in. Speaking of heel lockdown, Eric Avar and Nike nailed it for a low. The interior of the collar feels like memory foam, and it really molds to the foot after several wearings. It’s thick and padded at the top, which helps hold the ball of the heel in place once it’s laced up tight.
A partial neoprene innersleeve is snug from the start, and it’s extremely well padded and breathable with a rubbery, circular webbing sandwiched in between the neoprene base and a mesh top layer. It makes lacing the ZKIV very comfortable and is one of the best tongue designs I’ve seen. It extends well into the toebox, so it’s comfortable the whole way.
Besides that, the TPU heel counter was perfectly shaped and strong enough to provide real support as an outer shell. I’ve heard plenty of people complain about heel slip in the VI, but I honestly never had any that concerned me. I’d say it takes 2-3 runs to get the heel to mold properly, but once it does I found it locked me in exactly how I like.
I always felt like the Kobe VI achieved that extension-of-the-foot type fit that I long for in any shoe. The fact that it was in a low, providing the most freedom of movement, made it even better.
The midsole setup is damn near perfect, and it makes for a smooth transition right out of the box. Forefoot flex grooves, a carbon fiber plate to bridge the heel-forefoot gap, softer rubber outsole, and the right type of injected Phylon give it a completely natural motion from heel strike to toe off.
Injected Phylon, a heel and a forefoot Zoom unit, a carbon fiber plate, plus (gasp) an anatomically shaped midsole and insole…that’s just about heaven for me. The shape of the midsole happens to fit my foot perfectly, providing support through my arch and a consistent feel overall. The Zoom units, while only a met bag up front, are perfectly placed and give me the type of responsiveness I love.
The insole is fairly thick and it wraps up around the heel a bit, aiding in the heel lockdown. The insole is basically an afterthought in most performance shoes today, but not in the ZKVI.
The shoe is highly responsive, thanks to the balance of flexibility and support in the midsole plus the right application of Zoom. Stability is excellent too – you feel low to the floor and a pronounced forefoot outrigger helps the lateral stability.
It really begins and ends with the shape of the last though – for some reason it’s mapped almost perfectly for my foot. A lot of midsoles today feel overly flat, without the shape or structure needed to support the foot. The Zoom units are deployed well, and the Phylon compound plus carbon fiber plate provide great support down to the floor.
This is probably the only area I have somewhat of a gripe with the ZKVI: they overdid the Mamba theme with the snakeskin patterned outsole. They drove it home just fine with the scaly urethane upper, and the outsole would have been just perfect with some kind of a herringbone pattern.
The blades on the pattern they used are very thin – they don’t collect dust but they also don’t grip really well, especially on the first few wearings. It’s a soft rubber compound too, but after a week or so you can really feel it start to grip properly. I can still get a squeak on a quick stop and pop, but the longevity of the outsole is an issue too. It’s prone to wearing down before the rest of the shoe (although my first two pairs each lasted me 8 months to a year).
As covered before, I think the application of materials was perfect. The updated upper with embedded Flywire and a urethane shell was both supportive and naturally flexible. The Zoom units were placed well and plenty thick, while a real carbon fiber plate helped with both support and transition. The Phylon was injected and sculpted well to contour to the foot, and they even put a legitimate insole in it.
I need to pause and get my wind after all this breathless praise.
Sometimes it feels like a shoe is just made for you. After playing in probably 75+ pairs in my lifetime, I’ve decided that these were simply made me for me. Everything about them is – subjectively – perfect outside of the traction pattern. For me, that was pretty much a non-factor as I thought that once broken in, the traction worked really well.
I’ve had the all-black colorway, the purple gradient (from a Nike Factory store, no less) and now the scarlet TB colorway. I only wish I’d have bought about 5 pairs to have stocked for the rest of my playing days (if you have a deadstock 11.5, email me at email@example.com and we’ll talk).
Comment below and let me know your favorite performance shoes of all time – I love to discuss this stuff.