adidas Harden Vol. 1 Performance Review

Prose: @jtsittler

Part 1

When I first went to buy the Harden Vol. 1, I had my eye on the first black/white/red colorway. I was smitten with the white leather toe cap and the asymmetrical lacing, plus I’ve been a huge fan of some Boost-based basketball shoes in the past.

Swoon
Swoon

Oh and they felt damn good in-store upon first slipping them on.

I went a half-size down to a size 11 because I felt they ran wide and somewhat long. The 11 really felt like a normal 11.5. I threw them on that evening and went to the gym around 9 pm (when I know it will be empty) to get jumpers up for a half hour or so. While they felt fantastic – smooth transition, great responsiveness while not sacrificing court feel – they were just a bit too roomy on the inside for me.

I was set to relegate them to casual wear because they’re just so freaking good looking, but I remembered the blacked-out Dark Ops pair I’d seen as well…so like a moth to the flame I went back the next day to grab them. I now own two pairs of the Harden Vol. 1 – one for off-court, and one definitely for on-court wear.

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“It’s the blackout ‘Rari, got the back out”

The second time, though, I went with a 10.5 – a full size down for me – and it made all the difference in the world. The Dark Ops model has an elastic toe cap rather than the white leather one on my first pair. The flexibility of that toe cap allowed me to go down another half size without any toe box pain. My foot can still flex and splay normally, but the fit is now pretty much perfect. I need a 1:1 fit or at least damn close to it for me to keep a shoe for regular hooping, and the 10.5 got me there.

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The elastic tongue made a difference for me – it allowed me to go a full size down for the best overall fit, yet gave my foot the flexibility it need to play normally

The burrito tongue does a good job of staying in place. It’s molded interior conforms to the foot well and is extremely comfortable. The lacing system is really not my favorite part of the shoe – I love the asymmetrical design and the way it matches the anatomy of your foot, but as many reviewers have noted the round laces and double lace holes make it difficult to really cinch the shoe down tight.

After a couple of wearings, this does get better as the upper breaks in. I’m able to pull the laces tighter now than I could initially, and the lockdown is excellent. I’d say there’s a tiny bit of heel slippage at times, but that’s more than likely due to the narrow profile of my foot – most of you will be ok. Either way, I feel completely secure on them without any significant movement no matter how quick the pull-up or how abrupt the change of direction.

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The round laces kind of suck, but they get better after a few wearings. Lockdown is not an issue, and the asymmetrical setup is almost perfect

Underfoot, the Boost setup is for the most part caged and lower profile than the Crazy Light Boost 2016 (which I’ve tried on multiple times) and the Crazy Explosive. Caging the Boost slightly limits its responsiveness and the tactile “Boost” sensation you’ll get in some pure Boost setups because it doesn’t allow the Boost nodules to fully expand and return energy, but it’s still more responsive than most setups you’re going to find.

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Caged Boost sacrifices just a bit of plushness and some of the tactile Boost feel, but in return you get a more stable ride. Check out that outrigger too

The benefit of this is improved stability and court feel – a trade-off I’ll gladly take. It’s still supremely cushioned, but it’s slightly firmer than your typical Boost runner especially in the forefoot. It’s closer to the Rose 5 than Rose 6 underfoot (my local Finishline just now got the Rose 7 in a Primeknit model for $160…hard pass for me until they go on sale). Stability is probably as good as any shoe on the market – the outsole seems slightly wider than most and the forefoot outrigger is substantial.

Transition is butter smooth, which actually surprised me given the noticeable arch in it. I know Schwollo mentioned that the arch support bothered him for a few wearings; mine were totally fine so that’s going to be something you’ll have to feel out when you try them on.

Smooth transition despite a noticeably higher arch
Smooth transition despite a noticeably higher arch

Support, a major category for me, has been awesome. You can see the support structure in the Dark Ops colorway through the icy outsole and it does a good job of dispersing impact and providing some needed rigidity under the Boost midsole. If a hoop shoe doesn’t have enough support for me, I’ll feel it within an hour and my arches will be sore for the next day or two; the Kobe VIs have just enough to keep me comfortable and the Harden Vol. 1 is about perfect in this department.

The full length TPU underneath the Boost midsole gives it needed support
The full length TPU frame underneath the Boost midsole gives it needed support

Traction has been a point of contention for Harden’s shoe. I’m sure you’ve all read how Adidas mapped the pressure points on his foot during the course of games last season and developed a traction pattern to grip better on high-impact and high wear areas. You’ll see a tighter pattern near the ball of the foot where more traction is needed, and the pattern is more dispersed elsewhere. It’s really not unlike the Kobe VI pattern, even down to being relatively shallow.

The results of pressure mapping...not earth-shattering but it works
The results of pressure mapping…not earth-shattering but it works

I like the traction on the Kobe VI, especially after it’s broken in, and I’ve found the Harden Vol. 1 to be the same way. I had to swipe more than normal on the first few wearings on semi-dirty YMCA courts, but now 5-8 wearings in I don’t really have to. On clean courts, the traction is excellent.

On the fourth pair, I’ve finally found a suitable partner for the Kobe VIs in my rotation. I had to go down a full size, but the Dark Ops pair with the elastic toe gave me the fit I need all around. The Boost setup, caged with a large TPU support underneath, is one of the best cushioning platforms I’ve ever played in. It’s responsive, stable, and super smooth. Though the shoe feels heavy out of the box, it’s so responsive and well-fitting that it plays way lighter than it feels.

You’ll definitely want to try them on first to determine what size you need, but I have no hesitation in recommending these for most guards and wings – the support is probably there for the bigs too if you don’t mind a low.

I’ll be answer questions and comments as they come in, and will drop a review from time to time when I need a new pair. I look to Schwollo (blunt, in-depth, well-written reviews) and Bryan aka Duke4005 from Weartesters (a guy who once helped me out as a college kid writing about shoes and an industry veteran with a ton of knowledge) for my regular review-reading, and I suggest you do the same.

Play to win, and get buckets.

The guide returns! Thanks to all those that have told me they appreciate it - I'm glad it's useful
The guide returns! Thanks to all those that have told me they appreciate it – I’m glad it’s useful

TGRR Update and adidas Harden Vol. 1 Review – Part 1

Prose: @jtsittler

If it seems like this review came out of nowhere, well that’s kind of true. While the reviews have slowed down here at The Gym Rat Review (buying shoes is expensive; so is owning a motorcycle, and I have a shiny new-to-me 2012 Triumph Tiger 800 sitting in the garage waiting on spring), I have not stopped hooping. I’ve been playing regularly 3-4 times a week in a couple different leagues as well as weekly pick up sessions.

I’ve also been playing in the same pair of shoes for several months – my beloved Kobe VIs. Good floors, and bad floors, against average Joe’s and guys that hoop at the college level, the VIs never let me down. If it’s an important game, the Kobe’s are gracing the court with no questions asked.

My battle tested Kobe VIs (s/o to @iks_mod)
My battle tested Kobe VIs (s/o to @iks_mod)

I know the VIs won’t last forever, and while I should still have a few months left in them, I began looking for a backup pair primarily to wear during random pick-up games or whenever I felt like swapping out the trusty VIs.

I tried the Curry 3 first, and loved a few things about it. That shoe has excellent traction and tremendous stability thanks to the two carbon fiber wings and carbon shank plate. You feel very secure in that shoe, which I appreciated. I don’t mind the firmness of Charged cushioning either (I think a dual density Charged/Micro G set up would be great), and there was enough support and impact protection to satisfy me even though it’s definitely on the firmer side of the scale.

"It's not you...it's me..." The Curry 3 is a great shoe, just not perfect for me.
“It’s not you…it’s me…”
The Curry 3 is a great shoe, just not perfect for me.

The fit was solid too as far as lockdown is concerned, although I felt the top two eyelets made the shoe feel a bit restrictive – I think it would feel good if you have thicker ankles or an ankle brace on. I could never quite get the Curry 3 to feel natural to me, even after 10-12 wearings. I found I liked the fit better with the top two eyelets empty, and ended up thinking that the shoe really would have been better off as a low (a model which is coming of course). Despite the definite plusses, I ended up unloading them on eBay for some other hooper to enjoy. I think they’re an excellent overall shoe, just not quite for me.

Next was the Brandblack J Crossover 2.5 Low, with the TPU reinforced toe – which hopefully remedied the containment issues noted by Schwollo (he’s a must follow for consistent, in-depth reviews BTW).

The materials were fantastic on the 2.5 Low – just a gorgeous shoe. The lockdown was great, fit was super narrow (which I liked), and the shoe rode low to the ground. However, I found the traction to be pretty poor – on courts where even the Kobe VIs grip just fine, I was sliding all over and wiping constantly. They really reminded me of the strength and weaknesses of the KD V Elites, which I loved/hated.

If traction gets bad enough, it really bothers my surgically repaired hips on any kind of change of direction. I rely on quick, tight moves and can’t tolerate any slippage. The blade pattern looks fantastic, but for whatever reason it accumulated dust quickly – possibly due to the tight spacing of the pattern and relatively hard compound.

I experienced some arch pain even after the break-in period should have ended, and eventually moved on from those as well after just a few somewhat painful runs. I love what BB is doing (best pure visual designers in the game IMO) and I’m eyeing a pair of Force Vectors, but I couldn’t make those 2.5 Lows work. I may be picky, but after four hip surgeries, two years of college ball and thousands of hours of court time since then, I need my long-term shoes to be perfect.

Now that I’m 600 words into it, I should probably break this up into two parts.

Check out part 2, including my (eventual) selection and review of the Harden Vol. 1.

 

Performance Review: adidas D Lillard 2

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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Despite the general release getting pushed back initially, I was finally able to get my hands on Damian Lillard’s second adidas signature. The Blazers have been a pet favorite team of mine (and Finch’s) since the Brandon Roy days. He was one of the best all around players on the planet at one point and it’s a tragedy that his knees simply didn’t work correctly. I’ve always been a big fan of Terry Stotts too – an excellent Xs and Os guy that has drawn up some beautiful sideline out of bounds game winners over the years. Now, led by Lillard and CJ McCollum, the Blazers have two gifted off-the-dribble scorers and shooters and are scrapping for a playoff spot in the West.

I was pretty excited for the release of the Lillard 2, despite the poor performance from the 1. adidas listened, made some key updates, and created a shoe fit for a tough-as-nails Oakland PG. I’ve gotten several runs in with the shoe and in fact will get one more into tonight, but I’m convinced that this is one of the best shoes on the market for its price. adidas continues to knock out great performers.

Fit
The Lillard 2 runs a little wide and I went down a half size to get the fit I prefer. It will take some time to break in and it took me probably 3 wearings before they really felt good. The first time I wore them, there was some slippage at the heel. I believe it was due to the full bootie not yet conforming to my foot (it’s thicker and padded at the heel) but by the middle of the second wearing it started to improve.

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The base for the upper is the Techfit bootie, which runs the full length of the shoe. I have been and continue to be a fan of Techfit when it’s used in this way – as a sock-like base layer or like a neoprene upper (as in the Crazyquick 1 and adidas running’s Energy Boost 2 ATR).

The shell, in the black “Away” colorway, is a textile mesh with synthetic leather accents. The mesh provides more containment than traditional open cell types but is more flexible than a fused synthetic. In other words, it’s a great compromise. You get synthetic for the heel portion and along the eyestay.

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The midfoot is actually locked by two TPU pieces – one on each side of the upper. These are more stiff than lacing through the traditional eyestay, and the lockdown is evident once you get them laced tight. A nice touch that works both functionally and visually. The inner bootie has more padding than the Lillard 1 and the prominent external heel counter really locks the heel in place. It’s an area much improved over the first shoe.

For me, there’s a little extra volume on the inside. I have a narrow foot and the shoe is built a little wider than most, but I think for most hoopers it will fit without issue.

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Heel-Toe Transition
The Bounce cushioning setup is a dual-density compound that gives you a pretty consistent feel from heel impact to toe off. It’s not quite as flexible as others (this is especially noticeable coming off the Kobe XI and HyperRev 2016) and takes some time to really feel natural. It is a consistent feel underfoot and after a couple weeks, the midsole will break and be just fine.

Cushioning
I passed on the opportunity to snag the Primeknit/Boost version because I really haven’t ever been a fan of heel Boost-only setups. I was also stoked to play in Bounce for the first time and I’ve loved it so far. It’s firm with good impact protection and very stable. It’s not as plush or responsive as Boost, but I like it better than most Lunarlon/Phylon setups. It seems more dense than Micro G/Charged and is going to come down to personal preference for most. I’d probably put it just behind Micro G and Boost, but it’s very good and I’d take it over most foam setups.

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It provides a ton of support, but it does lack some response and court feel. It’s very stable, but the feedback through the floor is a little muted. It’s definitely more stiff, solid, and heavy (in a good way) than a lot of shoes I’ve recently played in.

Overall though, I think it’s a really good platform and a good alternate to Boost. As I said, I’d rather play in Bounce than the half-Boost setups out there, thanks to the support and consistent feel from the Bounce midsole. It’s tough to compare to Zoom because those setups vary so much, plus Zoom is usually a unit placed in a cored out midsole – the feel just isn’t the same. Compared to recent shoes I’ve tested, I like it better than the Kobe XI but not quite as much as the HyperRev 2016 cushioning.

Traction
The outsole, a Continental rubber-sourced compound, is used to highlight some of Dame’s background and personality, and I’m always a little skeptical of sacrificing performance for that (a la the Kobe VI). The grooves are fairly close together and not overly deep, so the shoes did pick up dust when the floors were less than perfect. If the grooves are spaced too closely, it basically creates a flat surface to pick up dust on – the Kobes were bad partly because of this – the slightly stiffer midsole on the DLillard 2 means it won’t flex and bite quite as much either.

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On the second wearing, the floor was a bit better and traction was fine – no squeaks though. Traction could be better, but I didn’t find it to be a deal-breaker.

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Materials/Durability
Just know that these things are tanks. I can’t imagine too many issues with a rock-solid build like this. There’s not a lot that’s built to go wrong with these, and it’s a pretty straightforward build overall. Two things that especially stood out: the Contintenal rubber outsole is beefy and the heel counter is absolutely rock solid. I look forward to many games in these.

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Overall, the Lillard 2 proved to be a very good shoe in all aspects. The fit, cushioning and materials are all high points – though I wouldn’t say it’s elite in any category. It’s a bit like Chris Paul’s line from Jordan Brand and should settle in nicely in the slot behind Rose and Harden’s shoes.

The improved inner bootie, external heel counter and effective lockdown system are a huge step forward from the previous model. adidas’ Bounce setup should be here to stay and hopefully become a staple of adidas’ budget-minded lines.

Make no mistake – it’s not a budget shoe. It’s as good or better than shoes that cost $50-80 more. I’ll definitely be keeping these in the rotation going forward.

dlillard 2 guide

Performance Review: Nike Zoom HyperRev 2016

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

Following up my initial impressions last Friday, I’ve had a chance to hoop in the HyperRev 2016s a couple more times to complete the review.

The silhouette itself is polarizing, but I find it to be one of the best looking Nike shoes in recent memory. They went for a totally different look and construction and for that, major props to Tony Hardman (still remember his unreal Kicksguide renderings back in the day) the folks behind it. It reminds me of the 90s era Nike models that would take some chances in terms of design and construction. The $110 price point makes it insanely accessible for most. With those two things going for it, we’ll do a little deeper dive on the 2016 Rev and how it plays on court.

Fit
I mentioned the totally different construction, and the build of the shoe is integral to its performance on court. The base of the upper is basically a neoprene/mesh bootie that extends up over the ankle bone with a stretch fit collar. This shoe is extremely hard to get on your foot (I went TTS with an 11.5), and wide footers or those needing ankle braces probably won’t be able to get them on. I’ve found the best/fastest way is to get a death grip on the front pull tab and just mash the heel counter down with your foot until you can get it on. Not ideal.

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Once on foot though, the fit is fairly snug and supportive. The support and lacing system comes in the form of lace straps stitched into the midsole (thankfully NOT Flywire) and I felt that the lacing system here is far better than the last two Rev models. It’s not as flashy as Flywire and doesn’t have a fancy marketing name, but it gets the job done. Like the previous versions, the top eyestay is just below the ankle bone so you’re not getting a ton of lockdown above there – the shoe could have easily been a low top.

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The other aspect for fit and lockdown is the large Hyperfuse strap that’s integrated into the lateral side of the upper. It goes across the midfoot with a simple Velcro attachment, and provides more security. I did not feel the strap impeded flexibility at all.

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Overall, fit was very good but probably just short of great. I always felt like there was extra space around the heel – possibly because of how the collar and heel were shaped with that rubber heel counter – but I couldn’t go down to a size 11 because it was tight in the toe box. I never felt a serious amount of slippage, but there was just a little extra room all around.

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Heel-Toe Transition
Transition is very smooth right of the box with a fairly standard Phylon midsole with heel and forefoot Zoom units. The outsole also is segmented to promote natural movement and a decoupled (split) toe enhances the feel. No issues at all through the footstrike.

Cushioning
I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: this is an extremely well cushioned shoe, and even more so when you consider the $110 price tag. Nike’s Zoom based shoes should always come with this kind of setup. No more thin met bags or dull heel bags. The Zoom used here is responsive and gives you the stability and court feel all in one. It’s certainly one of the best cushioned shoes I’ve tested in awhile, coming in just below the Rose 6 in my unofficial rankings.

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Besides the excellent Zoom usage, the whole package is very good all around. It’s light but provides adequate support for most players, uses a large forefoot outrigger for extra stability and gives a very natural feel all around. It’s not a complicated setup, but it works to perfection.

Traction
The diamond grid pattern provides very good grip on most court surfaces. I didn’t find it real squeaky, but it stopped on a dime pretty much whenever I asked. I’m not sure that it’s built for outdoor play, but it’s good for all indoor surfaces. Deep flex grooves help here too.

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Materials/Durabilty
I have a few reservations about the long term durability of those lace straps and some have heard of issues with the strap not hooking up with the Velcro patch very well. I also wonder about the rubber heel counter, which seems to just be glued or fused on. The sock-like upper is going to stretch and pull under stress and I could see the heel counter beginning to peel away over time. No issues have popped up in my initial wearings though (you’d be surprised at how many shoes do show flaws early on) so I have nothing to report so far. All in all, I think they’d be durable enough as a team shoe option, especially with the solid colorblocking.

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The HyperRev does just about everything well and has an exceptional cushioning setup – one of the best on the market. Lockdown could be a little better at the heel, but that’s just about my only complaint. It’s simply a great shoe at an unbeatable price and should be near the top of your list to pick up next. Wide footers and big guys may have an issue getting the shoes on, so it’s definitely one that needs to be tried on in-store before a purchase.

hyperrev 2016 review guide

First Impressions: Nike Zoom HyperRev 2016

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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After two league games, some pickup and a couple shooting sessions, I thought it was time for some initial thoughts on the Nike HyperRev 2016. Look for the full review early next week after I get another league game in, and check out this review over at tackl.com as well.

Fit
There’s a lot to go into from a fitment perspective, but I’ll save most of it for the full review. I will say this: it is extremely hard to get on your foot. There’s no heel pull tab and you basically have to smash the back of the shoe all the way down and torque on the front pull tab to get it on. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, just annoying. I do think it could deter some parents/younger hoopers who aren’t expecting it in-store.

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I’m also very pleased they did away with Flywire for the lacing system. The 2014 and 2015 models relied heavily on that tech, and it just doesn’t provide sufficient lockdown on its own. More traditional strap eyelets get the job done.

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The full neoprene base gives you a comfortable sock-like feel and with the Fuse overlay and strap, provides good containment, although I’ve had some slippage in extreme cases i.e. on a step back at full speed in transition (probably not the best shot selection anyway).

Much more to come in the full review early next week.

Heel-Toe Transition
Transition has always been a strong point of the HyperRev line and it’s very good once again. Flexibility, adequate support and full volume Zoom bags, along with a unique pseudo split toe make for a smooth heel-toe strike.

Cushioning
I mentioned it on Twitter yesterday – if they can put this kind of cushioning/midsole setup into a $110 package, it’s embarrassing what they put into shoes at price points that are 30% higher. The Zoom is plush and responsive, and feels like it’s articulated at the forefoot. Some of the best cushioning in a Nike silo in a looooong time. The KD 7 and 8 were good and the ’15 Rev was solid too, but this is a dream cushioning setup.

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Court feel and responsiveness are predictably very good.

Traction
The diamond pattern on the outsole is a bit reminiscent of what was used on the AJ 2012 (yes I bought those that no one liked, in the orange Jordan Brand Classic colorway with the triple stacked box, two booties and three insoles). It’s solid, but could perhaps benefit from slightly deeper grooves.

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Materials/Durability
No issues so far. I could see the big rubber piece at the heel possibly peeling away from the neoprene – because it takes a lot of abuse when putting the shoe one – but no signs of that yet.

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The full review will be posted soon at TGRR and tackl.com.

Performance Review: Nike Kobe XI 11 Elite

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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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.

Fit
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.

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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.

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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.

Heel-Toe Transition
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.

Cushioning
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).

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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.

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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.

Traction
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.

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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.

Materials/Durability
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.

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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.

kobe_xi_review guide

First Impressions: Kobe XI Elite

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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I picked up the Kobe XI on release day at my local House of Hoops in the Achilles’ Heel colorway. The shoe is gorgeous in person, and I was struck by the very minimal design. Time will tell how they perform but here are a few initial impressions after a shooting session yesterday.

You can find my first impressions along with tons more performance review content over at tackl.com as well

Fit
I went with an 11.5, my normal size in off-court shoes. I started with an 11 but the toebox was pretty cramped both width and length wise – definitely go true to size if you’re thinking about ordering. I’ll get into it more in the full review, but the XI Elite features an improved Flyknit setup with TPU fibers woven into the knit. I’ve been critical of knitted uppers and their ability to support and contain the foot during high intensity basketball games, but it appears to be a step in the right direction.

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The shoe feels a lot like the Kobe IX EM in terms of the upper – supportive and more “stiff” than a knit upper in that it does have some structure. This is absolutely a good thing. It’s pretty well padded at the heel but I had some early heel slip as it hasn’t yet molded to my foot.

Heel-Toe Transition
Extremely smooth. It’s a highly flexible shoe – probably too flexible for me – but it makes for a smooth, soft transition.

Cushioning
I have a certain beef with drop-in insoles, and that’s what we get once again with the XI Elite. It’s a pretty substantial block of Lunarlon with a Zoom bag in the heel. It borderline infuriates me that a $200 shoe doesn’t have full Zoom, when that insole is obviously already in production since it’s an option on the ID models. Hell, give me TWO insoles at that price – one with Lunar + Zoom and the other full Zoom.

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It’s great as far as step in comfort but I’ve never been a huge fan of Lunar on court. I didn’t like the feedback from the midsole upon first wearings but it does need to be broken in. I should have a better feel after some pickup ball tonight.

Traction
The YMCA floor I played on was fairly dirty from high kid use on a Sunday afternoon and traction suffered because of it. On a clean floor, combined with the flexibility of the outsole, I think they’ll be just fine.

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Materials
The aforementioned Flyknit is excellent – much closer to Engineered Mesh or Fuse that to traditional Flyknit. Still salty about the midsole tech. But the fit and finish is very nice, and it’s a sweet looking shoe. The next week or two will see heavy use out of them and I’m excited to see how it holds up.

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Performance Review: adidas Rose 6 Boost

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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The last three years of Derrick Rose’s career have been utter disasters, largely thanks to issues beyond his own control. Multiple knee and ankle injuries, and a facial fracture in the preseason have battered the body of the one-time MVP and the face of adidas basketball.

adidas has marketed hope, the will to come back from injury, and Rose’s quiet resiliency but the fact of the matter is their ambassador has been sitting on the bench for roughly 2/3 of Bulls games since the ’11-’12 season. Because of that, Rose signature shoe releases have either been mocked (some recklessly think that his shoes somehow played a role in the injuries) or basically ignored by the sneaker buying community. They haven’t won many over with their aesthetics and Rose hasn’t been on the court enough to create a desire for people to want what he’s wearing.

While the adidas folks have been hamstrung in that department, what they have done is create the best performing signature shoe line in the game. People can pan the looks, the use of different materials and some ever changing tech but ever since his TS Supernatural Creator PE, Rose shoes have been absolute monster performers.

The Rose 6 once again debuted with muted responses and plenty of negativity regarding its looks, but Robbie Fuller and the adidas team may have created the best Rose – maybe the best adidas shoe period – of all time.

Fit
I went a half size down from my true 11.5 like usual – I always feel like it helps with the fit as long as I can live with the length. I’ve personally loved the fit of the Rose 4.5 and 5, with each providing complete lockdown. The Rose 6 isn’t quite on that level, but it is still very good.

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The upper on the white pair that I purchased is a kind of mesh overlay on synthetic base (the black colorway is more of a traditional Sprint Web). It’s a nice combo, if simplistic, but it is stiff enough to provide good support and retain flexibility throughout. The upper is also well-padded on the interior and features an interesting liner material on the collar – it’s smooth if you run your finger from top to bottom, but from bottom to top it’s grippy with an almost sandpaper-like sensation (Bryan over at Weartesters did the black colorway and said adidas called the material Cat’s Tongue, which is exactly what it feels like). This gives the liner some friction and helps prevent extra movement within the shoe.

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Moving the shoe’s most curious design element: that giant heel cage. I initially thought the cage would articulate and tighten when you laced through those top lace loops, but it’s actually fixed in place. The fabric straps will tighten slightly, but the heel portion itself fits pretty snug as is. Lacing is simple and the laces stay in place in the eyelets (some shoes don’t do this and it’s maddening). There’s a nice lace loop on the interior, basically right where the notch is. Lacing through that really locks the top of the foot in and is probably the key piece to that whole upper. Besides that, the loop and strap make up the only other eyelet.

(Schwollo, another reviewer and TGRR supporter, took matters into his own hands to improve the lockdown even more – check that out here.)

This brings that massive tongue into play. It’s extremely comfortable and well padded, but I’ll admit it’s a little awkward at first. It’s really padded because there’d be an uncomfortable amount of ankle pressure from those loops without it, but I will say it keeps me from feeling 100% locked in. I don’t report any side to side or worrisome slippage, but the tongue does give you a little more room around the ankle than you might be used to. It’s the only (extremely minor) negative I have with the upper.

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The collar, I might add, is probably the most padded and comfortable one I’ve found on a hoops shoe.

Heel-Toe Transition
Two large Boost units plus a midfoot Stable Frame give you buttery transition right out of the box. I can’t stress how quickly these felt broken in. They’re ready to go the second you put them on.

Cushioning
As much as I love Micro G and some versions of unlocked Zoom, Boost is the best cushioning platform on the market. I rock a pair of Energy Boost 2 ATRs almost daily because everything else – even my Flyknit Trainers, Brooks Glycerins and Asics Gel Noosas, all fantastic shoes – can’t match up in terms of sheer comfort. Same goes for this version of Boost in the Rose 6; it’s the most comfortable basketball shoe I’ve put on.

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Boost volume was increased in the forefoot, and it’s definitely noticeable. The plushness and responsiveness is incredible, but stability is also very good. I felt very connected to the floor and able to move laterally like I wanted to. Sometimes you’ll give up responsiveness and court feel with a soft cushioning platform, but Boost is unlike any other cushioning platform.

Another aspect that I loved was the midfoot Stable Frame. It’s a perfect moderating piece between the two Boost units and gives me just the right amount of support through my arches. With 6 years of high school and college ball followed by double reconstructive hip surgeries (swear I’m only 26), my back and lower body are generally in a chronic state of soreness. It’s not a miracle worker or the answer to an injury or anything, but the Rose 6 has been as good as any shoe I’ve recently played in when it comes to supporting me and relieving some of that foot, knee, hip, and back pain.

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I’ll leave you with this: I love Micro G and I slipped on the Curry 2 after I tried on the Rose 6. But the Curry 2 cushioning felt completely inadequate compared to what I felt in the Rose 6. I have no doubt that the Curry 2 has a great setup and I’d like to review a pair, but the Rose 6 absolutely blew it away on the first impression.

Traction
adidas nailed the traction setup once again. The grooves look a little shallow at first glance, but the outsole grips like crazy. Extremely sticky on every indoor surface I’ve been on – a YMCA court, middle school gym floor, and tile-like church league surface.

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Materials/Durability
No qualms from me here. adidas’ overall quality has been excellent in the Rose line and it’s no different on the 6. Everything is well built and put together with no apparent shortcuts in workmanship or materials.

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Bottom line, this shoe is incredible. The best cushioned basketball shoe I’ve played in, beating out personal favorites in the  XX8, TS Supernatural Creator, Zoom BB II and Kobe VI. But it’s better than just Boost – the lockdown, support, and overall package is really, really good. I’ll be playing in these for a long, long time.

adidasRose6_review guide

Performance Review: Brandblack Blackhawk

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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Perusing my local Finishline (and House of Hoops) is something I do every couple of weeks, even if I don’t drop as much money on shoes as I used to. This time, I was in shopping for some multicolor Flyknit Roshe’s for my wife’s birthday.

While I didn’t find a pair for her in her size, I stumbled across something that caught my eye: Brandblack’s Black Hawk, on clearance for a cool $55 (I promise I got her something else). I hadn’t gotten my hands on anything from Brandblack yet, but I’ve admired pretty much everything they’d done to this point, from their interwoven performance and aesthetic focus to their gorgeous sportswear line.

The Black Hawk is an older model, yet hadn’t shown up at my store until now. It’s actually geared for the outdoor hooper, but I decided to put it to the test indoors and see how it held up.

Fit
If you’ve read anything from me in the past, you know one of the ways to instantly compromise a review is poor fit. If I can’t get locked in the way I want, I won’t like the shoe (see my Crazy Light Boost 2015 review, for example). The upper on the Black Hawk is an interesting material – it feels a little foamy/spongy but isn’t overly stiff. In fact, it’s extremely pliable and flexible. There’s a circular cutout pattern (backed with fabric) throughout that has a bit of a Jordan 2010 Outdoor ethos (another shoe that I actually really enjoyed playing in).

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The collar area, is beefed up and features a nice quilted interior. An internal heel counter isn’t extremely sturdy, but does kind fit in with the rest of the upper design. I was able to get really good lockdown from heel to toe and the shoes lace up very nicely. I noticed a bit of slippage in the heel, nothing major, but still present nonetheless. I believe the heel counter could have been hardened or perhaps molded better, but it’s not bad for a shoe at this pricepoint. Overall, from a lockdown standpoint the Black Hawk is solid. It doesn’t use the highest quality materials nor is overly reinforced, but they lace up tight and are extremely flexible.

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Heel-Toe Transition
When I say the Black Hawk is flexible, I’m not kidding. You can nearly fold the shoe in half. It makes for a smooth, natural feel underfoot as the one piece outsole features a small plastic shank that offers minimal support. As is often the case in very flexible shoes, transition is great but support leaves something to be desired…

 

Cushioning
This is an area of the shoe that I liked, although I definitely didn’t love it. The midsole is fairly thin and flexible, and there are conflicting specs when it comes to the material. I’ve seen Jetlon and Multilon listed as the compound (they might even be the same thing) but either way I’d say it’s similar to Micro G in terms of bounce but in this particular application it’s not as firm or supportive.

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Court feel is great, but support is pretty much nonexistent. While I’m fairly light, I overpronate slightly and I definitely enjoy more support along the medial edge of the shoe. The Black Hawk unfortunately doesn’t help me much there, as the flexible midsole and upper both don’t provide much support. The forefoot outrigger was a nice design element and does aid in some lateral stability – especially important outdoors when you may not have great traction.

Overall, I liked the responsiveness and the court feel but didn’t find enough support or impact protection.

Traction
The outdoor-specific pattern has pretty wide, thick chevron-like lugs, but the rubber compound used is fairly pliable. The softer rubber plus the great flexibility I’ve mentioned before give the shoe great grip on the indoor courts I’ve played on. I was sort of surprised at the softer rubber on an outdoor shoe, but haven’t tested it outside yet.

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Materials/Durability
While I haven’t seen a ton of wear yet, the Black Hawk was built for balling outdoors so I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their longevity. I’m not sure how the synthetic/foam type upper will hold up, but it’s done great so far. The collar and eyestays feature extra stitching and an extra layer of synthetic leather. The insole was rather cheap as well, but not as bad as the Crazylight Boost! So far, so good on the durability side of things.

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In conclusion, the Black Hawk is a solid all-around performer from the up-and-comer in the performance footwear industry. While the JCrossover models feature fancier tech and higher quality builds, the Black Hawk is still good value when seen through the $55 lens. Compared to the budget models from the other major brands, the Black Hawk holds up pretty well. If you’re on the lookout for an outdoor pair or just a pair to keep others in your rotation fresh, the Black Hawk is worth a try.

brandblack_blackhawk_review guide

 

Performance Review: adidas Crazylight Boost 2015

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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After a review hiatus I’ve able to pick up and hoop in adidas’ flagship shoe, the Crazylight Boost 2015, for the past couple of weeks. adidas is gunning heavily for more market share in the US – the $200 million they gave to James Harden, dropping the NBA jersey sponsorship in order to focus on the product – and the CL Boost 2015 is good first step in that process. The shoe features Boost cushioning in the heel, which at this point is a proven product, and introduces Primeknit in a basketball model for the first time ever. The CL Boost features two of adidas’ latest and greatest technologies and is priced competitively, but how does it stack up on court?

Fit
There are so many lenses through which you can look at a knitted or woven upper and its use on a performance basketball shoe, and the final verdict is likely going to come down to what you value as a player. So here it goes…

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Primeknit, in my opinion, is far better than any iteration of Flyknit to date. It is lighter, thinner, flexes more naturally and conforms to your foot better right out of the box. It’s the closest thing to a sock you’ll put on. The lack of material (not saying this as a bad thing) is almost shocking at first – I could see so much of my neon Team Speed socks through the upper it almost gave the shoe a different colorway!

With that said, the lockdown and fit was pretty good overall. The lace loops – so much better than Flywire/Flyknit combos – provide solid lockdown and an extremely tight fit if you cinch them up hard. The upper features a widely spaced knit on the midfoot and toebox, and a tighter knit along the vamp and other areas that will receive stress from lateral cuts.

Containment is better than other knitted/woven shoes, but still leaves something to be desired. I constantly felt like my foot was sliding over the edge of the footbed and never felt fully secure overall. Dead space when laced tightly, especially in the toe box, is an issue. Also, the individual lace straps can feel kind of harsh when laced up tight to achieve the most lockdown.

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The external heel counter is rather large and stiff, and it has to be – the shoe is so low cut that the top eyelet is barely high enough to lock the heel in. I noticed a tiny bit of heel slippage (which may be slightly due to my swapping of the insole – more on that later) but I never felt unsettled or nervous to make a hard cut in that area.

Despite all of that and despite the other benefits a knitted upper brings…I really don’t think knitted and woven uppers are the answer on a performance basketball shoe. The containment just isn’t, there’s always too much dead space, and I’ve never found lockdown to be 100% secure in a knitted shoe, no matter what type it is. For basketball purposes. I will take Techfit (as used in the Crazyquick 1 for absolutely insane lockdown), Engineered Mesh, or a Fuse-based upper like the Rose 4.5/5 every day of the week over a knitted upper. When used correctly, such as the CQ1 or the Energy Boost 2.0 ATR runner, Techfit is the best upper out there according to yours truly. *ducks*

Heel-Toe Transition
Transition was smooth and the shoes were broken in right out of the box. No issues at all in this area.

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Cushioning
This aspect really begins once you get rid of the atrocious stock insole. Why adidas put such an insulting insole into their top-of-the-line shoe is beyond me. I tried a couple of different insole swaps, including my old Rose 4.5s and a Crazy Comfort set that I’d been using in my Crazy 8s.

The forefoot adiprene+ is pretty thin and firm, so I opted for the extra thick Crazy Comfort set. It gave me better forefoot cushioning and still let the Boost work as it should. It may have raised my heel just slightly and hampered the heel fit, but it’s marginal at best.

Heel Boost is fantastic – well cushioned, responsive and aids in a smooth transition. While the forefoot is thin, it provides some support and adiprene+ is a durable compound. It’s miles ahead of last year’s horrific CL Boost. A Sprintframe system is used in the midsole and is rather supportive for a lightweight shoe. There’s also a small plastic piece under the midfoot for some additional support, which is a nice touch for those of us that have tens of thousands of court hours on our bones.

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The shoe plays very low to the ground and is fairly stable despite the upper lacking some containment. Responsiveness is also high, and overall comfort is good as long as you swap insoles. Switching the stock insoles for some thicker ones also helps the dead space issue up front as well.

Traction
After being a massive failure on the Crazylight Boost 2014, traction is way better on the 2015 model. Featuring a blade pattern, I’ve found great traction on the various YMCA and high school floors I’ve been on. Most of those courts were at least relatively clean, but I could see the compound picking up some dust on a bad floor. I would not advise using these outdoors either, as the rubber is fairly soft. For now though, traction is really good.

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Materials/Durability
It remains to be seen how the super thin Primeknit holds up but so far, so good. Primeknit has a thin Fuse-ish coating on its threads for further durability without making the knit stiffer than it needs to be. The outsole should hold up well on clean courts but I could see it wearing out over the course of a season of practices/workouts/games. Boost and adiprene+ both are fantastic cushioning units and also should hold up well.

If you’re a high school or college athlete, I do have some concerns about the knit holding up over the course of a season, but I don’t know if I ever made it through a HS/college season on one pair of shoes (which is why I typically had a pair for practice and another for games).

As I mentioned before, I have some decidedly mixed feelings on knitted uppers on performance shoes in general. The technology is amazing and the green processes involved are obviously fantastic. But for pure performance, I’d gladly take a different platform.

It’s impossibly light and comfortable, is good enough in all areas, and is damn good looking too. I buy less shoes than I used to and am still hooping on the regular, but these probably won’t stick in my rotation for next to my Rose 5s/Crazy 8s/Curry Ones.

adidascrazylightboost_review_guide