Performance Review: adidas Crazy 8

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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Some people may look at the adidas Crazy 8 as a relic, an artifact, or just another retro model with a million colorways. It’s an 18-year-old design based on a platform that adidas doesn’t have the rights to anymore (Feet You Wear), and to the uninitiated, it simply may not seem relevant. But for the older, more mature sneakerhead and some of my other veteran reviewers, the shoe remains a performance beast and a rock solid on-court option in 2015.

Fit
Upon first glance, you instantly recognize the Crazy 8 as a 90s shoe. Initially released in 1997 as a Kobe Bryant endorsed model, it’s got strap-like lace loops, a rounded outsole and midsole that wraps up around the foot, and leather everywhere. It looks bulky, heavy, and fairly cumbersome.

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But all those elements I mentioned give it a fantastic fit from heel to toe. I went a half-size down with my narrower foot and am happy I did. It’ll accommodate many foot types and break in nicely after 3-4 wearings. The lace loops (like a predecessor to Dynamic Fit straps) that hug the shoe cinch up tight and the heel/collar area has crisscrossing loops running around the heel for some extra security around the ankle.

The idea behind FYW was to allow the foot to move as naturally as possible by embracing the shape and structure of the foot. With that in mind, the midsole wraps up higher than most shoes and is rounded on the edges for a more natural feel and it really locks the foot onto the footbed of the shoe. Ankle support and heel fit is just really, really good.

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Having a primarily leather upper is nice too, because it flexes and creases naturally while conforming to the contours of the foot better than most synthetics. My only real gripe was a pressure point on the outside of my foot about halfway down where midsole wraps up around the side of the foot, but it went away after a few wearings.

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Heel-Toe Transition
Walking around in them straight out of the box, the Crazy 8s will feel a little clunky. But that’s only because they aren’t fully broken in and you probably aren’t quite used to that outsole yet. On-court, it’s a different story as the shoe loosens up and flexes at exactly the right spots all while giving you plenty of support. It’s almost hard to look at the shoe and believe that it’s butter smooth underfoot, but give it 4-5 hours of good runs and it’ll surprise you.

For once, it’s a shoe that achieves smooth transition without sacrificing all the support or making the midsole a little slab of foam.

Cushioning
The overall cushioning package is very good, but it is also the only aspect where the shoe shows its age in regards to the midsole material it uses. On one hand, the court feel is incredible – like the best you’ll find in the game right now. The thin, firm midsole and contoured outsole keep you glued to the floor on any type of movement.

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Because of that, the responsiveness is also pretty good. The genius flex grooves allow your foot to flex at exactly the right spots so that you move naturally and dynamically. You won’t get much energy return from the midsole, sapping some of the responsive feel you’d get from Micro G or other foam compounds, but it is still very good.

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If you’re looking for impact protection or expecting a more plush feel though, the Crazy 8 might not be for you. It’s very firm and although the engineering of the outsole makes it great for court feel/responsiveness, it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a little harsh feeling from a straight comfort standpoint. The support is fantastic however, thanks to a perfectly placed midfoot pod and the traditional Torsion midfoot system. The shoe plays a lot lighter than it feels in hand.

I did swap out the stock insole (a very thin piece of foam in the model I bought) for a leftover Crazy Comfort insole from an old pair of Crazy Lights that came with two insole options. I normally hate insoles because they kill court feel and always made me feel too high off the ground, but the Crazy 8 sits so low and wraps the foot so well that it’s actually perfect. A good pair of insoles helps the step in comfort quite a bit.

Traction
Traction is outstanding. Thick rubber with deep herringbone grooves and perfect flex points – pretty much a recipe for good traction. The firmer rubber outsole should hold up well outdoors too.

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Materials/Durability
Shoes were built differently back when the Crazy 8 was introduced, and this thing reflects that: it’s built like a tank. While it plays much lighter than it feels in hand, the Crazy 8 doesn’t skimp on durable materials. The upper is mostly leather, while this scarlet colorway dropped in some woven panels on the lace straps (the 3M accents were an oh-so-nice touch also). It’s rock solid from top to bottom and I anticipate it being one of the more durable shoes I’ve owned.

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The Crazy 8 may be an outsider in today’s shoe market but it’s definitely not outdated. While synthetic uppers, advanced cushioning systems and feather-weight shoes all have their merits, the Crazy 8s only purpose is to lock you in, move with you, and take any beating you put it through.

At $110 (many colorways are much cheaper online), it’s an awesome value and a versatile shoe for many positions – probably best suited for a slashing 2-guard or 3/4 wings and posts. It’s staying in my rotation for the great fit and support, and you should consider adding it to yours as well.

adidasCrazy8_review_guide

Performance Review: Under Armour Curry One

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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No disrespect to Brandon Jennings and the Bloodline Under Armour models of years past, but the Curry One was likely the most anticipated and most marketed UA hoops shoe since the company broke into the basketball shoe market. Curry is the hottest name and best player on the NBA’s best team, and populates Sportscenter almost daily with an array of pull up threes, slick ballhandling and Steve Nash-ian court vision. In other words, it was time for Under Armour to capitalize.

Behind a slick “Charged by Belief” marketing campaign, the Curry One was rolled out in mid-February. I was pretty stoked to my hands on a pair and I copped mine the weekend they released. I was expecting a solid, if unspectacular performer, cushioned with “Charged” full-length Micro G foam. The AnaFoam upper was also something new on a UA shoe, so with a pretty high degree of excitement I laced them up in all three of my leagues the first week.

Now a month later, I continue to be blown away.

Fit
I mentioned the AnaFoam upper already, and it’s been fantastic from a lockdown and comfort standpoint. AnaFoam is built of (obviously) a foam layer but also a stretchy textile that gives it some flexibility and malleability which separates the material from stiffer Fuse uppers that you’d compare it to. I found it to be a very adaptive fit that molds quickly around the foot. There are also perforations throughout the shoe, reducing weight and adding breathability (although I never notice breathability when I’m playing, some may feel differently).

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Combined with seven lace loops, the fit is vise-like. I loved the way it laced up – no frills and serious lockdown. I had no movement or slippage anywhere inside the shoe, no matter how hard I changed direction or how quickly I’d stop and pop a jumper. The external heel counter is larger and more rigid than the Clutchfit – a definite improvement for me.

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Fit is the most important aspect of a shoe to me and the Curry One was perfect for all intents and purposes. Supportive, yet flexible and super light (one of the biggest initial impressions of the shoe is how light it plays on-court), UA has something very good going with AnaFoam.

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Heel-Toe Transition
Borrowing the outsole tooling from the Clutchfit Drive combined with a Charged Micro G midsole, the transition is buttery smooth. There’s a plastic TPU shank also, not beefy by any means, that adds some support but the shoe flows extremely well from heel to toe.

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Cushioning
If you’ve read any other reviews on here, you can probably figure out that I love Micro G. It’s the best foam cushioning on the market, period. adidas hasn’t quite dialed Boost in all the way and Lunar foam, in a basketball shoe, is laughably inferior in my opinion. Firm, responsive, consistent and low to the ground, Micro G is everything a foam cushioning platform should be.

In the Curry One, the Micro G is “Charged,” which basically amounts to UA adding a layer of the Charged foam on top of the Micro G unit. Charged foam is supposed to feel softer under less force (i.e. standing around during a free throw) and then firm up and be super responsive under higher forces. I will say that it does perform as it’s intended to, and while it’s not a drastic difference from pure Micro G, it is better from a firm, responsive standpoint.

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I already talked about the fantastic transition, but court feel and responsiveness also rate very highly for me. I think it’s better cushioned than the HyperRev 2015, Rose 5 and Clutchfit – and those shoes were all pretty darn good for me too.

Traction
Full herringbone and the same setup as the Clutchfit Drive. It’s a very good pattern, but the rubber is pretty soft and I’ve found it to be a little slick on less than perfect floors. As long as you keep swiping you won’t have any issues, and on clean floors it’s squeaky good. But most of us probably don’t play on the most pristine court surfaces so it is something to keep in mind. It’s nothing to deter you from buying the shoe, though.

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Materials/Durability
Early on you could ding UA for some shoddy craftsmanship, but that’s no longer an issue in my opinion. The last 5 pairs of UAs I’ve had (Spawn 1, Charge Volt Low, Spawn 2, Clutchfit, and now the Curry One) have held up extremely well for me and for the buddies I’ve passed them on to when I’m through with the review. All pairs have taken a beating and responded well.

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I’m seeing some scuffing and wear on the toecap of the Curry One, but that’s to be expected with any shoe. Other than that, the construction is pretty well done throughout and so far I’ve not had any issues whatsoever. UA did manage to throw in that shiny, plastic-y finish on parts of the midsole that I don’t like aesthetically but it’s nothing to criticize from a performance standpoint.

There are also a lot of cool details throughout the shoe and packaging that add to the story and experience with the shoe. You’ll see “4:13” stitched on the tongue in reference to Curry’s favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, and “I can do all things…” shows up on the inside of the tongue. Personally, it’s great to see a brand embrace a player’s faith in that manner. Props to UA and Steph for that one.

Inside the box, you’ll find an extra set of laces (I swapped these in immediately) and a card thanking you for purchasing the shoes. The extra attention to detail is something I really enjoyed about the shoe.

I typically receive questions about the Curry One at least once a night in the various leagues I’ve played in, and my standard response is this: it is pound for pound the best shoe out there right now. It’s not fancy, not tech’d out, but it’s super light, the fit is incredibly good and cushioning is pretty perfect in all categories. Again, I’m a guard and this is a guard’s shoe, but I think most players would enjoy the shoe regardless of position. At $120 retail, it’s pretty affordable too.

curryone_review_guide

Performance Review: Nike Zoom HyperRev 2015

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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When I first saw images of the HyperRev 2015, months before its release, the first thing that came to mind was “Jet Flight”. The cult classic shoe of the Dirk/Nash-era Dallas Mavericks featured a unique mesh bootie build with second upper layer that laced up around it. Atop a Zoom forefoot/heel Air Max midsole, the shoe was one of the best performers of the early-00s and is probably my all-time favorite performance design.

The HyperRev 2015 isn’t exactly the same thing, but seems as if it carries on some of the lineage of the Jet Flight: Zoom forefoot cushioning, a full inner bootie base with a Fuse/Flywire outer shell, and wraparound heel counter integrated into the eyelets. Like its distant relative, it’s a premier performance option on court as well.

Fit
One of my biggest complaints about last year’s HyperRev 2014 was the poor fit all over the shoe. With just five eyelets that barely laced to the top of the foot, a few measly Flywire cables and no heel counter, I could not get any kind of lockdown or security despite the layered mesh build. The 2015 version jut about remedied all of that.

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I did go down a half-size to an 11 for this shoe  – for those wondering about sizing info – although I can do this easier with a narrower foot. The neoprene bootie by itself provides a better fit than last year’s version – and is snug enough that it’s tough to get on at times. A Fuse shell wraps around much of the upper, providing more security and lockdown than the 2014 model. In fact, the forefoot fit was really pretty solid with minimal slippage compared to any shoe out there. It’s not going to give you full lockdown  – you lace through and rely quite a bit  on 4 sets of Flywire cables – but it’s pretty good and the fact that the inner bootie holds your foot so secure to begin with that it makes it feel glued to you.

Speaking of that lacing system, you do lace through Flywire cables but also directly through eyelets of the Fuse shell. I’d like to experiment lacing through the eyelets only and forgetting about the Flywire to see if that gets rid of the inconsistent fit and feel of the Flywire.

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The molded TPU heel counter makes the heel fit absolutely miles ahead of the 2014 version. The cage wraps around the heel and has two eyelets at the end to tie it into the lacing system. It’s positioned pretty perfectly around the ankle bone and really locks the heel in. There are also two molded Achilles notches on the interior of the bootie – a tremendously overlooked aspect to providing good heel fit. The whole thing really fits like a sock and moves just like an extension of the foot.

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Heel-Toe Transition
Transition is super smooth – on par with the best out there. There’s no internal or external midsole shank so support may be an issue for you but it’s a flexible, fairly responsive setup that lets you move naturally.

Cushioning
One fantastic aspect of the original HyperRev was the full length Zoom unit – something we don’t see too often anymore. Housed in a soft Phylon midsole, it was a pillowy, responsive cushioning setup that most people – including myself – loved.  It had very little structure though, and I found my arches quickly getting sore from the lack of support.

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The 2015 switches to a firmer midsole foam and independent forefoot and heel Zoom units. Responsiveness is very good, probably a step down from last year, but still nice and bouncy. The flexible midsole and sock-like fit allow the shoe to move with you no matter what.

Court feel is also awesome thanks to the low profile cushioning and great flexibility, and overall the cushioning is fairly plush compared to most on the market. It’s firmed up some and feels thinner than last year so don’t expect it to feel exactly the same, but you get better structure and support from the 2015 cushioning setup overall.

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Traction
I thought the traction on the 2014 model was pretty terrible, and I’m happy to report the 2015 is much better. Deeper, wavy herringbone grooves and a seemingly tougher rubber compound gives you better grip on most floor conditions.

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Materials/Durability
With the neoprene bootie, Fuse shell and TPU counter there are plenty of independent pieces to the HyperRev 2015 but I expect them to hold up pretty well. They didn’t seem to accumulate a bunch of wear even playing in 3 to 4 leagues per week, and I haven’t seen any issues crop up so far. I’ve only used them indoors, FYI, and I’d probably hesitate to take them outside.

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I really loved playing in the HyperRev 2015, and it’s been one my favorite recent pickups. It’s a little thin on forefoot cushioning but that’s probably my only real gripe – I think as I get older my old bones value impact protection more and more so that’s probably part of it.

It fits like a glove and the flexibility and responsiveness make you forget the shoe is even on. I personally love the inner bootie construction and the natural feel; as a point guard, is something you always value. The vastly improved lockdown simply makes the HyperRev an awesome guard option and one of the better performers out there right now.

hyperrev2015_review_guide

Performance Review: Jordan CP3.VIII

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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I’ve reviewed the last two shoes in Chris Paul’s Jordan Brand signature line and generally found them to be good but not great overall. Being a point guard myself, I’m always excited to try out the shoe built for one of the game’s premier PGs, but something seems to be lacking in each model.

The stiff Fuse upper of the VI compromised the fit for me and I wasn’t able to get full lockdown – unsettling in a lowtop. The VII had fantastic cushioning with the Zoom-based Podulon system and the materials were rugged, but again the shoe didn’t fit me properly. I had a hard time with the VII especially, because there were a lot of aspects I really, really liked about it and to this day I wear them all the time off-court. In both cases though, I thought that the material choice and build of the upper really hampered the overall fit of the shoes.

The CP3.VIII sees the introduction of a full length TPU frame and targeted Lunar/Zoom cushioning combo. Once again the shoe sounds great on paper, and this time delivers as a very good all around performer.

Fit
The toebox is fairly tight, and I went with an 11.5 – even with a narrow foot I would not recommend going down a half size at all. I found the lockdown to be excellent for a couple of different reasons. First, the shoe used mesh/woven panels on both the medial and lateral portions of the upper – very similar to Engineered Mesh. Whereas the Fuse and other synthetics of the last two models kept me from getting a truly snug fit, the slight change in materials really helps the shoe fit more naturally on the foot.

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You’ll still get Fuse in the toebox and vamp areas, bringing with it stiffness and great durability. I didn’t find any hotspots or weird creasing with this combination upper. The other aspect contributing to the great fit is the full length TPU frame. Acting as the external heel counter and then sculpted all the way down the shoe, it provides heel lockdown and lateral stability for the quickest cuts. I wondered about the rigidity of it going in, but after a few wearings it began to feel more natural and three weeks in it simply feels great to be locked in.

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My only gripe is with the dynamic lacing system, as the laces run through little lace straps embedded in the upper. These straps don’t hold the laces when you try to lace them tightly from the toe up, so it’s difficult to get them laced as tightly as I want.

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Heel-Toe Transition
With a fairly firm midsole, the TPU frame, and a harder, less flexible rubber outsole, the transition isn’t really the shoe’s strongest point. I found it to be a little slappy through the first four or five wearings – I noticed distinct heel and toe strikes – but it admittedly became more natural as I broke them in. It’s designed to be a more firm, responsive midsole and is also pretty supportive, so the transition gets sacrificed some here.

Cushioning
As mentioned before, the stability is excellent in part due to that full TPU frame. But the shoe also plays very firm and low to the ground, making the shoe ideal for quick changes of direction. It’s not plush comfort by any means, but the Lunar foam directly under the heel is a nice addition and you get a large Zoom bag in the forefoot. Court feel is simply ideal.

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Responsiveness is good if not great. The Zoom bag is large and seems to be thick and bouncy (not all Zoom setups are created equal) but the extra firm midsole and slightly clunky linear transition saps some of the responsiveness here. It’s still good, and plays low enough and stable enough that you probably won’t notice too many issues in the responsiveness department.

Traction
I had an issue with traction initially because I felt like the wavy pods picked up way too much dust for my liking, and I was constantly swiping through the first couple of wearings. The outsole is also a pretty firm rubber compound, and those typically take longer to break in as well. But after a few intense sessions, the rubber broke in a little and I barely noticed any slippage. There are portions of the outsole that hold too much dust because there’s too much of a flat surface and not enough grooves, so a dusty court may give you some trouble – but that’s the case with most shoes anyway.

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Materials/Durability
The CP3 line is typically built with tough, durable materials and the VIII follows that trend. It’s kind of a no frills type of shoe, and there aren’t a lot of areas I can see excessive wear building up. The outsole is pretty tough, though probably not setup for outdoor play, and the toebox features plenty of Fuse overlays. The woven portion is a tight weave and the build in general is very good. The only issue that could crop up would be with the lace loops (I had ones like these break on my XX9s) but so far, so good there.

The CP3.VIII is without question my favorite Chris Paul signature of the last three years and it’s just a really good all-around lowtop. The fit is fantastic and the shoe plays low to the ground with good responsiveness; it nails the big areas needed for a good lowtop. A slightly different traction layout would be nice and it’s not as smooth from heel-toe as the other shoes I’d been playing in (it does improve considerably once broken in though). Surprisingly, it’s a sleeper favorite of mine and I’ll keep them around for when I feel like hooping in a pair of lows.

Performance Review: adidas Rose 5 Boost

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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Along with many other reviewers and sneaker aficionados, I anticipated the release of the Rose 5 as much or more than any other this year – mostly due to the implementation of full length Boost for the first time ever in a hoops shoe. The Crazy Light Boost experimented with heel Boost only, and in my only try on in-store the forefoot felt so terrible I couldn’t justify spending my own cash on it (we pay for all reviews out of pocket).

But I was going all in on the Rose 5, and a little unsure of what to expect. Running shoes featuring Boost foam were pillowy soft and bouncy – great for linear activities but not so much for the dynamic movements and change of direction that come with the game of basketball. The Boost setup in the Rose 5 though, is fine-tuned for the hardwood and is actually only a small part of what makes the 5 one of my favorite shoes I’ve put on my foot this year.

Fit
I went a half-size down to an 11 and found the fit perfect for my foot, with just the right amount of length and a very sung lateral fit.

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I’ll throw Boost aside for a second, because the tremendous fit and lockdown is the best aspect of the Rose 5. The shoe features a SprintWeb upper with a Fitcage structure along the medial and lateral sides. Fitcage is a frame of sorts, holding the sides of the foot in place, wrapping around the heel with a substantial external heel counter, and extending up to the collar around the ankle bone. It’s stiff yet still molds with the foot and locks the foot in place. There’s not even a hint of slippage, even with my narrower foot. It’s every bit as secure as the best fitting shoes I’ve tested – the Clutchfit and Crazyquick 1 – and provides extra security against ankle inversion.

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I’ve seen some criticisms of the synthetic upper material for its excessive creasing in the toebox. And it definitely does crease immediately, but I didn’t find it affecting the performance in any way. It may affect wide footers that take up more of the toebox volume, but I doubt that it’s a significant thing. I found it creasing in the normal areas that any Fuse or Frame type of upper would, and the shoes laced up with vise-like lockdown from toe to ankle. I didn’t notice any hotspots, and while it’s not a natural feeling upper like the Crazyquick 1, XX9, or Clutchfit, it’s as secure as anything out there. Much like the Rose 4.5 achieved great lockdown despite having a more stiff upper, the Rose 5 is near-perfect for all intents and purposes.

For what it’s worth, other colorways appear to have a SprintWeb mesh upper rather than the thicker SprintWeb synthetic found on this “Brenda” colorway. These may crease and fit a little more naturally than the colorway I picked up.

Heel-Toe Transition
The full length Boost midsole is spongy and smooth, and transition is aided by a large stability plate underneath the arch with four fingers extending to the forefoot and heel portions of the shoe. With the translucent outsole, you can easily see this plate sandwiched between the outsole rubber and Boost midsole. Transition was perfect, especially after a couple of wearings.

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Cushioning
Boost is one of the hottest technologies in the industry, and has to be one of the most unique cushioning platforms on the market. In running shoe form, it’s super soft and flexible, providing spongy responsiveness and one of the plushest rides you’ll find. The basketball shoe version doesn’t feel quite the same, although it’s still softer and bouncier than anything else you’ll try on today. Zoom Air, Lunarlon, and Micro G are all more firm and structured, and I still think I might prefer a heel-toe Zoom setup or Micro G midsole. But Boost is damn close to those two and I can’t really find anything bad to say about it.

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The midsole foam in the forefoot feels a little thin and less responsive than in the heel, but still provides good impact protection and responsiveness. Stability is taken care of by the Fitcage and low to the ground ride, and overall responsiveness is very, very good. I mentioned the support plate before, and it provides plenty of arch stability and lateral stability as it slightly wraps up and around the side of the Boost foam.

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Boost is revered for its energy return, and it doesn’t disappoint. I’m not sure if I’m ready to put it ahead of Zoom Air, but adidas finally has a hoops cushioning platform (although they HAD a great thing going with Supernatural Creator-era FYW) that can compete with Zoom and Micro G.

Traction
The toe half of the forefoot is pretty traditional solid rubber, wavy herringbone and provides good stopping ability on most floors. The middle half of the forefoot and heel portions are a translucent rubber with a nubby pattern. On semi-dusty floors, I found myself needing to swipe to get great traction, but on most good floors you’ll be fine. Very good, not quite great, overall.

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Materials/Durability
If you’re someone that cares about creasing, you won’t like these. The speed at which they crease hurts the Rose 5’s appeal as an off-court option – although that’s not what it’s built for anyway. I see the upper holding up extremely well, as it’s sturdy and tough from any angle. I did get mine stepped on in a Saturday morning league and got a pretty nasty scuff on the side, but again it’s not affecting the performance in any way.

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I’ll be interested to see how Boost holds up over the long term, and whether it will lose some of that bounce and plush feel as it wears down. All cushioning eventually will get beaten down, but longevity is what I’m interested in. Given how soft it is, I imagine it will wear down some but so far, so good.

Overall, I loved this shoe to be honest. It fit fantastic and checked all of the cushioning boxes: soft impact protection, good responsiveness and an extremely low to the ground feel – even if it was a little thin under the forefoot. The Fitcage frame is still probably my favorite aspect, as the lockdown it provided made it feel as secure as any shoe I’ve worn. Do I wish the upper was more natural and less stiff? Yes, but then it probably wouldn’t have worked as well with the Fitcage and may not have provided the containment needed on this platform.

I think Boost lived up to and exceeded my expectations in basketball form. The Rose 5 should be one of the first shoes you try on this season, and is a shoe of the year contender alongside Nike’s KD7 and Under Armour’s Clutchfit.

adidasRose5_review_guide

Performance Review: Under Armour Micro G Anatomix Spawn 2

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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The original Anatomix Spawn was one of the surprise shoes of this past season and happened to be one of my favorites along with the Crazyquick 1. The fantastic support and lockdown were two of the best aspects of that shoe, along with trusty Micro G underneath for a well-rounded cushioning setup.

The sequel to that shoe is, obviously, the Anatomix Spawn 2. It doesn’t look strikingly different, keeping roughly the same midsole/outsole tooling and same silhouette. Like its predecessor, the Spawn 2 has a lot of positive aspects that make it a good option, but I can’t say it’s an improvement over the original because of two key areas: fit and flexibility.

Fit
The Spawn models are some of the few shoes you don’t have to lace all the way to the top eyelet in order to get the security you need. In fact, I’d recommend not lacing them all the wa up in order to give your ankle just a little more mobility. Lockdown is simply fantastic from heel to midfoot to toe.

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Despite that, I still have some issues with the upper. Whereas the Spawn 1 featured fused layers of mesh and synthetic overlays, the Spawn 2 uses a layered synthetic upper (the material I think is called Flexgear) that feels sort of rubbery. You can see the layers contrasted against thinner panels, and some spots have padded, raised portions that give the upper some texture and detail. And while the flexibility of Flexgear is good, it leaves too much volume in certain areas when laced up. Rather than contouring to your foot when it moves and flexes, it bulges out and creates unnecessary room. You can see it most noticeably in the toebox, which I felt had too much volume, but you’ll also notice odd flexing when you’re walking around with it laced up.

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Is this a dealbreaker? Not really, but it doesn’t achieve the 1:1 fit of the best shoes out there.

Heel-Toe Transition
I didn’t love the heel-toe transition in the first model, and not much is different with the Spawn 2. It’s not bad and I loved the TPU support piece used to give the midsole more structure anyway. The outsole is laid out almost exactly the same in the 2.

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But where the Spawn 1 had several deeply recessed channels to aid flexibility, the Spawn 2 has a more traditional flex grooves and wasn’t quite as flexible at toe off. Is it going to be noticeable to anyone besides a nerd like me? Probably not, but I did find a slight difference there.

Cushioning
Like always, Micro G is one of the best cushioning platforms in the industry. The Spawn 2 checks all the boxes: low, cored-out court feel, responsiveness through the footstrike and fantastic stability. It also features that unique TPU support cage, which is wraps up around the lateral side wall for arguably the best midfoot support in the industry.

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As long as the shoe isn’t too narrow for you, I’d recommend the Spawns to any bigger player or anyone with injuries looking for added support. The cushioning setup is unchanged from the Spawn 1, so if you liked it then the Spawn 2 won’t disappoint.

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Traction
This was probably the worst area for the Spawn 1, as the shoe was pretty much only useable indoors on a good surface. The Spawn 2 didn’t change much besides the flex grooves I mentioned before, so I can still only recommend for indoor play. It’s not a danger or anything, just not as good as other shoes out there. A deeper herringbone pattern would be much appreciated.

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Materials/Durability
I mentioned Flexgear before as a major material change and while I didn’t like it as much as the original in terms of fit, I do think it’s a more durable synthetic than the mesh combo used for the original. It is really skin-like and feels like it will withstand flexes and abrasions fairly well. No complaints with the finish or build quality either – Under Armour’s top models can be compared with any other brand out there.

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The last two UA models I’ve done – the ClutchFit Drive and Spawn 2 – are fantastic performers and have the potential, at least from a performance standpoint, to compete with Jordan/Nike/adidas. While the two former names on that list absolutely dominate market share, Under Armour is making high quality basketball shoes.

The Spawn 2 overall is a very supportive shoe suitable for all positions. You get great cushioning across all three categories, pretty good overall fit and durability, and decent traction on the right surface. For my playing style, I’ll take the ClutchFits, but the Spawn 2 is one that definitely merits consideration when you go to cop your next pair.

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Performance Review: Jordan XX9

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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Some have called the Jordan XX9 the most technologically advanced Jordan shoe ever. From the spec sheet alone, they’re probably right. With a completely new woven upper, unlocked Zoom in the forefoot and Flight Plate moderator, the XX9 looks and sounds as good on paper as any shoe.

But, as we’ve seen with models like the KD VI Elite, packing a bunch of tech into one shoe doesn’t equal great on-court performance. The XX9 breaks that mold though, as Jordan Brand has unleashed a performance monster, and natural successor from the XX8.

Fit
The biggest technological innovation in the XX9 was the Flight Weave upper. Designed to provide a custom fit while retaining strength during dynamic movements and giving engineers the ability to weave fibers tighter in high wear areas, it conceptual roots lie in Flyknit and Hyperfuse systems. You’ll find a tighter weave where more support is needed and a more forgiving weave in the rest – not unlike Flyknit. But where Flyknit uppers have a tendency to leave gaps when the shoe flexes, Flight Weave is hugging the foot at all times.

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Flight Weave is miles ahead of both of those textile technologies, and is one of my favorite uppers I’ve tested recently (along with the adidas’ Techfit-based Crazyquick 1 and Under Armour’s Clutchfit Drive). For comparison’s sake, it has more structure than the Crazquick 1 and fits closer to the foot with less shifting while moving around than the Clutchfit Drive upper.

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You can lace the XX9 up super tight from to toebox to ankle, and the fit is impressive. The upper fully hugs the foot and lockdown is vise-like. The internal heel counter provides good heel lockdown and I did not experience any shifting anywhere on the interior.

Heel-Toe Transition
One major outsole change from the XX8 to the XX9 was the skinny bridge connecting the forefoot and heel. The XX8 was a true decoupled outsole – the heel and forefoot were independent parts – and that usually means transition isn’t as smooth. The connector on the XX9 remedies that some, but I wouldn’t consider heel-toe transition to be a strong point for the shoe. It gets better as you break it in naturally, but the large gap between heel and toe plus the slightly higher feel makes the ride less smooth than some other shoes.

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For what it’s worth, I had been playing in the Clutchfits, which are as smooth as it gets, so the difference in transition may be more apparent to me than you.

Cushioning
The XX9 drops the heel Zoom unit and uses standard Phylon. Honestly, it probably plays a little better and more stable this way, though I thought the heel Zoom of the XX8 was just fine. You’ll get good impact protection and a consistent feel in the heel.

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I was a little disappointed in the lack of responsiveness of the forefoot unlocked Zoom. It’s not bad at all, but didn’t seem as bouncy as the XX8. This is because the Zoom bags have been recessed slightly into the midsole, so as to avoid the popping issue that plagued so many pairs of the XX8. The Zoom bags have also been laid horizontally, but I didn’t quite notice the energy return that I did in the XX8.

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Since the Zoom bag extends so far up the forefoot, I felt like there was a little dead zone right at the toe where the top flex point was. It wasn’t anything major, just an odd feel to go from Zoom to straight midsole at that specific flex point.

That is all a little nitpicky though, because the responsiveness is still very good. As far as court feel goes I prefer my shoes to ride a little lower to the ground, and with the Flight Plate/Zoom combo there’s a little more midsole bulk than I’m used to. The upper fits so close to the foot that it feels a little funny to have that substantial of a midsole there. Support is fantastic with the sculpted Flight Plate providing plenty of midfoot structure while still remaining flexible. Overall the cushioning setup is very good, if not great.

Traction
The outsole features anatomical sculpting in the heel and forefoot, and uses a full-lenth vertical wave pattern with some recessed horizontal sipes. The courts I typically play on are usually average to slightly above average in condition and I’ve had no traction issues. I’ll still get the familiar squeak on quick pull-ups.

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Materials/Durability
I had no issues initially with the XX9. I wondered how the woven upper would hold up when getting stepped on and pushed to the limits on court, because it is softer than I had expected. But I’ve put it through several league and general pickup games, gotten stepped on, and have seen no signs of wear. The build itself is high-quality, free of glue marks or loose strands on my pair.

I expected them to hold up for months, until just yesterday when I was playing in a competitive league in central Indiana. As I unlaced after the win, I realized one of the eyelets – which are simple loops that attach to the midsole – ripped out and left me without a proper way to lace them. Back to Nike they go for a voucher.

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With a price tag of $225, I was expecting the Jordan XX9 to blow me away. It’s got the lineage of 28 other shoes riding on it, and is the flagship model for the entire brand. So was I impressed? Yes – the Flight Weave upper is one of the best I’ve played in, and the shoe is great from a comfort and support standpoint.

Was I blown away? By some aspects, yes. I tweeted after my first couple of runs that I was kind of underwhelmed by the XX9 and a lot of that is tied to the lack of responsiveness underneath and average heel-toe transition. But the responsiveness is still above average and the transition improved some with multiple wearings, and I really do like playing in the shoe.

If you have the funds and are a serious hooper, it’s certainly worth a try. I feel like I have undersold it, but I feel that it really is a great shoe – one of the better shoes of the year.

JordanXX9_review_guide

 

Performance Review: Under Armour ClutchFit Drive

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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Under Armour has been all over the news lately. From hosting the nation’s top high school hoopers in the Elite 24 event in Brooklyn, to making a wild run at Kevin Durant’s endorsement (which may have been a buzz-generating ploy if nothing else), to most recently surpassing adidas as the No. 2 company in the U.S. in combined footwear and apparel sales. While UA certainly would have loved to add Durant to its stable of athletes, the past few months can generally be considered a success for the Baltimore-based brand.

That’s all well and good but as a hooper, I’ve been interested in UA’s latest technological innovation – the ClutchFit uppers that have been turning up across a variety of UA footwear. Designed as a second-skin, the rubbery textile overlays are intended to flex naturally with the foot and provide support via a kind of web/weave when force is applied. The result is supposed to be a closer-to-the-foot fit and better flexibility.

I’m always curious about new shoe tech, whether it’s cushioning systems or different textiles and support structures for the upper, and the ClutchFit Drive piqued that interest. Even better, the shoe – and the technology – delivered.

Fit
As you know, everything starts with fit when it comes to performance hoops shoes, and the ClutchFit Drive is pretty close to perfect when it comes to overall fit and lockdown.

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I went with an 11.5 and didn’t feel the need to drop down to an 11 for a more snug fit. The width is average (some shoes, like the Kobe IX, seemed very tight under the midfoot – not so with the ClutchFit Drive) and should suit most players. There’s adequate room in the toebox too.

As mentioned before, ClutchFit was designed as a second skin for the foot. It’s supposed to deliver a thinner upper while the webbed structure provides dynamic support when it’s needed. And it does exactly that. There’s no slippage at all when laced up – thanks also to a full-length, high ankle inner bootie – and the upper flexes naturally through the foot strike. I felt secure and locked in at all times.

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The high cut is probably a love/hate feel for most players, and I am somewhat of a fence rider in that discussion. I honestly prefer lows and love the mobility of a lower collar, and at first I didn’t like the feel of the padding and inner sleeve all the way up my ankle. It didn’t affect me in any way, other than me just noticing it, and after awhile I wasn’t aware of the high cut because of the fantastic flexibility of the upper. Still, I’d probably prefer the low version if/when it drops in some capacity.

It is also surprisingly well-padded, especially around the collar, and the stretchy, dynamic fit of the upper was a joy to play in.

Heel-Toe Transition
Full-length Micro G with no midfoot shank provides an extremely responsive and smooth ride. You’ll feel like you’re gliding from heel strike to toe off. The lack of a shank does have its minor drawbacks (covered later) but the quality of Micro G foam and thicker outsole rubber provide some of the smoothest transitions you’ll find.

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Cushioning
I’ve long been a fan of Micro G cushioning and it’s fantastic on court once again. I think it’s the best foam compound on the market today, and it’s utilized perfectly here. Cushioning is consistent thanks to full-length Micro G, and plays extremely low to the ground and stable. It’s highly responsive and simply feels natural underfoot.

It scores well on each of our three scales, but cushioning is always going to have a personal element. For me, I like my shoes to have some support built in. I’ve played competitively in high school, college, and dozens of local leagues, and had both hips reconstructed after my freshman year of college ball. I know my body well, and I know that I need a certain amount of midfoot support to keep me feeling good after a competitive game or hour-long workout.

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The KD7 is the most recent shoe to meet that need (I also felt the Anatomix Spawn and Crazyquick were good in this area), but the ClutchFit Drive gave me a surprising amount of support given the way it is built. It’s built to be flexible and doesn’t have any kind of midfoot shank. But the firm Micro G setup and high-quality rubber outsole give it enough support that I can hoop in these all day.

Traction
Full-length herringbone with deep tread and various flex grooves give it a natural flex and near-perfect traction. I went through a workout on a pretty poor YMCA floor tonight and I was still squeaking on my change of direction

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Materials/Durability
So far, so good. Under Armour once had a rep of not building the highest quality shoes, but the Anatomix Spawn held up well for me last year and these show no early signs of wearing out. In a way, it’s a pretty simple shoe as far as construction goes, so there’s not a whole lot to nitpick. The upper is thicker than I would have expected, and the collar is very well padded. Micro G is a durable compound and holds up under heavy use.

I don’t necessarily love the shiny, plastic-y, rubbery finish of the shoe as a whole and I think it knocks the shoe down some in the eyes of a lazy consumer. I wish there were some different premium textures/materials used in one way or another. I know neon is in for the youngbloods, but I also wish you could actually find a simpler colorway in stores. That’s my old man soapbox.

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The shoe instantly raises questions from other hoopers and when people have asked me what I thought of the shoe overall, and I describe it like this: it’s what the Kobe IX should have felt like. I think the IX was a very good shoe in its own right, but it fell seriously short in the cushioning department with the gimmicky drop-in midsole. The ClutchFit Drive simply felt more natural to me and the cushioning was near-perfect.

I’d sure like to get my hands on a low-top version and sometimes I want the support of the KD7. But the fit/flexibility, traction and cushioning have made the ClutchFit drive a favorite of mine and contender for shoe of the year.

UnderArmourClutchFitDrive_review_guide

Performance Review: Nike KD7

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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The Nike Basketball division has had an interesting year to say the least. From a performance standpoint, it’s been awhile since I have reviewed a Nike product that I truly loved playing in. The shoes I’ve recently tested from the brand have all had a pretty significant flaw in my eyes. In the Kobe IX for example, there’s a total lack of midfoot support/cushioning and for me, it made the shoe unwearable after a few games. The LeBron XI never quite fit or flexed naturally for me. Neither of the KD models fit me well and the Elite version had a serious fit/stability issue. Even from other brands, I struggled to really find a shoe I liked playing in outside of adidas’ Rose 4.5.

With all these reviews in the rearview mirror, I was anticipating a fresh start in the KD7. There is plenty of tech to be found, including a 180° Zoom bag, Hyperposite heel/collar, midfoot strap, and Dynamic Flywire support. Thankfully, the shoe delivers and is one of the top performers I’ve hooped in this year.

Fit
The KD7 features a hybrid construction, with a mesh forefoot forefoot and midfoot construction combined with a Hyperposite heel. I had some initial doubts before as to how well the two very different materials would blend, but I found the fit to be very good. I hope this mesh construction is something Nike uses more of going forward, because it plays so much more naturally than Fuse does. The flexibility it allows is awesome, and using mesh allows lets the Flywire cables – which are actually utilized – to cinch the foot down. Whereas a thicker, stiffer Fuse setup limits the amount of support you get from Flywire, this mesh build helps the cables pull as tight as possible.

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There’s ample room in the toebox, and even though an 11 is typically a little short for me, there’s just enough volume in the toebox that it fits perfectly without constricting the toes. The mesh build helps here again, giving you plenty of flexibility in a key area. Forefoot lockdown is very good – you can lace the KD7 up extremely tight – and the midfoot strap is actually useful for midfoot lockdown. You might notice some pressure on the top of your foot due to the strap and the stitching of Hyperposite piece, but that’s mostly alleviated after the first few wearings.

I noticed very slight slippage in the heel fit upon the first few wearings, but I’d chalk that up to the Hyperposite getting broken in. It’s a stiffer material, but it holds its shape and will mold to your foot somewhat after you get them broken in. Overall, the fit was excellent in the KD7, particularly in the forefoot area. It’s the first and most important box to check, and the Swoosh nailed it with this one.

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Heel-Toe Transition
The KD7 is very smooth from heel strike to toe off, with a full length Zoom unit, stable midsole and flexible outsole. I almost felt like the shoe promoted more of a midfoot strike – not to the extent of the KD III, which felt like it had a bulge under your arch that rolled you forward – but I noticed myself not landing quite as squarely on my heel. A midfoot strike is a very neutral and natural gait (it’s what many competitive runners strive for), so this is a good thing.

Cushioning
As mentioned before, the shoe features a 180° Zoom bag, visible at the heel. The Zoom bag is housed in a solid midsole that provides plenty of support while still remaining flexible. The midfoot support from the KD7 is the best I’ve had since the Anatomix last year. While I may sound old harping on support, if you play enough ball you WILL need it eventually.

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You’ll notice five TPU bars on the bottom of the shoe that run through the midfoot, mimicking the bones of your foot. This aids support while promoting natural flexibility, and is a fantastic addition to the cushioning setup. The UA Anatomix Spawn featured a TPU support structure with a similar idea in mind, and it was great in that shoe too. Hopefully, the extreme lightweight/flexible movement will get phased out of basketball models and we’ll get more attention to detail when it comes to midfoot support.

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Responsiveness is excellent with a firm but bouncy Zoom setup. Stability is also very good, thanks to the supportive midsole and overall fit of the upper. The lateral stability is miles ahead of the KD VI Elite. As far as step in comfort, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better hoops shoe. The Jordan CP3.VII and XX8 SE both were extremely comfortable underfoot, and the KD7 is right there in terms of sheer comfort.

Overall, this may be my favorite cushioning setup of the year across all categories along with the XX8 SE. I loved the support and responsiveness especially, and it simply plays well in every aspect.

Traction
Featuring a pressure mapped outsole with a herringbone-esque pattern (more wavy, reminded me a little of the Jordan XX3 models), the traction is excellent. Flexibility is good and the channels are deep, which is a recipe for reliable traction underfoot. I’ve only used it indoors, a few times on very good floors and once on a dustier one, but traction was great no matter what.

Materials/Durability
No issues so far here. The Hyperposite heel will scuff some on the medial side, but that’s to be expected. I anticipate the mesh holding up well in the forefoot, given that it’s backed by another layer of fabric. There’s also a medial toecap for durability in the toebox. I was concerned at first about the Hyperposite being stitched directly to the mesh but its well constructed and after playing in it I don’t have any concerns there.

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The KD7 proved to be one of the best shoes I’ve tested this year. It instantly becomes a go-to shoe for me thanks to the lockdown, support and responsiveness, along with great transition and traction. It’s simply a very good shoe overall, built to be a performance beast rather than just a unique silhouette like the KD 6. I was beginning to doubt Nike after being disappointed in the last few models I’d tested, but they got this one right.

As a final note, I think this is a great shoe for any position. There’s enough support for bigger guys, but the shoe plays very light and nimble thanks to the secure fit and good responsiveness. If you’re looking for a team shoe or something to last all season, definitely make it a priority to try on the KD7.

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Performance Review: Nike KD VI Elite

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

Kevin Durant’s 6th signature shoe was one of the most unique hoops shoes of the year, from the materials and technology to the construction of the shoe itself. The Elite version of the KD VI, put a premium spin on those characteristics (along with a premium price tag). Featuring a full-length 360 Zoom bag, Hyperfuse and foam-based upper and Kevlar-reinforced Dynamic Flywire, the KD VI Elite packed about as much new technology as possible into one shoe. Unfortunately for a lot of hoopers, the tech-heavy shoe won’t hold up on the performance end.

Fit
For full disclosure, I have a narrow foot and the width of your foot is going to have a big impact as to how well the KD VI Elite (or KD VI for that matter) fits. For me the fit was awful, plain and simple – it was the most unsettling shoe I’ve ever played in. I was afraid to plant and cut at full speed, and that is unacceptable in a performance shoe. That probably sounds harsh, but there are a number of reasons why I couldn’t get comfortable playing in the shoe.

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I don’t have a problem with low tops, in fact its my preferred type of shoe to hoop. The height of the KD Elite VI didn’t bother me as much as the fact that the eyelets don’t go high enough up the foot to lock you in. The top eyelet is across the top of your foot, but is not adequate as far as pulling the collar/heel of the shoe securely around your foot.

Besides the lack of eyelets, lockdown via lacing is impossible to achieve thanks to the use of Dynamic Flywire as the primary means of holding the upper to your foot. Yes, the innovative tongue that wraps the foot helps some but there’s an inherent amount of volume and width on the interior of the shoe and Dynamic Flywire is not enough to keep the upper secured to your foot. At this point, I could do without Dynamic Flywire in my shoes. It’s not sturdy enough to lock down the foot on its own – even in the HyperRev, which had a softer foam/Fuse upper, it wasn’t enough to make me feel secure – and in my opinion is only useful as a reinforcement to the upper.

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Now, if you have a wider foot the fit may be different as your foot may take up more room in the upper. If this is the case, you might be able to get the lockdown you need. I had a buddy with a significantly wider foot try them on and put a few shots up in them, and he thought the fit was fine. For me though, there was way too much room around the collar area and I could not lace the shoe up even close to as tight as they needed to be.

From there, my foot slid around all over the shoe. Several times on hard lateral cuts I found myself sliding over the edge of the footbed or slipping side to side in the heel. Perhaps with a softer or thinner upper the Flywire would secure the foot better, but it was a complete failure in the KD VI Elite. Even a wide-footer will still have issues with lacing lockdown and containment.

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Another note – lace pressure is pretty bad in these as well. I typically hoop in Elites, and even in extra padded Hyper Elites the lace pressure across the top of the foot was annoying.

Heel-Toe Transition
The heel-toe transition was very good thanks to the continuity and sculpting of the 360 Zoom bag. There was no slap from heel to toe, and flexibility was adequate even with the high volume bag. Combined with the responsiveness of the Zoom bag, heel-toe transition was one of the bright spots of the shoe.

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Cushioning
When I first put the KD VI Elite on, I said to Finch that this feels like $200 worth of cushioning. Besides being firm yet comfy, super responsive, supportive and low to the ground, the 360 Zoom setup is simply one of the best cushioning setups across the board. It’s not quite as responsive as the Flight Plate-aided setups in the Melo M10/XX8 and related models, but it’s very good. I always feel that a good Zoom bag strikes a perfect balance between being firm and plush, and the 360 Zoom is perfect in that sense.

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The shoe also plays fairly low to the ground despite having a full volume bag, though the stability is ruined by the fact that the upper doesn’t contain the foot over the footbed at all. Think of it this way – the KD VI Elite cushioning is perfect in a linear sense. In a straight line, walking or running, it’s going to feel like one of the best things you’ve had on your feet. Try to move laterally though, and it’s a different story. The lateral containment is bad thanks to the poor fit, and it combines with a full length Zoom bag to make lateral stability an issue. The midsole doesn’t wrap up around the foot much and that’s why a 360 Zoom bag can hamper lateral stability a bit.

If you’re looking for pure comfort, the 360 Zoom midsole of the KD VI Elite is tough to beat. Unfortunately the poor lockdown and fit kills the playability of the shoe.

Traction
The translucent rubber outsole features a geometric, storytelling pattern, but it provides better traction than I initially expected. On good floors you’ll get the familiar squeak on quick stops, and the shoe’s flexibility and relatively deep outsole grooves do a good job of stopping you on a dime.

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Materials/Durability
Being an Elite model, you’ll get all the latest tech and premium materials that Nike has to offer. 360 Zoom, Hyperfuse, Dynamic Flywire, etc. – it’s all there. I’m not sure if it’s $200 worth of materials (though you can seem to find colorways on sale already) but at least you’re getting the latest stuff. It doesn’t necessarily perform all that well on court, but as far as materials are concerned the quality is high and I don’t have a ton of durability concerns. The tip of the toe is reinforced against toe drag and I think the build is very good.

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For all the flashy tech, the KD VI Elite simply couldn’t get the basic requirement of good performance shoe down: a secure fit. Some players with a wider foot may find that it fits better through the upper than I did, but the poor lacing setup is going to be an issue no matter what. The cushioning is excellent, and traction, transition and material quality are all very good. Despite that, the fit is so sloppy that it makes the shoe tough to play in. I didn’t feel confident going all-out, full speed in the shoe and that makes it tough for me to play in.

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Still, I liked the shoe to a certain extent. The KD VI Elite is extremely comfortable and miles better than last year’s KD V Elite. I just wish Nike would have refined the shoe a little more, rather than just dumping all the latest tech into it. The other point to be made here is value and price. At $200, this shoe is a large investment no matter who you are and I expected it to perform at a higher level.