Performance Shoe of the Year

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

I reviewed nine different models this year and my Shoe of the Year pick basically came down to two choices: the adidas Crazyquick and the Under Armour Micro G Anatomix Spawn. After much deliberation, my shoe of the year is the Crazyquick. It was really a brutal decision for me, not only because I loved both shoes, but because I understand that the Crazyquick isn’t for everybody. I’ll do my best to convey why I loved the Crazyquick so much and also why there were a couple other shoes I felt like could be considered top choices for many people.

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Like I said, the Crazyquick suited my needs perfectly. Not everyone loved it and not everyone could wear it because of how narrow it was and the lack of plush cushioning. But the shoe needed to be flexible, low to the ground and responsive – and the cushioning setup allowed it to be just that. Techfit was a dream to play in and the upper fit as snug and as comfortably as any shoe I’ve ever played in. I’ve been through it before, but the shoe just performs exactly like it was intended to and I have yet to find a better overall guard shoe.

I ultimately came to the decision in this way (and I think it’s a good thought process when deciding what to hoop in when you have multiple options): if you were playing in a championship game, and you had to choose the shoe that allowed you to be most confident and play your best, which shoe would you choose? For me, it was the adidas Crazyquick.

I loved the Anatomix Spawn almost equally as much, even though it wasn’t quite as guard-specific. Where it wasn’t as light and flexible as the Crazyquick, the midfoot support and cushioning were just awesome. The TPU frame underneath was an awesome innovation and provided tons of support while allowing the shoe to still be light and flexible. When I’m not reviewing a new shoe, I switch back and forth hooping in both the Crazyquick and Anatomix Spawn.

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I also definitely enjoyed playing in the Jordan XX8 SE and CP3.VII. The XX8 SE had an incredible cushioning setup – the Zoom Air units were utilized perfectly and provided a ton of responsiveness. Unfortunately, those bags blew out within in two weeks so there was a definite caveat in that shoe. The CP3.VII was extremely well-cushioned, and felt great underfoot. It didn’t fit my foot that well personally, but I’ve heard tons of good feedback about the shoe and I would not hesitate to recommend it.

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We’ve had over 66,000 hits on the site this year and are carrying a lot of momentum into 2014. Thanks to all who’ve checked out the site, commented and spread the word about our small operation. We’re looking to get more consistent with our reviews this year, as Finch and I both have finally settled into solid jobs, and it’s my personal goal to double the amount of reviews in 2014.

Keep an eye out for a Jordan Super.Fly 2 review in the near future, as well as ones on the Nike Zoom HyperRev, Zoom Crusader, and adidas D Howard 4. Happy New Year from TGRR.

Performance Review: Air Jordan XX8 SE

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

So it’s been awhile since we’ve last brought you a review (thanks to some budget-tightening and a dislocated finger that kept me away from the game for a couple of weeks) and I apologize in advance for that. We’ll make it up to you by bringing you a couple in quick succession, with my XX8 SE review here and Finch’s Super.Fly 2 review coming sometime in the next few weeks.

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The XX8 SE is basically the guts of the shrouded Jordan XX8. The midsole tooling is unchanged and the upper of the XX8 SE is what was hidden when you zipped up the XX8. I did not purchase the XX8 (I’m making minimum wage, folks) so I was very excited to test out the SE version at $100 less. The shroud itself didn’t really offer the wearer a huge performance benefit, so I consider the SE a true representation of the model’s performance chops. The XX8 line incorporated a couple of new technologies from Jordan Brand – proplate Zoom cushioning and a carbon fiber Flight Plate – and as a sneaker tech geek I was eager to give them a go.

Fit
JordanXX8SE_Lockdown

The Dynamic Fit upper is basically a bunch of mini-straps that, when you run a lace through them, provide lockdown over a large area of the foot. The fit provided was excellent, as the upper (which is paper-thin in areas where there isn’t a thicker overlay) pulls your foot down into the carbon fiber heel counter and Flight Plate. Those two elements really lock the midfoot and heel into place – no slippage occurs on even your hardest change of direction. (I went a half-size down in order to get the best fit – if you have a narrow foot I suggest you do the same.)

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The Flight Plate chassis provides good lateral fit as well, and you should feel low to the ground and fully locked in once laced up.┬áThere’s even a carbon fiber inlay along the forefoot for additional lateral stability. My only minor gripe is that there are only five Dynamic Fit lace loops and I felt that I couldn’t lace up as snug as I wanted on top because of the lack of eyelets. I’ve always felt like more eyelets equals a better, tighter fit – but I suppose that could be a personal preference as well. At any rate the sandwich mesh inner bootie is snug and well-padded, rounding out top-notch lockdown.

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It’s just a shade below the Crazyquick and Anatomix Spawn in this department but it’s marginal. “Security” is probably the first word that comes to mind to associate with the fit of the XX8 SE.

Heel-Toe Transition
JordanXX8SE_Transition

I felt like I sat a little on my heel when trying these on (perhaps due to the new Zoom setup) but I became used to it after one or two wearings. The heel-toe movement at game speed was excellent, thanks to the extreme responsiveness of the Zoom bags (more on these wonderful things later) and the support of the Flight Plate. It’s certainly a different feel than a lot of other shoes and that may throw you off, but give it a couple wearings and you’ll get used to it.

Cushioning
JordanXX8SE_Cushion
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The cushioning as a whole is virtually perfect thanks to the setup of the Zoom Air bags, which feel more plush and responsive than any Zoom setup I’ve ever played in. The forefoot bags really feel bouncy, like a good Zoom bag should, while providing plush impact protection (the Zoom BB2 felt very similar). The silhouette of the Zoom bags is visible on the outsole and sticks out from the rest of the sole, but the compression and deflection they deliver (working in conjunction with the Flight Plate) provides excellent responsiveness. It’s unlike any Zoom setup you’ve felt before, and it’s a technology that delivers on its promise of improved explosiveness.

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The XX8 SE strikes a balance between impact protection while keeping a low-profile. I’m extremely sensitive to how low to the ground I feel in a shoe (usually the lower the better) but these allow you to feel low to the ground without giving up all your impact protection. From a cushioning perspective, they’re a joy to play in.

Traction
JordanXX8SE_Traction
The outsole uses a fairly soft rubber compound so the traction is solid from the get-go. You won’t have any issues breaking the outsole in, as it flexes naturally and grips the floor right away. The pattern is a wavy, multi-level and multi-directional one. It doesn’t necessarily give you quite the precise stop-on-a-dime ability with herringbone, but it’s very good.

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Materials/Durability
JordanXX8_Materials-Durability

Premium materials, including tons of carbon fiber, are used throughout. This cuts weight and improves comfort from sole to collar – the shoe just simply feels good on your foot. The upper is extremely thin so who knows what the long-term outlook will be, but the fact that quality materials are used throughout makes me think they’ll last. The edge of the toebox is reinforced – a nice touch in an area where basketball shoes especially can have durability issues.

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One huge issue arose roughly two weeks in though – the forefoot Zoom bag popped or became deformed, pushing the outsole out even more on the bottom of the shoe. A bulge appeared directly on the vertical flex point, making me wonder if the shoe would have been better off with a horizontal flex point like Finch’s Super.Fly 2s.

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It’s a problem I’ve seen before in the XX8 (had a customer show me the exact thing on a pair he brought back to Dick’s Sporting Goods) and had been an issue in NT forums as well. Not sure exactly how widespread it’s been but it’s definitely something to be aware of.

All in all, the XX8 SE is one of my favorite shoes of the year, and is in contention for the top shoe I’ve tested along with the Crazyquick and Anatomix Spawn. The cushioning is the best you can find, and support and fit are excellent as well. Look for the XX8 SE on-court for Georgetown, Cal, North Carolina and Marquette, and don’t hesitate to try these on if you’re looking for a great on-court option. Just be aware of the Zoom bag issue in the forefoot, but you’ll enjoy playing in the XX8 SE.