Performance Review: adidas D Howard 4

Prose: Finch (@Sir_Stymie)

Back in July of 2013, our good friend Jake reviewed the adidas Crazyquick and I must admit that I was itching to try adidas’ new natural motion midsole for myself. While It wasn’t in the cards for me last year, I stumbled upon a shoe that not only satisfied my desire to try adidas’ newest tech but also is garnering interest with the 2014 NBA All Star game rapidly approaching: the adidas D Howard 4.

DHoward4_2

Recently, we have seen adidas go with a minimalistic approach in its performance line with models such as the Crazy Light and Derrick Rose silhouettes. This is far cry away from the Feet You Wear line of the late 90s, including the recently retroed Crazy 97, Crazy 8s and Real Deal (worn by Kobe Bryant and Antoine Walker, respectively). These classics featured a bulkier silhouette and a midsole that wrapped up around the foot – providing natural motion and support in a never-before-seen way. This line was one of the most popular and innovative developments in shoe history.

adidas dabbled in it again in the mid-2000s, with a new Formotion iteration showing up in Tracy McGrady and Gilbert Arenas’ signature shoes among others. They hit the nail on the head with the TS Supernatural Creator, a performance monster and the shoe that Derrick Rose wore in his first NBA season.

That’s why it’s still surprising to see adidas focus on minimalistic and lightweight designs. While adidas has a nice guard rotation repping the brand (Lillard/Rubio/Wall/Rose, etc.) I was really interested to see how bigger NBA players such as Tim Duncan (Crazyquick), David West (Crazy Light 3) and Dwight Howard played in these minimalist shoes. I couldn’t imagine those models being able to support their larger frames and in Duncan and West’s case, their older joints and muscles.

Furthermore, I was interested to see if these shoes could work well with my style of play. So with all the background out of the way, let’s get into the review.

Fit
I’m normally a 13 but I’ll go a size smaller in my basketball shoes to get the best possible lockdown, but I grabbed a 13 instead of the 12 for the D Howard 4. Personally, I didn’t really like the fit overall, but there were some really nice things about it.

The heel fit was very nice and had lots of added padding and structure on the interior around the ankle. The lockdown and partical mesh sleeve aid in a very nice overall fit. Even with that being said the overall shape of the shape didn’t fit my feet well at all – but this is where our new review charts should help take our own needs out of it and let you decide if a shoe might work for you.

DHoward4_5

It seemed to fit long, so going a size down may have helped some but after I went back to try a 12 on it still felt long – like I may have needed an 11.5. This lead me to believe that my foot wasn’t really meant to fit this shoe. There was a lot of space in the shoe on the sides of my foot (I have a narrow foot) and near the toe box. The shoe shape simply wasn’t for me, but if you have a wider foot this might be good for you. Wider builds are tough to find right now so the D Howard 4 is worth a look.

dhoward4_Lockdown

Heel-Toe Transition
Due to the natural motion midsole/outsole of the D Howard 4 the transition was very smooth. No “slappiness” and lag or hang-up in my gait – I was pleasantly surprised in this regard as the sole and midsole flexes really nicely under foot.

It’s easy to see why this type of natural motion design has transitioned from a running technology to being integrated into training and basketball models (even dating back to the Nike Free Huarache Basketball 2012, which was recieved with mixed reviews), although the kinks in the technology as a whole are still being worked out.

dhoward4_Transition

Cushion
This shoe has very firm, low profile cushioning from the foam in the midsole. This is inherent due to the minimalist natural motion design. What you gain in terms of flexibility, mobility and traction you sacrifice cushion and support.

dhoward4_Cushion

In my experience with playing in the D. Howard 4, I recall feeling pain in my feet numerous times upon landing from rebounds and contesting shots. After a while, I continually felt the impact of landing on my joints. I had to give it low scores in this regard – any shoe that causes pain is never a good thing.

dhoward4_Court Feel

The shoe’s almost complete absence of a midsole leaves a lot to be desired for in terms of responsiveness. There’s quite clearly a difference in the cushioning setup or at least the foam distribution between the D Howard 4 and the Crazyquick. I found myself growing more fatigued in these shoes then I have in my other basketball shoes (Jordan Superfly 2), which feature unlocked Zoom cushioning. The cushioning setup in the D Howard 4 is very bare bones overall and your foot simply isn’t supported.

dhoward4_Responsiveness

Traction
The traction that is used on the D. Howard  is a mix of the classic herringbone with a twist. The outsole is identical to the Crazyquick, and I’ll explain the functionality briefly. 

DHoward4_4

The natural motion (think Nike Free) midsole/outsole with the multidirectional herringbone grip pattern allows grip and traction in every way you foot can go. This helps defensively when guarding someone off the dribble, gaining position boxing out in the post, or planting to driving to the basket. Like the Crazyquick, this pattern worked very well.

dhoward4_Transition

Materials/Durability
The D. Howard 4 seems to be a very durable shoe. The upper is made of a synthetic leather with Sprintweb overlays. This material feels a bit thicker in certain areas and light stippling on the surface which seems to prevent scuffs somewhat. It is also quite flexible, and works well in conjunction with the midsole. For what it’s worth, I have worn this shoe a few times now and it shows very few signs of wear. Valued at $125 ($140 dollars retail, you would hope that you get a shoe that would last and I feel it will.

DHoward4_1

All in all this shoe has a lot of good things about it, but due to its bare bones design and lack of an adequate cushioning system I find this shoe hard to play in and not really conducive to my style of play. For wide footers, it’s definitely worth a try-on. And if you are a power forward/center or a wing player looking for a lightweight shoe to provide great traction and durability, it may be an option.

dhoward4_Materials-Durability

Overall, just be advised that there is little to no support and cushion so if you’re looking for a plush ride, go elsewhere. Also, with the firm cushionings and lack of support, this shoe should probably be priced closer to $100.

There are a lot of new and interesting colorways coming out – like the All Star version – so at the end of the day it may just be a nice shoe to rock off the court.

TGRR Blog: State of the Industry, Part 2: adidas Basketball

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

In part one of our State of the Industry series, we took a look at the present and future of Jordan Brand. The face of the basketball sneaker industry and leader in market share, we looked for Jordan Brand to continue to push the limits of design and innovation while being led into the future by the Jordan namesake, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and newcomers Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin. While I jumped straight into the JB review and the future of the brand, the adidas story requires more of a history lesson.

Overview
The adidas basketball division is one that has undergone massive changes in terms of the branding and design of its products. Back in the late 90s and early 00s, adidas basketball launched a largely successful “Feet You Wear” campaign that made the company competitive it the basketball market.

Feet Your Wear was more a philosophy rather than an actual, tangible technology. Basically, Feet You Wear differed from a traditional shoe “last” (the shape of the outsole that the shoe is built on) by curving and molding the midsole and outsole to better fit the wearer’s foot. Adidas shoes built on the Feet Your Wear philosophy feature midsoles that wrap up higher on the foot than typical shoes while molded and form-fitting outsoles that targeted specific areas of the foot. This provided better lateral stability and torsional rigidity underfoot and promoted a natural footstrike. The upper was then brought close to the foot to provide better fit all the way up.

Behind Feet You Wear shoes like the adidas Real Deal, Top Ten and Crazy 8, adidas brought models to the consumer that were distinctive and performed well. They also had a strong presence on-court behind a young, budding superstar named Kobe Bryant. Feet You Wear proved to be short-lived, and once Bryant got his signature line – with the Audi-inspired Kobe and Kobe Two – adidas created some of the most loved/hated signatures of all-time.

Here’s a banger of a commercial with Kobe in the Top Ten:

Later on in the 2000s, adidas moved into the a3 and Bounce era as a response to the Nike Shox craze. While neither technology ended up enjoying much longevity, adidas’ versions were basically always seen as the little brother to the Vince Carter-led Shox series. Adidas had some moderate success with the a3/Bounce line as team shoes – I wore the a3 Pro Team during my time with the Indiana Elite AAU program – and the a3 Superstar Ultra was probably the most comfortable basketball shoe I’ve ever owned (though the outsole peeled off and the a3 pillars literally disintegrated after two weeks – and a couple of other teammates had the same thing happen).

Then, adidas trended back towards Feet You Wear with the Formotion campaign behind young stars like Gilbert Arenas while incorporating Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett (who had a couple of adidas signature models). They also pushed the limits of design with Tracy McGrady’s signature shoes (particularly the T-Mac IV and V). Finally, we got to the Team Speed line and with 2010’s TS Supernatural Creator and Commander. Adidas had created two of the best performance shoes of all time with the Creator and Commander, and were beginning to be led by Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard. The Creator is one of my all-time favorite performance shoes – its heel-toe transition, fit, cushioning and traction were nearly perfect. The shrouded upper also gave it a sleek, clean silhouette. The outsole was vintage Feet You Wear – perfectly tuned and molded, as well as stable and form-fitting with the pod outsole. Adidas was back and Feet You Wear was better than ever. I was prepared to buy whatever guard-geared TS shoe they cranked out…

And then adidas moved away from it all. Again.

In late 2010, adidas introduced its SPRINTFRAME and SPRINTSKIN on Rose’s first true signature shoe and thinned out the midsole. Then within the first two months of 2011, adidas rebranded their basketball line – under the adiZero campaign – in the name of speed. They launched the Crazy Light  – the lightest basketball shoe to date. At 9.8 ounces, the shoe and the campaign changed the idea of how light a shoe could be built. Even with Nike’s Kobe line pushing the low-top limits, adidas still clocked in lighter. And at $130, they were testing the limits of the consumer who’d pay top dollar not for superior technology or comfort, but for a lack of weight. They’ve continued with the Crazy Light 2 (as well as other light-driven models like the Ghost and Crazy Shadow), and appear committed to pushing the weight barrier on all its shoes for the near future.

*Market Share: 5.5% (via @MattSOS)

Latest Performance Models
Adidas Crazy Light 2
Adidas Rose 3/3.5
Adidas D Howard Light
Adidas Crazy Shadow/Crazy Fast
Adidas Top Ten 2000/Real Deal

The Crazy Light 2 has been a popular shoe at the professional, collegiate and high school levels. It was lauded as an improvement over the original Crazy Light (which had some durability issues) and beefed up the midsole and targeted stability of the SPRINTWEB upper. It’s available in a myriad of colors and we’ll likely see the Crazy Light line continue as a go-to team shoe in the future.

The Rose 3 was an interesting release to me because of the price point. At $160, the Rose 3 was priced to compete with the high-end Nike and Jordan Brand products such as the Hyperdunk and XX- line. But in my opinion, the shoe didn’t provide the type of technology or innovation that I want if I’m dropping $160+ on a shoe. Yes, the fit was very good and the SPRINTFRAME chassis was very well-sculpted. The full-length herringbone traction was a sight for sore eyes (especially after the embarrassment that was the Rose 2), but looking at the entire package the Rose  3 simply didn’t bring the requisite luxury feel and technology it should have at that price point.

Howard’s signature shoe has been lightly marketed and isn’t the prettiest shoe aesthetically. His line has been lauded in terms of performance for providing an extremely light but protective shoe (with top-notch Alive cushioning and cilia traction pattern) suitable for many positions, but as I’ll talk about later, Howard himself is limiting marketing opportunities. His shoes simply aren’t that good-looking and the namesake isn’t endearing himself to the public.

The Crazy Shadow and Crazy Fast silhouettes have also been popular among athletes at all levels, providing a lightweight option without the $130 price tag. Both the Top Ten 2000 and Real Deal are retro performance models – a welcome nod to the Feet You Wear days. The Top Ten has been seen on the feet of John Wall and Damian Lillard, while Avery Bradley was the first to break out the Real Deal.

Technology
When adidas went light with their basketball line, two technologies drove the weight cutting measures: SPRINTWEB and SPRINTFRAME. The SPRINTFRAME component is one that I personally loved. The idea of a single piece chassis makes a ton of sense in terms of cutting out excess material and providing a consistent fit and stability. SPRINTWEB is similar to Nike’s Fuse technology, as it’s a layered outer skin with targeted zones of overlays for durability. Where that support isn’t needed, such as the toebox of the original Crazy Light for example, it’s basically just a thin layer of mesh.

Further adi tech is pretty well known. Adiprene and adiprene+ have been cushioning staples for years, and the Torsion system has been providing lateral stability for a long time.

A quick note: adidas unveiled new Boost cushioning last week in their running shoes, and look for it to creep into the basketball line in time. Boost reportedly is three times more responsive than traditional foam, and seems to be a natural candidate to be employed on a basketball court to compete with Nike’s Zoom Air and Under Armour’s Micro G.

Top Athletes
Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Tim Duncan, Ricky Rubio, Damian Lillard, Eric Gordon, Harrison Barnes, Jrue Holiday, John Wall, Serge Ibaka

Adidas is obviously led by Rose and Howard in the signature shoe department, but they’ve also featured Smith in adizero Ghost ads. Adidas does deserve serious props for the job they’ve done in terms of bringing young, marketable talent to the brand. Rubio is one of the most watchable guys in the league and has international appeal, Lillard is far and away the best rookie in the league and Holiday is 22 and already an All-Star. Barnes has the potential to be a starter for years to come, and Gordon and Wall are young, productive vets who could still become stars.

I didn’t even include guys like Avery Bradley or Arron Afflalo, who both deserve mention for being the first to preview the Real Deal and Crazy Light 2 Low, respectively. In terms of drawing young talent to the brand, adidas has done a great job in the last two years.

Future Outlook
The Rose signature line is now six signatures deep (three regular models and three “.5” models, plus a low-top version of the Rose 2) and Howard has four officially to his name. One year ago, adidas had to be thrilled with their two headliners. Rose was the reigning MVP and Howard was the best big man in the league.

But today, various circumstances have clouded each players’ future and put adidas in a precarious spot with their top two basketball athletes. Rose endured a horrific ACL tear on April 28 and has yet to return to the floor this season (a minor dustup involving Nike designer Jason Petrie implying that Rose wouldn’t have gotten hurt had he signed with Nike put adidas basketball in the spotlight too). Adidas went ahead with the release of his third signature shoe before the 2012-2013 season and marketed “The Return” of Rose to the floor. It was a quality strategy due to the circumstances, but it’s still going to be hard to sell a $160 signature shoe behind a player that can’t play. It was nobody’s fault, but it is what it is.

Howard has quickly become one of the least-liked players in the league for his perceived lack of competitiveness, petulance, selfishness in Los Angeles and the way in which he left Orlando. This could not have helped sales of his signature shoe, which wasn’t exactly the most popular shoe on the market based on looks or marketing beforehand.

With Howard taking a hit in terms of public perception and Rose’s playing future somewhat in question, adidas may have to rely on its young talent to carry the brand. Luckily for them, the trio of Rubio, Lillard and Holiday appear ready to step up and be the face of the brand. This doesn’t necessarily mean signatures shoes all around, but adidas could have three All-Star point guards under 23 years old as soon as next season. And with the brand already driven by lightweight performance, the Three Stripes could end up with a perfect combination of product, players and performance.

*3/12/13 Update

Last week adidas unveiled the CrazyQuick, a shoe that may bridge the gap between reduced weight, comfort and performance. The shoe was the most weartested ever from adidas, and features a 17-piece outsole for greater stability, comfort and transition while keeping the midsole thin. The shoe also features the first-ever TechFit upper which keeps the weight down. To me, this shoe is a hybrid between the Feet You Wear adidas and the CrazyLight school of thought. Hopefully, they’ve found a way to incorporate the great fit and comfort of a Feet You Wear model while still making a competitive lightweight product. So far, John Wall is the most visible athlete associated with the Crazy Quick (personally, I don’t think he has the clout to carry a shoe) but I expect to see other guards in it very soon. For TGRR purposes, I plan to cop and review the CrazyQuick when it drops on May 1.