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: Jordan Melo M10

Prose: Max Smith

Though it might be hard to believe, we’re already at Carmelo Anthony’s 10th signature shoe for Jordan Brand. His models have generally been good on-court options, especially the M8 and M9, even if they haven’t been as commercially successful as other athletes’ signature shoes.

The M10 borrows heavily from the Jordan XX8 SE, using the same tooling underfoot and Dynamic Fit lacing system. Where it differs, however, is in the materials used throughout the upper and that’s something that ultimately sets it apart from many shoes on the market right now.

Fit
The M10 has a slightly wider forefoot than the average shoe, but I didn’t feel any slipping or lack of containment, and the same can be said for the midfoot. The Dynamic Fit system combined with the carbon fiber shank underneath makes for a secure midfoot. Dynamic Fit, if you’ve read our prior review on the XX8 SE, is basically a combination of straps that tie directly to the midsole. When laced up, these straps wrap the foot and provide excellent lockdown.

Heel lockdown is a premium feature in this model as well. There are two Achilles’ notches in the interior of each shoe that really help your foot stay in place.

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A major difference between the M10 and XX8 SE (besides the slightly higher cut of the M10) is that the M10 uses heavy-duty synthetics for the upper. Despite this, the flexibility is definitely above average. Your foot really isn’t hindered at all and carbon fiber shank keeps excessive torque off your foot. However, this personally wasn’t adequate for me. I need a shoe with a little more rigidity, but overall I liked the flexibility.

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The overall fit is better and more secure than most. The synthetic leather is premium and feels excellent on foot. I’d recommend going a half size down as these run big for me, but try to try a pair on first because no two feet are exactly the same.

Heel-Toe Transition
Heel to toe transition is probably the best I’ve experienced in a sneaker. The optimal flexibility and decoupled heel and forefoot (the heel and forefoot are two independent pieces) make for a seamless ride.

Sometimes a decoupled midsole (like the KD V Elite for example) can make for a slappy and inconsistent gait, but the combination of the Flight Plate, Zoom bag setup, and softer outsole allow for near perfect transition.

Cushioning
Cushioning was absolutely great. The unlocked Zoom in the forefoot was pretty sweet and I loved hooping in them. Heel cushioning is also very good. As with the XX8 SE, this is probably the best cushioning setup on the market.

Court feel and stability are pretty good as well. I had zero issues with stability and the court feel was quite good also. Again, you’ll occasionally find a decoupled midsole to be a bit unstable, but the midsole is so well-engineered that you shouldn’t have any issues here. Arch support is definitely lacking in this shoe in that the midfoot of the shoe doesn’t necessarily hit your arch, but it wasn’t a deal breaker for me. The carbon fiber plate should give you enough rigidity and support.

The M10 is one of the best on the market in terms of responsiveness. After playing in a Flight Plate-based shoe with the unlocked Zoom bag, normal Zoom setups will not feel the same.

Bottom line, the cushioning setup featuring the large, cored out Zoom and Flight Plate is hands down one of the best on the market – whether it’s the XX8, XX8 SE, or M10.

Traction
Best traction I’ve used short of the Kobe 9 Elite (review coming soon). You shouldn’t have issues even on dusty courts. Lace ‘em up and you’re good to go.

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Materials/Durability
Like I said before, materials are premium. The M10 features some of the highest quality synthetics on the market, and Jordan Brand should be commended for packing quality materials into its athletes’ sigs. The CP3.VII and M10 both rate very highly in the materials department.

It’s simply a very comfortable sneaker too. I loved the synthetic leather and the neoprene inner booty. From the sole and up, I loved the comfort.

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The M10 doesn’t have any real signs of wear and tear, but be aware that synthetic leather will scuff so be prepared for some if you hoop in these regularly. Because of the quality of materials, this a good long term option. They should last a while and be a solid performer.

*Sidenote: Some people (including Sittler) have experienced the Zoom bag popping in this type of cushioning setup, but I personally did not. Nike has a great program for defective shoes so your purchase will be protected regardless of where you purchased them if your Zoom bag does blow out.

If you’re looking for premium materials, cushioning, and fit, look no further than the M10. It’s without a doubt one of the top shoes we’ve tested at TGRR this year.

Melo_M10_review_guide

 

Performance Review: Jordan Super.Fly 2

Prose: Finch (@Sir_Stymie)

There have been a lot of changes in the lives of the TGRR duo (college graduation, engagements, and moving back home, so on and so forth) over the past few months. Due to these developments it has been pretty tough to crank out consistent reviews, but I am proud to announce that we are back on track.

Before I get into the review itself I wanted to touch on a few topics that have been on my mind. Here at TGRR, we are a grassroots operation. We are basketball players first and foremost and all of our reviews are based on our experiences with the product in the field. We appreciate the views and enjoy answering your questions and reading your feedback so I implore you to comment and review as much as possible.

On to the review, Jake provided you with one of our two-part sessions with the best that Jordan Brand has to offer in the XX8 SE. For my portion of our review package I have had the pleasure of reviewing the Jordan Super.Fly 2, a shoe that I have become rather fond of over the last few weeks.

The first Jordan Super.Fly model made its debut in June of 2012. In its original form, the shoe came equipped with durable Hyperfuse upper, Lunarlon cushioning and a carbon fiber plate in the midfoot, giving the shoe overall all structure and shape. While the original model was very good performance-wise (and worn by Russell Westbrook, Joe Johnson and Maya Moore in the NBA and WNBA, respectively) it lacked a signature athlete to truly give it a face.

Enter Blake Griffin. His involvement in Jordan Brand and the Super.Fly 2 (which was inspired by his play and debuted on the 2013 All-Star weekend) is a major reason for the success of the shoe. While Griffin gives the shoe some marketability, the Super.Fly 2 proved to be a great performer on-court – where it really matters.

(ed. note: Thanks to ones of our readers, Daren, who took pictures of the black Super.Fly 2 you saw throughout the article and also gave us some really detailed feedback on his experiences in the shoe. We always appreciate reader feedback.)

Fit: 9
Much the XX8 SE, the Super.Fly 2 utilizes a Dynamic Fit upper. Jake touched on this in his review, and I will go a bit more in depth. Jordan Brand explains Dynamic fit as “textile straps that wrap up from the midsole and integrate with the laces for a lightweight support that moves with the foot.” In layman’s terms, they extended the lace holes or eyelets and connect them to the midsole in the form of a strap. The widening of the straps near the midsole allows the more of the midfoot to be covered, thus giving you better lockdown.

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In my personal experience, I will agree that because of its simplicity, this gives you a better fit than something like Flywire. The Super.Fly 2 also has a sandwich mesh inner sleeve with an integrated tongue for a sock like fit (which is something that I am personally a fan of). The neoprene Achilles pad works cohesively with the padding around the ankle and helps with the lockdown while preventing heel slippage. The Pebax Flight Plate – which is not carbon fiber like on the XX8 SE – is kind of disappointing but Pebax has proven to be a durable and rugged material. It gives the shoe great structure and works well with the Zoom bag (which will be covered in its designated section.)

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For full disclosure, I went a full size down with most of my shoes that I play ball in to make sure that I get a more snug fit but I feel that even in my normal 13 I would have been ok.

Heel-Toe Transition: 8.5
To be honest this shoe feels a bit blocky due to the thickness of the midsole but with that said, thanks to the structure of the Flight Plate and midsole, it still makes for a very smooth forward rotation with some added flexibility. This allows for very little “slappiness” that you could get with shoes designed for forwards/big wings (i.e. Nike Foamposite Max.)

Daren also agreed with me, and thought the thick Zoom bag made the transition feel a little chunky initially.

Cushion: 9.5
To be honest, I really wanted to give this category a ten but I always want to leave space for improvement and for better product down the line. I know my logic can be a bit confusing but just know that it’s really good – and probably some of the best out there.

The Super.Fly 2 went away from the Lunarlon cushioning of its predecessor to a more responsive Zoom Air midsole. This was undoubtedly an upgrade. Lunarlon is very nice in running shoes and in shoes for quicker players (like the Kobe line) that are more about speed and lateral movement. Lunarlon wouldn’t quite work with this model, which requires impact protection from the heavier, explosive forces put on by bigger players.

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The Super.Fly 2 has a front loaded unit similar to the one used in the XX8 silhouette. The unit works in tandem with the Flight Plate and gives you the best possible responsiveness in the forefoot. The plate allows for the Zoom unit to compress and expand at exactly the right time. This also gives you a solid pivot point for post ups and spin moves.

Overall the midsole is spongy but also firm enough to support body weight and allowing for the tech to work effectively. This tech and the dense foam also adds weight to the shoe though, making them a bit heavy for my taste.

Daren, a guard, also chimed in and thought that the court feel was a little lacking because of the way the new Zoom bag has so much volume and hits your foot. As more of a wing/post hybrid, I loved the cushioning but if you’re a guard that likes a lot of court feel, this is definitely something you’ll want to pay attention to.

Traction: 9
It is a well-known fact, if you are an avid reader of this site, that we have favorites when it comes to certain aspects of performance shoes. Herringbone traction patterns are near the top, but Jordan Brand has found away to somewhat improve an already great innovation. I have dubbed it “burst” herringbone because of the look of course, but the design also has a function allowing for traction and grip at almost every angle that the foot can maneuver. It’s great for post ups and boxing out – once you plant your feet you’ll be hard pressed to get pushed off the spot because of your shoes slipping.

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Materials/Durability: 7.5
This is probably the lowest score I gave the shoe and in my eyes one of the few glaring weaknesses in the silhouette. First and foremost, the upper is some type of woven synthetic fuse material. This is fine, but the material was coated with rubber near the midsole and began to peel away. The upper started to fray a bit near the lace holes and near the bend points, which can’t be a good sign with less than two months of play in them. Unfortunately, something that seems to be more and more common for me, is midsole separation near the forefoot and I saw the early stages of this on the Super.Fly 2 as well.

Like I said in the beginning, this shoe has become very special to me. Not only does it fit my style of play, but the Super.Fly 2 has great cushioning and structure. The whole is sort of greater than the sum of its parts here. I also possibly had one of my best games of my life in these very sneakers in our last championship game, scoring 18 points (ed. note: and defending the opposing team’s best player.) Jake also did his thing as well in his UA Anatonix Spawn and we got the win – what more can you ask for?

Moreover this shoe fits my style of play and I think that if you are a wing or a post, or fan of the Jordan performance line (XX8 line, Melo M9 and M10, CP3.VII) this may be a great shoe for you.

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Champs of the Noblesville B&G Club winter league

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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. There’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
JordanXX8SE_Court Feel

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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.