Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)
One of the most frequent questions we get goes something like this: “Which shoe has better cushioning, shoe A, shoe B or shoe C?”
It’s a valid question as you’re trying to decide on a performance hoops shoe in a market full of them, and it’s nice to have some sort of benchmark to compare each shoe to. Thus, we’ve decide to create head-to-head, comparison reviews of shoes that we’ve reviewed on this site. We’ll group shoes together differently over time as we create more of these and get the format figured out.
For the inaugural head-to-head performance review, I’ll take a look at three popular low tops currently on the market and let you decide which works best for you.
The Kobe 9 EM Low is the low top, Engineered Mesh-based version of Kobe’s ninth signature shoe, and carries with it a decent amount of hype thanks to the initial “Bruce Lee” colorway and the fact that the 9 was a highly anticipated release. The Venomenon is the little brother, the takedown model of the Kobe line, and is billed as a durable, if more crude version of the souped up signature. The CP3.VII is designed for the game’s top point guard, and boasts several unique features including a Zoom-based Podulite cushioning system.
The Kobe 9 EM Low is probably going to give you the most snug fit, especially through the midfoot and heel. The Engineered Mesh upper is used in varying levels of thickness, and gives you a nice, custom fit when laced up tightly. The heel fit, with the midsole wrapping up around the side of the foot, is excellent as well. The overall lockdown is similar to the Kobe VI – that is, it’s nearly perfect. I did go down a half-size to an 11 because I have a narrow foot and I value a tight fit, but I would probably stick to your true size. The last is fairly narrow, especially under the midfoot.
The Zoom Kobe Venomenon 4 features a no-frills Hyperfuse/Flywire upper that is sturdy and durable, but doesn’t offer the complete lockdown of the Kobe 9. The type of Fuse used on the Venomenon isn’t able to flex and conform to the foot like Engineered mesh, and it’s designed to be a little thicker and battle-ready for outdoor surfaces. This is not to say the fit is bad – because it is still good – but it doesn’t meet the high standards of the Kobe 9.
The CP3.VII is a great all around shoe (we’ll get into its brighter points later) but I did not love the fit. I believe this is because the shoe just did suit my foot shape – the toebox was too roomy for me and I couldn’t get full heel lockdown. It features Dynamic Flywire, which has little to no impact on the fit in this shoe, but the high quality synthetics are a great touch. I do know that it has been a favorite of many so definitely do not write it off if you’re in the market for a low top. The materials are top notch and the shoe is extremely comfortable from the fit down to the cushioning.
The Kobe 9 EM Low features a beefy drop-in Lunarlon midsole, and the outsole is one of the most flexible, pliable designs I’ve ever seen. I believe it’s because the outsole is relatively thin, allowing it to flex easily and in concert with the midsole. A drop in midsole with an outsole that was too stiff would create serious issues. The transition is excellent overall from heel strike to toe off.
The Venomenon 4 is solid from heel to toe, featuring a firm Phylon midsole and forefoot Zoom unit. The midsole also employs a small TPU shank – something the Kobe 9 does not have. The midsole is designed to withstand a pounding and doesn’t offer the plush, flexible feel of the 9 nor the pillowy cushioning of the CP3.VII. Thus, while the transition is fairly smooth, it’s not the most comfortable ride you’ll get.
The CP3.VII uses a dual density midsole setup known as Podulon, with the added bonus of Zoom met bag. The result is a bouncy, soft, transition that’s more comfortable than either of the Kobe models. While I didn’t get the same court feel as the other two, it’s very smooth from heel to toe.
The heel-toe transition portion delved into this a bit, but the Kobe 9 uses a drop in Lunarlon midsole. I would rather not have a modular midsole system, but this one is probably the best version I’ve used. It’s very soft, and offers the traditional consistent feel underfoot. It’s a thick midsole but still offers good court feel and what I consider to be average responsiveness. There is a noticeable lack of support, and I dealt with sore arches each time I played in the 9. No hooper wants to have sore arches, so if you feel like you need any support at all, the flatness of the Lunarlon and lack of a TPU support shank may steer you away.
The Venomenon uses a forefoot Zoom bag that provides average responsiveness. The shoe plays very low to the ground, and stability on all cuts was excellent. As I mentioned before, it’s a firmer midsole the either of the other models so some may be turned off by the more Spartan feel. As you’ll get with mid-priced Nike models, the overall ride and Zoom quality isn’t necessarily top of the line – whether it’s due to quality of materials or not as innovative engineering. I hooped in the Venomenon again today when I left my Crazyquick 2s in the car, and I was reminded again of the firm midsole and unimpressive responsiveness.
The CP3.VII was a joy underfoot, providing a simultaneously soft, responsive, and stable ride. The Podulite dual density setup is improved from the VI (especially in the heel), and the midsole is very responsive with the addition of a noticeable Zoom unit. The midsole is a little chunky, but is flexible and I didn’t have any stability issues in games (though if you like to feel super low to the ground, the CP3.VII might feel a little odd). The thicker midsole combined with a large TPU plate made the support stand out as well. It’s simply one of the most comfortable performance shoes you can play in, and it’s now a regular go-to off court for me.
Despite a soft outsole, the Kobe 9 provided some of the best traction I’ve had on a basketball shoe. It has a wavy, sort of anatomical pattern and I think the flexibility helps the traction tremendously. The flex allows the ridges to grab the floor, even on a poor YMCA court that I first tested them on.
The Venomenon 4 used Nike’s Blade traction pattern (though it was NOT an XDR outsole) that is designed to hold up on outdoor courts. It was great inside as well, providing stop-on-a-dime traction each time. It probably wasn’t quite as good as the 9 on dusty floors, but both are neck and neck. I would say that long-term, I’d give the nod to the Venomenon if you’re deciding between the Kobe models.
The CP3.VII featured deep herringbone pods in the forefoot and proved to be great on all floors. It’s a rather aggressive traction pattern, and gets the job done. Along with the Kobe 9 and Venomenon, you won’t have to worry about the traction with any of these shoes.
This is purely speculative but of the three I think the 9 is a little more “delicate” than the Venomenon or CP3.VII. I don’t see the mesh or the flexible, soft outsole holding up quite as well as the other two. Scuffing, while it doesn’t affect performance, is pretty noticeable on the “Bruce Lee” model.
The Venomenon 4 is built to be an indoor/outdoor shoe, so it’s built pretty sturdy. From the always-durable Hyperfuse upper to the firm midsole, I don’t expect much breakdown in materials even if you put them through several months of games/workouts.
The CP3.VII had the highest quality of build in my opinion. From the details like the TecTuff toe drag protection to a heavier, tacky synthetic for the upper and deep outsole grooves, the CP3.VII was well built in every way. Combined with the quality midsole that included a responsive Zoom bag, the CP3.VII was the best of the three when it came to material quality, durability and performance.
With the shoes laid out side by side, now it’s up to you. In my opinion, the Kobe 9 and CP3.VII are neck and neck. The Kobe 9 had the better fit and played lower to the ground, but the cushioning, responsiveness, support and material quality of the CP3.VII stood out. The Venomenon wasn’t as nice as the other two in any of the aspects, but it’s still a good, durable all around shoe that I keep in the truck in case I need a backup pair.