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.

 

Performance Review: Nike Zoom I Get Buckets

Prose: Finch (@sir_stymie)

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With the weather getting warmer and warmer I get the urge to participate in one of my favorite activities of my youth: outdoor basketball. Some of my fondest memories in hoops have come in church parking lots, elementary school playgrounds and the driveways of friends’ houses. I consider the outdoor game to be one of the foundations of my toughness and grit as a player.

Jake can also attest to this. We have shared the field of battle many times, and we often discuss a certain 3 on 3 tournament back in 2012 in 100 degree heat that I still believe to this day we have not fully recovered from. (Jake’s note: This is true – we actually won a game because some kid on the other team had a heat stroke and had to sit out. Any injury/soreness from that point on is blamed on that godforsaken tournament.)

I can remember how sore I was and how I wished I had made a better footwear choice. I was playing in a pair of low top Nike Air Total Package and while this shoe was one of my favorites ever to hoop in, they were beaters at that point and not the proper shoe for the constant pounding and grinding that goes with an all day affair in a parking lot.

So when I rediscovered Nike’s Outdoor Tech products, I was excited to see what they had to offer. Each year Nike makes a couple of shoes for this little-used division – one shoe is a variation of the previously reviewed Zoom Crusader, which we have seen on the feet of several young up and comers in the NBA like Paul George and James Harden.

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The other is a new model that pays tribute to another young up and comer: Kyrie Irving and his alter ego Uncle Drew’s catchphrase “I Get Buckets.” Though its shares similarities from other designs of the day – namely the Hyperfuse 2014 – this shoes is very unique and has elements that make it one of the best outdoor shoes I’ve played in.

But what about on the hardwood? Well that’s where it gets tricky.

Fit
It is well documented that I prefer to go a half-size to a full size down in my performance shoes so that I get a snug, glove-like fit. Since size 12.5 seems to be one he rarest size in human existence, size 12 is the way I usually go.

The upper of the I Get Buckets is made of some of the thickest Fuse material that I have ever encountered. Though it is a stiff material, I was pleasantly surprised with the flexibility because of how the upper is constructed with many ventilation slits near the eyelets. This serves a dual purpose as both ventilation on hot summer days and to help with flexibility.

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Under this thick layer Fuse is a thin layer of mesh that is build upon a neoprene bootie. The makes for a very snug (in hindsight I could have gone with a 13 and been OK) and sock like fit without lacing them very tight – something that you look for in any performance shoe and in a shoe made for the rigors of the outdoor game.

The plush interior makes for a very conformable fit, but the downside of  this shoe comes when you get on the hardwood. Due to the thickness of the material in the upper you feel most if not all the flex points when you take a step. It’s uncomfortable and strangely enough wasn’t as much of a problem outside on the concrete.

 

Heel-Toe Transition
To be completely honest, smoothness in the transition is not a strength of the shoe . The silhouette has decent looking shape, seems to be conducive to a good transition and doesn’t feel necessarily square or clunky. The biggest problem is in the structure – and I’ve seen it in a lot of Nike’s latest models – and the absence of any type of midfoot plate.

Maybe its just my personal preference, but I wish this shoe had a plate in the midsole. You can do a plate or chassis wrong like the KD V Elite, but it can also really aid support and transition if used correctly.

This shoe and shoes like the Zoom Crusader that I reviewed have softer midsoles and hard outsoles, making the shoe flexible but also a little bit of a mixed bag. While this flexibility is good, sometimes you get too much range of motion or you need something more firm underfoot. A sturdy upper with an overly flexible sole can make for a clunky feel.

So while though the transition is adequate, I feel that an upgrade of a midfoot plate would be optimal. It would not only give the shoe a better structure but would also enhance stability.

Cushioning
Now this is where it gets funky. It is well documented that we here at TGRR love Zoom cushioning. Though we subscribe to this system and its benefits, not all Zoom bags are created equal.

If you remember my review of the Hyperquickness, I described how the softness of the midsole made the cushioning somewhat ineffective. The Zoom bag needs to hit your foot at the right point of the footstrike, and that’s a problem in the I Get Buckets too.

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Another aspect that seems to hurt this cushioning system is the size of the units themselves. The I Get Buckets is equipped with a forefoot Zoom unit and Phylon midsole. The fact that the Zoom bag is a small met bag under the ball of the foot, combined with the softness of the midsole, almost renders the Zoom cushioning useless. You don’t feel the responsiveness and springiness that you are used to. The HyperRev proved you can have a soft, flexible midsole with Zoom embedded but you better have a full-length bag like it did.

An example of Zoom cushioning done correctly, in my opinion, would be in the Jordan Brand performance line – most notably the XX8, M10 and (one of my new favorites) the Super.Fly II. Not only are the Zoom bags massive in terms of volume but the way they they are installed in a Flight Plate-loaded design makes for peak performance. The plate helps your foot hit the bag properly, and that bag itself is extremely responsive. Obviously, these types of advancements can’t be seen in a shoe with the price point of $115 but at least a bigger Zoom bag would have been better for outdoor use if cushioning was a primary focus.

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In terms of balance and court feel on the hardwood this shoe gets a decent score. Never did I feel like I was unstable or that I couldn’t get my feet under me in order to shoot or move my feet to get in a defensive position. I felt comfortable landing for rebounds, etc. This shoe does run a bit narrow, so that is something to keep in mind if you have wider feet.

 

Traction
I am happy to report that this shoe features herringbone traction. While herringbone can wear a bit faster than some if made with soft rubber, I feel that its the best overall pattern based on my personal balling experience. The outsole in this case is a HAGR (High Abraision Green Rubber) compound, designed for heavy outdoor use so that stops it from wearing too quickly.

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We have seen exaggerations of herringbone in iconic outdoor silhouettes as the Reebok Blacktop and, my personal favorite, the Nike Air Raid. It works for those, and it works for this model.

 

Materials
As I have alluded to in previous sections of this post, the shoe is built with thick Hyperfuse, a layer of breathable sandwich mesh and a partial inner bootie. The toe and heel areas are also reinforced. While this seems like a bit of overkill for an ordinary court shoe, these features excel if the is shoe is used outdoors.

Outdoors, these materials work hand in hand to protect your foot from the constant pounding and twisting and turning that playing outdoors entails. This shoe is built like a tank, and I can feel that this shoe – at least in the upper – is going to last me a while.

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In closing, if you are looking for great shoe for outdoor ball in the summer months, this is the one. Though it has its shortcomings as a high-performance shoe on the hardwood, in its natural element on the blacktop you will get the most use and the best performance from this model.

Make sure you comment if you’ve hooped in the Get Buckets – we love to hear your feedback and talk shoes.

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First Impressions: Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 8

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

Got a surprise email from Max this afternoon with a few snapshots of the upcoming Zoom LeBron Soldier 8. The hallmarks of the popular team line of LeBron’s signature have been a durable upper with some sort of integrated (and typically very useful) strap and a fully cushioned Zoom unit underfoot. For the money, the Soldier models are typically some of the best shoes on the entire market.

The 8 looks to fall right in line with other Soldiers, featuring a strap wrapping from the medial to lateral side, a Hyperfuse/Flywire upper, an aggressive outsole (a little DT 96-ish, no?) wrapping up around the lateral forefoot, and most likely a quality Zoom unit inside.

One interesting design element is a zipper on the medial side of the ankle collar, perhaps to allow ease of access when putting the shoe on. You can also see that the strap is attached basically by two shoestring-like strands. We don’t have current release info for the Soldier 8 yet and there isn’t a ton known about the shoe at the moment, but be on the lookout for a TGRR report when they do drop.

The pair is a sample size 9, but doesn’t have a sample tag so we’re likely looking at the production version. Check out Max’s pics below.

 

 

 

Performance Review: Kobe IX EM Low

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to cop the Kobe IX Elite, I managed to snag a pair of the Engineered Mesh-constructed Kobe IX EM Low. The low version not only dropped the height considerably and used Engineered Mesh rather than Flyknit, but also swapped out the carbon fiber pieces for solid rubber. The drop-in Lunarlon midsole remained the same. I picked up the “Bruce Lee” iteration which, in my opinion, is a gorgeous summer colorway whether you end up rocking these on court tonight.

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While I hadn’t hooped in a Kobe model extensively (besides the previously reviewed Venomenon 4) since the Kobe VI, which I bought two pairs of, I was pumped to see if the IX harkened back to the V and VI I loved so much. In my opinion, the VII was too clunky and the modular midsole/collar system was kind of a failure, and the VIII just didn’t have enough midsole for me. With that in mind, I laced up the IX and got to work.

Fit
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The first thing you’ll notice is a ridiculously snug fit when you lace the IX up tight. It immediately reminded me of my personal experience in the V and VI, which fit so snug over the forefoot and midsole that it hurt your feet for the first couple wearings until the upper loosened up and broke in. The IX was very similar in that respect, providing complete lockdown from heel to toe. The outsole/midsole wraps up around the heel – an awesome design aspect that provides a ton of performance value. There was no slippage to speak of, even with a very narrow foot like I have.

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Engineered Mesh is basically mesh with structure. In and of itself it provides solid lockdown without much give on cuts and changes of direction. You’ll notice it’s slightly thicker in the toebox before moving into more traditional-feeling mesh where you see the perforations or cut outs. It’s paired with Dynamic Flywire, which doesn’t necessarily add much to the support and fit in this case, but nonetheless it’s excellent overall. I would say that the IX is right there with the Kobe VI as the best fitting low top I’ve played in.

You’ll also probably be curious about the raised portions of the insole, designed to keep the foot from sliding on the footbed during play. It feels weird to the hand, but normal on foot and I didn’t have any slippage issues on the insole.

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I did go with an 11, a half-size down from my true size of 11.5, but didn’t feel overly cramped in the toebox. Normal to wide footers may want to stick with their traditional size though, as the last of the shoe wraps in fairly tightly underneath the midfoot.

Heel-Toe Transition
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The Kobe IX was very smooth from heel strike to toe off. Aided by a pliable (but thick) Lunarlon midsole and the most flexible outsole rubber I’ve ever seen, the IX will allow you to move, plant and cut naturally and smoothly.

Cushioning
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Now we’ve come to the crucial part of this review. On one hand the Lunarlon midsole is very comfortable, with a fairly plush feel upon first wearing. Some folks love Lunarlon, and I’ll admit that this iteration – in the drop-in format – was very comfortable on foot and I preferred it over some other Lunarlon-based cushioning systems. But given the drop-in midsole and an outsole that you can literally flex and press a thumb into with little effort, there was a fairly obvious lack of support. There’s no shank to aid stability, the Lunarlon midsole is fairly flat, and while the cushioning feels nice at first I did notice the hard impacts as the games wore on.

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You do play very low to the ground and I didn’t have any rollover concerns – key in a low cut shoe. Court feel, like it is with most Kobes, is very good.

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Responsiveness was average, and I think Lunarlon is behind Micro G and Zoom cushioning systems. It’s not bad and shouldn’t hold you back at all, but it’s nothing exceptional.
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Traction
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Court grip was nothing short of amazing. The traction pattern mimics the foot shape and looks a little like a topographical map in terms of design. But I found immediate stops and starts, change of direction, the reassuring squeak – the IX is great in all categories. The outsole is extremely flexible and the rubber compound is fairly soft so I’d be a little worried about longevity – though it’s not a major concern.

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Materials/Durability
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I don’t have too many major concerns besides the outsole, which is so flexible to the touch that it threw me off initially. You can push hard with one of your fingers on the outsole and see it flex on that point. I just don’t know how well it holds up under heavy wear, but I haven’t experienced any issues so far.

The upper is reinforced along the vamp, providing extra durability in key areas as well. If you’re concerned about looks, these do scuff incredibly easy – partially due to the colorway – but any game activity is likely going to result in serious scuffing of the toebox.

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Overall, I loved the way the Kobe IX felt on foot in terms of fit. It was a 1:1 type fit throughout the upper, nearly as good as the Kobe VI – one of the hallmarks in terms of fit and the best fitting low top I’ve ever owned. The traction was also on point, but the flimsy midsole and outsole presented some problems for me in terms of support. For a guard or wing really wanting a low top, this needs to be one you try on. While the lack of support turned me off, the rest of the shoe performs well and I believe it’s one of the better low tops I’ve tested in the last year and a half.

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Compared to some of the recent shoes I’ve tested, I’d personally place it behind the Rose 4.5 and CP3.VII but ahead of the Venomenon, as the Rose 4.5 provides a low-to-the-ground, super snug fit but also gives you better support and similar traction performance. The IX fits better and is softer cushioning-wise than the Venomenon, and is simply a more plush shoe overall.

Performance Review First Impression: Kobe IX EM Low – On Court

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

I was able to get a solid hour workout in the Kobe IX EM Low the other night and came away with a few insights:

– Traction is insane – maybe the best I’ve tested so far. You could smell the burning rubber as you broke them in. It is a fairly soft compound though, so we’ll see how it holds up.

– Overall fit reminds me a lot of the Kobe VI. I went a half size down to an 11 in the IX EM Low, and the fit is very snug. The shoe just laces up really well and locks you into the footbed. No slippage at all on first wearing.

– I do wonder about the midfoot support, since it’s a drop-in Lunarlon midsole (very comfortable, though not especially supportive). Time will tell as I get more hours in them.

Here’s the video:

 

 

 

 

Performance Review: Nike Zoom Crusader

Prose: Finch (@Sir_Stymie)

It is now the mid point in the NBA season and we here at TGRR are in full swing, bringing you as many performance reviews as we can (as money provides of course). This season we have seen several additions to existing product series, such as the Hyperdunk 2013 and Super.Fly 2. These models have been solid performers, revamping and updating existing models for fans of these popular silhouettes – but they’ve also kept the basic overall concept the same.

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More recently, there have also been some brand new silhouettes which we will review in-depth in a two-part series that I have deemed “New School Nike.” Jake has already covered the Nike Zoom HyperRev, and I’ll be digging into the Zoom Crusader now

Both of these shoes are being worn by some of the brightest young stars in the NBA, including Paul George, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Those three seem to be the new faces of Nike alongside Kobe, Lebron and Durant, whom all have signature shoes. The Crusader has been linked with James Harden as a psuedo-signature shoe and it is no surprise, due to Hardens rise to superstardom, that these shoes have been in high demand. The shoe initially was only available overseas as well, piquing interest stateside.

Fit
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I recommend at least trying on a half-size smaller than your normal shoe size when picking out a new on-court shoe, especially if you have a narrow or normal width foot. In my experience it helps with the snugness of the fit and also seems to help the foot hit the cushioning system properly.

Shoe fit is essential to a performance line and can be a death sentence if done wrong, but I was pleasantly surprised with the Crusader. The full synthetic, Fuse upper looks and feels a little strange in person and flexes oddly upon the initial wearing before breaking in pretty well.

The interior fit is where the Crusader excels. The shoe sports a neoprene inner sleeve and it is very snug. The pull tabs on the heel and tongue are not there for style – you literally cannot get this shoe on without those things. The fit is very sock-like and the cut of the shoe is very much like a running shoe. For a low top that fits tight, there is ample room in the toebox as well.

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Overall, it fits my narrow foot like a glove so it should adapt fairly well to most foot sizes. I felt the involvement of the neoprene was flat out impressive. There are no seams or spots that aggravated my feet and the bend point was in a nice place that didn’t irritate or squeeze the foot.

Heel-Toe Transition

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Though this shoe looks similar to those of the Kobe line, the aspect that sets them apart is the midsole. While most Kobe’s since the IV have a very low profile midsole, the Crusader has a more one. Though I am usually a fan of shoes with more structure built in, I was afraid the thickness in the sole and midsole would obstruct flexibility.

I was partially right, but with the upper materials being so flexible (especially after a short break in period) the heel-toe rotation was pretty smooth. The upper simply doesn’t restrict movement, and that’s key for this model.

Of course they are not going to be as flexible and smooth as the Crazyquick or the HyperRev (as Jake will tell you in his review) but you have to sacrifice some flexibility for structure in this case.

Cushioning
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crusader_Court Feel
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As you have seen in the name, it’s a Zoom-based shoe. I personally am a big fan of this cushioning system, and it’s probably the industry’s best with its low-profile responsiveness. That being said, not all Zoom bags are created equal and the way that it was manifested in this design is not my favorite.

It’s not bad, but you just don’t feel the responsiveness of the Zoom bag very much. In a prior review on the Hyperdisruptor, I explained how the density of the midsole can be a detriment to the shoe’s cushioning technology. In the case of the Hyperdisruptor, the midsole was so soft it took away from the Zoom bag’s responsiveness; in the Crusaders, case the density didn’t allow my foot to feel the responsiveness I am used to.

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I must admit that I may have been spoiled by the Super.Fly 2, which had an amazing unlocked Zoom bag/Flight Plate combination that engulfed my foot. The Crusader, not so much.

Though I’ve harped on the midsole density, I honestly like it for my game and the firmness of it reminds my of the Huarache 2k4. The court feel is solid and very stable – key in a low top.

Traction
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It is well documented that I love herringbone, and the Zoom Crusader does not have that so I wasn’t expecting great things. The traction mirrors the geometrical design of the upper but in tighter arrangement. But even in the first wearing, it seemed to grip well in most directions – I don’t recall sliding much. That being said, they are brand new shoes and time will tell how they hold up.

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Materials/Durability
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As is the case for a lot of Nike performance shoes today, the upper is made of synthetic Hyperfuse mesh panels on the sides and full Hyperfuse on the toebox and heel counter. We have touched on the neoprene inner sleeve, which is padded around the Achilles’ area and is simply fantastic overall. The outsole creeps all the way up to the toe box and wraps up around the ball of the foot. All signs point to this shoe being durable for the long haul.

Priced at $110, it is not too hard on the pocket for what you are getting in return.

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In closing, I really enjoyed playing in this shoe and it suited my needs well. If you are a guard or wing player looking for a lightweight shoe with great structure, the Zoom Crusader would be a great option.

Performance Review: Nike Zoom HyperRev

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

The Nike Zoom HyperRev is likely the most unique silhouette you’ll see this season. Featuring a proprioceptive (it allows you to move naturally) collar, foam-based upper, Dynamic Flywire, full-length Zoom and a Phylite midsole, the shoe is loaded with tech and geared to allow your foot to move naturally.

I initially was drawn to the shoe because of the aesthetic and the functions that followed that form. It’s a unique cut with a unique upper and lacing system, and a welcome artistic departure from (in my opinion) bland, angular designs like the Hyperdunk and Hyperfuse. I simply like my shoes to flow more and be different while achieving a high level of performance, and the HyperRev satisfied that desire.

Fit
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This is the make-or-break aspect of this shoe. You will either love the fit or hate it; love the freedom of movement or fear for your ankles.

From a lockdown standpoint, it’s Jekyll and Hyde. From the toes to the midfoot, the lockdown is excellent. Dynamic Flywire cables are really, really functional (gasp!) because they’re not embedded in an upper that limits their ability to pull tight to the foot. The only thing between the cables and your foot is a very thin layer of foam sandwiched between two ultra-thin layers of mesh, and when laced tightly the cables do a fantastic job of locking your forefoot over the footbed. The laces go directly through the Dynamic Flywire cables – no fixed eyelets – and that really forces the cables to pull tightly to the foot.

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The other side of this coin is the heel fit. There may possibly be a heel counter in there, but it is the most flimsy of any shoe I’ve ever worn on court. The collar wraps high around the ankle and connects to the footbed to provide some support, but there’s nothing locking your heel in. I understand this is a result of the natural motion movement (natural motion is all give-and-take), but I really would have liked to see a small heel cup for some added security.

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You’ll feel some heel slippage and there’s very little ankle support because the lack of a heel counter and inability to provide a snug heel fit. For me, it’s not as much of an issue because I’ve never even slightly rolled an ankle, but my ankles were noticeably sore the day after a wearing because of the lack of support. If you have any ankle concerns though, I can’t recommend this shoe.

Heel-Toe Transition
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Heel-toe transition is fantastic, hands down. The HyperRev has the smoothest and most natural ride you’ll find on the market (along with the equally perfect Crazyquick). The mobility this offers is simply amazing.

Cushioning
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hyperrev_Court Feel

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The full-length Zoom bag is glorious, providing great responsiveness and court feel. Paired with a Phylite midsole (a softer, more flexible Phylon) the ride is downright pillowy. If you’re looking for step-in comfort, look no further.

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The drawback to this plush comfort is that there is very little structure or support to the midsole – something that was an immediate concern when I saw Phylite was the midsole compound. My arches were very sore after the first few wearings, although I have gotten used to it more now.

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The gigantic, 3/4 length Zoom Air window underneath the shoe doesn’t help this either, because it prevents the outsole from connecting underneath the midfoot. This robs the shoe of some torsional stability and leaves a gap directly under the arch where the only support comes from the Phylite and Zoom bag. I’d gladly sacrifice the cool factor of the exposed Zoom bag for some solid rubber underneath my arch to give me more support.

Traction
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It’s a modified herringbone pattern underfoot, and does an average job of providing stoppage at full speed. It’s not nearly as good as I’d like though, and the combination of shaky traction and a loose fit in the heel initially made me very concerned.

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The grooves aren’t deep enough in my opinion – though they work well on a pristine floor, any dust collects quickly and I find myself swiping the soles literally dozens of times during a game.

Materials/Durability
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The jury is still out on this one. It’ll take a good month or two before I really see how the Phylite holds up, how the foam upper retains its little bit of support, if the tissue-paper-thin mesh stays connected to the midsole and how the Flywire holds up under increased stress. Fused overlay graphics give the shoe some structure and protection near the toes, but the rest is foam and airy mesh. Nothing bad to report at this time, but I’m honestly a little concerned with its longevity.

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It’s helpful to compare the HyperRev to another natural motion shoe, the adidas Crazyquick. As you know, the Crazyquick was my favorite shoe of 2013 because it offered superior fit and mobility, traction, responsiveness and stability. The only drawback was its very firm cushioning (I honestly didn’t mind it but I know a lot of you did) – but that was inherent given the fact that it was designed to ride low to the ground and provide unrivaled quickness and change of direction ability.

The HyperRev aspires to do the same thing, and it does excel similarly in terms of flexibility and freedom of movement. But Nike’s press release even mentioned the “stability and support” of the proprioceptive heel and collar. That part is simply false. The soft midsole and lack of a solid heel counter compromises the support and stability, and less than stellar traction makes the shoe significantly less secure than the Crazyquick.

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Whereas the Crazyquick had a rock solid Sprintframe to lock in the heel to a sculpted midsole and glove-like Techfit upper, the HyperRev has no such heel counter, a flat midsole, and an upper that laces up only to the middle of the foot. There’s simply no way to get the overall lockdown you need.

With that said…I actually enjoyed playing in them. The freedom of movement felt great at times and the cushioning is incredibly soft, responsive and generally comfortable. It’s a fun shoe for me to play in despite the concerns I have, and I have gotten used to the fit more and more.

It’s a shoe you absolutely need to try on first, but it’s worth a look for quick, low-to-the ground guards.

Performance Review: Nike Zoom Kobe Venomenon 4

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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Before this year, the Venomenon line of the Kobe Bryant signature shoe collection was relatively unknown amongst American hoopers in the states. An Asia-only release since 2011 (much like LeBron’s Ambassador models), the Venomenon typically features a heavy-duty (sometimes XDR) outsole for outdoor use and a durable Fuse or synthetic upper. It’s the more industrial sibling compared to the Kobe signature line.

This year, the fourth Venomenon model finally saw a U.S. release, and I was excited to test out a shoe that’s typically only been available overseas or off eBay. I was also looking forward to hooping in a low top once again – my preferred type of peformance shoe – and I had high hopes for the shoe in general given the generally positive feedback I’d found online.

It turns out that my hopes for this shoe were realized, and I came out with a very well-rounded low top that will stay in the on-court rotation for the near future.

Fit
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The upper is comprised of a synthetic Fuse material/Flywire combination and is coupled with a carbon fiber heel counter to make up the majority of the upper key upper technology. 6 eyelets take care of the lacing setup.

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To me the fit was good on all fronts, yet not quite great. The shoe fits naturally in the toes with little to no pinching in the toe box. I went with my normal 11.5 and they fit nice and snug. The Fuse upper will take a little time to break in and become flexible in order to move and crease with the foot, and I noticed some interior slippage my first couple times wearing them. The slippage remained a slight issue for me, and I believe it’s because the upper just isn’t that flexible like a thinner, softer synthetic or leather would be (I felt the same way about the CP3.VI).

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Also, the heel counter is fairly thin and not super rigid, which allows for a little bit of slippage in the heel. It’s not unnerving and I still felt comfortable with it, but I couldn’t quite get perfect lockdown on high speed moves (like pull-ups in transition).

Heel-Toe Transition
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Transition is very smooth, aided by Zoom forefoot cushioning and a TPU shank under the midfoot. The shank isn’t overly rigid if support is a main concern of yours, but it does give good flexibility. There’s no slap from heel to toe, and I have no real complaints.

Cushioning
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The tech specs include a Zoom Air bag up front that spans the width of the forefoot(slightly larger than the traditional Kobe met bag, I might add) encased in an injected Phylon midsole. The Zoom bag is high quality and plays low to the ground and responsive. The heel feels fairly firm (the whole midsole itself is pretty firm overall) but maintains court feel and stability.

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The Venomenon is excellent laterally thanks to the low-profile midsole. In terms of the outsole, the rubber compound is slighly more firm than a normal outsole (it is NOT XDR in the purple/volt colorway I tested though). This affects traction more than cushioning, but it’s worth a mention as the outsole will just feel slightly more firm when you try it out.

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I mentioned the TPU shank earlier in the article, and it’s really not a rigid, supportive shank in my opinion. It has a few cutout areas underfoot and provides a nice fit – you can feel some support just by slipping it on – but my arches have been a little sore after the last few wearings and the shank may be the culprit.

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All in all, I was a fan of the cushioning setup. It tends to feel like a firm tennis court shoe and left a little to be desired from a straight comfort standpoint, but it was still very good. The biggest improvement would simply have been a beefier midfoot shank.

Traction

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Nike’s Blade traction pattern is geared for outdoor courts but it works perfectly well on indoor ones too. You’ll get that reassuring stop and squeak, and both linear and lateral traction are solid thanks to the deep-grooved, multi-directional pattern. The hardness of the rubber needs to be broken in a little at first though, so on the first wearing it might not quite feel perfect yet.

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I had been interested to try the Blade pattern after seeing it on the H.A.M. Low this summer and I was pleasantly surpised with it.

Materials/Durability

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For $120, you get Fuse, Flywire, a decent Zoom bag, a special traction pattern and a quality outsole/midsole combination. Some would say that the materials aren’t quite as “premium” as the main Kobe line, but I like this tech combination pretty well.

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Overall, the Venomenon is good in terms of value and I have no concerns about the longterm durability here. I came away impressed with the build and quality from day 1.

For a model making its U.S. debut, I was pleased with how the Venomenon performed. If you’re looking for a low that won’t break the bank, the Venomenon is a great choice in a market that doesn’t currently feature many low tops. It’s a well-rounded shoe – good, not great on all fronts – but I think it’s a good, durable choice for a guard.