Performance Review: Nike Zoom HyperRev 2016

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

Following up my initial impressions last Friday, I’ve had a chance to hoop in the HyperRev 2016s a couple more times to complete the review.

The silhouette itself is polarizing, but I find it to be one of the best looking Nike shoes in recent memory. They went for a totally different look and construction and for that, major props to Tony Hardman (still remember his unreal Kicksguide renderings back in the day) the folks behind it. It reminds me of the 90s era Nike models that would take some chances in terms of design and construction. The $110 price point makes it insanely accessible for most. With those two things going for it, we’ll do a little deeper dive on the 2016 Rev and how it plays on court.

Fit
I mentioned the totally different construction, and the build of the shoe is integral to its performance on court. The base of the upper is basically a neoprene/mesh bootie that extends up over the ankle bone with a stretch fit collar. This shoe is extremely hard to get on your foot (I went TTS with an 11.5), and wide footers or those needing ankle braces probably won’t be able to get them on. I’ve found the best/fastest way is to get a death grip on the front pull tab and just mash the heel counter down with your foot until you can get it on. Not ideal.

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Once on foot though, the fit is fairly snug and supportive. The support and lacing system comes in the form of lace straps stitched into the midsole (thankfully NOT Flywire) and I felt that the lacing system here is far better than the last two Rev models. It’s not as flashy as Flywire and doesn’t have a fancy marketing name, but it gets the job done. Like the previous versions, the top eyestay is just below the ankle bone so you’re not getting a ton of lockdown above there – the shoe could have easily been a low top.

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The other aspect for fit and lockdown is the large Hyperfuse strap that’s integrated into the lateral side of the upper. It goes across the midfoot with a simple Velcro attachment, and provides more security. I did not feel the strap impeded flexibility at all.

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Overall, fit was very good but probably just short of great. I always felt like there was extra space around the heel – possibly because of how the collar and heel were shaped with that rubber heel counter – but I couldn’t go down to a size 11 because it was tight in the toe box. I never felt a serious amount of slippage, but there was just a little extra room all around.

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Heel-Toe Transition
Transition is very smooth right of the box with a fairly standard Phylon midsole with heel and forefoot Zoom units. The outsole also is segmented to promote natural movement and a decoupled (split) toe enhances the feel. No issues at all through the footstrike.

Cushioning
I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: this is an extremely well cushioned shoe, and even more so when you consider the $110 price tag. Nike’s Zoom based shoes should always come with this kind of setup. No more thin met bags or dull heel bags. The Zoom used here is responsive and gives you the stability and court feel all in one. It’s certainly one of the best cushioned shoes I’ve tested in awhile, coming in just below the Rose 6 in my unofficial rankings.

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Besides the excellent Zoom usage, the whole package is very good all around. It’s light but provides adequate support for most players, uses a large forefoot outrigger for extra stability and gives a very natural feel all around. It’s not a complicated setup, but it works to perfection.

Traction
The diamond grid pattern provides very good grip on most court surfaces. I didn’t find it real squeaky, but it stopped on a dime pretty much whenever I asked. I’m not sure that it’s built for outdoor play, but it’s good for all indoor surfaces. Deep flex grooves help here too.

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Materials/Durabilty
I have a few reservations about the long term durability of those lace straps and some have heard of issues with the strap not hooking up with the Velcro patch very well. I also wonder about the rubber heel counter, which seems to just be glued or fused on. The sock-like upper is going to stretch and pull under stress and I could see the heel counter beginning to peel away over time. No issues have popped up in my initial wearings though (you’d be surprised at how many shoes do show flaws early on) so I have nothing to report so far. All in all, I think they’d be durable enough as a team shoe option, especially with the solid colorblocking.

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The HyperRev does just about everything well and has an exceptional cushioning setup – one of the best on the market. Lockdown could be a little better at the heel, but that’s just about my only complaint. It’s simply a great shoe at an unbeatable price and should be near the top of your list to pick up next. Wide footers and big guys may have an issue getting the shoes on, so it’s definitely one that needs to be tried on in-store before a purchase.

hyperrev 2016 review guide

First Impressions: Nike Zoom HyperRev 2016

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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After two league games, some pickup and a couple shooting sessions, I thought it was time for some initial thoughts on the Nike HyperRev 2016. Look for the full review early next week after I get another league game in, and check out this review over at tackl.com as well.

Fit
There’s a lot to go into from a fitment perspective, but I’ll save most of it for the full review. I will say this: it is extremely hard to get on your foot. There’s no heel pull tab and you basically have to smash the back of the shoe all the way down and torque on the front pull tab to get it on. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, just annoying. I do think it could deter some parents/younger hoopers who aren’t expecting it in-store.

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I’m also very pleased they did away with Flywire for the lacing system. The 2014 and 2015 models relied heavily on that tech, and it just doesn’t provide sufficient lockdown on its own. More traditional strap eyelets get the job done.

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The full neoprene base gives you a comfortable sock-like feel and with the Fuse overlay and strap, provides good containment, although I’ve had some slippage in extreme cases i.e. on a step back at full speed in transition (probably not the best shot selection anyway).

Much more to come in the full review early next week.

Heel-Toe Transition
Transition has always been a strong point of the HyperRev line and it’s very good once again. Flexibility, adequate support and full volume Zoom bags, along with a unique pseudo split toe make for a smooth heel-toe strike.

Cushioning
I mentioned it on Twitter yesterday – if they can put this kind of cushioning/midsole setup into a $110 package, it’s embarrassing what they put into shoes at price points that are 30% higher. The Zoom is plush and responsive, and feels like it’s articulated at the forefoot. Some of the best cushioning in a Nike silo in a looooong time. The KD 7 and 8 were good and the ’15 Rev was solid too, but this is a dream cushioning setup.

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Court feel and responsiveness are predictably very good.

Traction
The diamond pattern on the outsole is a bit reminiscent of what was used on the AJ 2012 (yes I bought those that no one liked, in the orange Jordan Brand Classic colorway with the triple stacked box, two booties and three insoles). It’s solid, but could perhaps benefit from slightly deeper grooves.

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Materials/Durability
No issues so far. I could see the big rubber piece at the heel possibly peeling away from the neoprene – because it takes a lot of abuse when putting the shoe one – but no signs of that yet.

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The full review will be posted soon at TGRR and tackl.com.

First Impressions: Nike Kyrie 2

Prose: Jake Sittler

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I picked up the Kyrie 2 on release day – something I don’t always do with performance shoes – but I was excited to get in them for a couple of reasons. First, I was intrigued by the construction. The radiused outsole is something we haven’t seen much of in a performance hoops shoe, and especially not to this degree. I really wanted to see what kind of affect it would have as far planting and changing directions quickly. Second, my beloved Rose 6s are having a couple of durability issues and I needed to pick up a new pair while I send the Roses back.

What follows is a brief rundown of the 5 aspects of the Kyrie 2. You can also check out more info on the shoe over at tackl.com.

Fit
I was immediately impressed by the overall lockdown. The Fuse upper laces up very tightly and the tongue extends up higher than normal for a pretty secure feel. The midfoot strap only enhances the lockdown across the top of the foot, and I don’t have any movement to report on the interior. I don’t anticipate the strap causing any discomfort, as it’s pretty flexible and is well placed across the foot, helping to lock the foot into the heel of the shoe. Very good overall.

Heel-Toe Transition
The midsole is a bit stiff right out of the box, but it breaks in well in no time. The footstrike, thanks to the curved outsole and midsole, felt a little weird to me at first. I felt like my foot wanted to roll inward slightly off the big toe with each step, but I have to think that’s by design with the curved sole. Some extra support on the medial heel would have been nice in my opinion, but you really feel the effects of the curved sole with each step. I think the curvature is a good idea and while it’s not going to make you blow by every defender now, it does promote easier movement when changing direction and off my first step.

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Cushioning
It was a bit of a shock going from the plushness of the Rose 6 to the rather spartan setup in the Kyrie 2. It’s firm and plays low to the ground, with decent flexibility and responsiveness. The heel Zoom bag is…there I guess? I never was a huge fan of heel Zoom since I don’t typically play on my heels. Would have loved to see it in the forefoot, but I have a hunch that would play well with the curved platform. As a guard, I like the cushioning setup from the freedom of movement standpoint, both laterally and in a linear manner, but it’s nothing outstanding.

Traction
The multi-directional traction pattern was designed so that Kyrie would be able to stop on a dime or accelerate as fast as he needs to. I, as a matter of fact, am about 1/100th of the athlete he is but for me it’s worked very well. It’s rather soft, however, so I don’t anticipate it being a good outdoor option if you hoop a lot on asphalt.

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Materials/Durability
So far I’ve been very impressed. Fuse is pretty much bulletproof and this iteration feels like it’ll last awhile. The midsole is Phylon and feels pretty supportive out of the box. Overall, the fit and finish is very good.

After three wearings and a total 0f 5 or 6 hours, I’ve been impressed with the Kyrie 2. I like feel of the radiused sole and I think it’s an innovation from Leo Chang that directly aids performance. We’ll see what a couple more weeks brings, but I’ve liked it so far (especially at $120).

Performance Review: Nike Zoom HyperRev 2015

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

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When I first saw images of the HyperRev 2015, months before its release, the first thing that came to mind was “Jet Flight”. The cult classic shoe of the Dirk/Nash-era Dallas Mavericks featured a unique mesh bootie build with second upper layer that laced up around it. Atop a Zoom forefoot/heel Air Max midsole, the shoe was one of the best performers of the early-00s and is probably my all-time favorite performance design.

The HyperRev 2015 isn’t exactly the same thing, but seems as if it carries on some of the lineage of the Jet Flight: Zoom forefoot cushioning, a full inner bootie base with a Fuse/Flywire outer shell, and wraparound heel counter integrated into the eyelets. Like its distant relative, it’s a premier performance option on court as well.

Fit
One of my biggest complaints about last year’s HyperRev 2014 was the poor fit all over the shoe. With just five eyelets that barely laced to the top of the foot, a few measly Flywire cables and no heel counter, I could not get any kind of lockdown or security despite the layered mesh build. The 2015 version jut about remedied all of that.

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I did go down a half-size to an 11 for this shoe  – for those wondering about sizing info – although I can do this easier with a narrower foot. The neoprene bootie by itself provides a better fit than last year’s version – and is snug enough that it’s tough to get on at times. A Fuse shell wraps around much of the upper, providing more security and lockdown than the 2014 model. In fact, the forefoot fit was really pretty solid with minimal slippage compared to any shoe out there. It’s not going to give you full lockdown  – you lace through and rely quite a bit  on 4 sets of Flywire cables – but it’s pretty good and the fact that the inner bootie holds your foot so secure to begin with that it makes it feel glued to you.

Speaking of that lacing system, you do lace through Flywire cables but also directly through eyelets of the Fuse shell. I’d like to experiment lacing through the eyelets only and forgetting about the Flywire to see if that gets rid of the inconsistent fit and feel of the Flywire.

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The molded TPU heel counter makes the heel fit absolutely miles ahead of the 2014 version. The cage wraps around the heel and has two eyelets at the end to tie it into the lacing system. It’s positioned pretty perfectly around the ankle bone and really locks the heel in. There are also two molded Achilles notches on the interior of the bootie – a tremendously overlooked aspect to providing good heel fit. The whole thing really fits like a sock and moves just like an extension of the foot.

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Heel-Toe Transition
Transition is super smooth – on par with the best out there. There’s no internal or external midsole shank so support may be an issue for you but it’s a flexible, fairly responsive setup that lets you move naturally.

Cushioning
One fantastic aspect of the original HyperRev was the full length Zoom unit – something we don’t see too often anymore. Housed in a soft Phylon midsole, it was a pillowy, responsive cushioning setup that most people – including myself – loved.  It had very little structure though, and I found my arches quickly getting sore from the lack of support.

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The 2015 switches to a firmer midsole foam and independent forefoot and heel Zoom units. Responsiveness is very good, probably a step down from last year, but still nice and bouncy. The flexible midsole and sock-like fit allow the shoe to move with you no matter what.

Court feel is also awesome thanks to the low profile cushioning and great flexibility, and overall the cushioning is fairly plush compared to most on the market. It’s firmed up some and feels thinner than last year so don’t expect it to feel exactly the same, but you get better structure and support from the 2015 cushioning setup overall.

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Traction
I thought the traction on the 2014 model was pretty terrible, and I’m happy to report the 2015 is much better. Deeper, wavy herringbone grooves and a seemingly tougher rubber compound gives you better grip on most floor conditions.

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Materials/Durability
With the neoprene bootie, Fuse shell and TPU counter there are plenty of independent pieces to the HyperRev 2015 but I expect them to hold up pretty well. They didn’t seem to accumulate a bunch of wear even playing in 3 to 4 leagues per week, and I haven’t seen any issues crop up so far. I’ve only used them indoors, FYI, and I’d probably hesitate to take them outside.

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I really loved playing in the HyperRev 2015, and it’s been one my favorite recent pickups. It’s a little thin on forefoot cushioning but that’s probably my only real gripe – I think as I get older my old bones value impact protection more and more so that’s probably part of it.

It fits like a glove and the flexibility and responsiveness make you forget the shoe is even on. I personally love the inner bootie construction and the natural feel; as a point guard, is something you always value. The vastly improved lockdown simply makes the HyperRev an awesome guard option and one of the better performers out there right now.

hyperrev2015_review_guide

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: 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.

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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

TGRR Blog: First Impressions of the KD VI

Prose: Finch (@Sir_Stymie)

There are plenty shoes that get released that just naturally fit into my style – but sometimes there is that rare shoe that just gets you, captivates you in a certain way and you just can’t wait to try it on. That shoe for me was the Nike KD VI. Although it’s not a shoe that I would usually get all that excited about (usually I’m into lowkey retro releases), there is something about the minimalistic silhouette that piqued my interest.

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Maybe it was the aggressive aesthetics, the bold and somewhat gaudy colorways or the fact that I’m a sucker from the Air Max/Zoom combination – a feature the KD VI provides. Maybe it’s that it has a soccer boot flavor that makes me nostalgic (I was soccer player for the vast majority of my youth until I found basketball). Either way, when I first saw the specs for this shoe, I was in love. I could not wait to get this shoe in to my hands and to experience all it has to offer.

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I got the opportunity to see these warlocks a few day before the release at my neighborhood friendly Foot Locker. The first thing that got me was the box which goes beyond the garden variety orange Nike box. Upon further inspection it is a new, custom box complete with KD logo and hexagon pattern throughout. It’s good to see that they are going with a full on brand with the Durant line (Ed. note: Good point, especially with the increase in price).

Opening the box, I noticed right away that these kicks are low and almost Kobe-like, which I hoped for based on the initial pictures. Another aspect of the shoe that you’ll notice is the overall brightness and vibrancy of the colors. (I of course was trying on the “Seat Pleasant” colorway which is my favorite of the colorways I’ve seen.) The Sonic Yellow/Tropical Teal/Midnight Navy flat-out pop together and my mind was racing thinking of gear that would match.

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Kim (of whom you know from her in-depth review the Nike Flyknit Lunar 1+) was with me during this endeavor and was also able to try on the kids size. She was not a fan because there was no Zoom bag in the kids model and she found the upper to be stiff and uncomfortable – just a heads up for the youngbloods or the parents of them.

Kim trying on the GS version of the KD VI.
Kim trying on the GS version of the KD VI.

As I slipped the shoes on, I realized right away that the shoe runs long – long enough that I would not feel comfortable playing in them in my usual size 13.

Perhaps because of the combination of the design and overall length in the fit, I didn’t feel great responsiveness from the Zoom bag in the forefoot. I promptly tried on a size 12 and the difference is night and day. Getting the proper size is critical for this shoe – you’ll definitely want to try it on before you buy if you plan to hoop in it.

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Although the upper itself has a minimalistic design, the midsole and sole seems to be sophisticated and strategically set up for peak performance. Again, in the size 12 (a full size down from my normal size) the Zoom bag hit me right under the ball of my foot and the unit was as responsive as ever.

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I was unable to purchase that day but this shoe is definitely on my must-cop list for this year. Overall, I was very happy with the way the shoe fit initially after I went a size down. Also, I was very happy with the heel to toe transition at least in my initial test – I was aware that there was some concern with slappiness in the KD Elite and it seems that Leo Chang and co. have remedied the problem.

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The one concern I do have is the upper – most importantly the tongue – because there really isn’t much to it. It pretty much made of the Hyperfuse material except it has a mesh kind of feel for breathability and is built into the upper of the shoe. In terms of padding though the upper, outside of around ankle collar there isn’t much else. Ultimately, I am a tad bit concerned with the long-term comfort and durability of the shoe, as I am with most shoes of this genre and generations. But I came away happy with my first impression of the “Seat Pleasant” KD VI. When I am able to cop and hoop in these bad boys and put them through the ringer, I’ll make sure I hit you fine folks with an in depth review (possibility a collaborative affair with my homeboy Jake) and maybe an accompanying video? Keep it locked to thegymratreview.com.

TGRR Blog: A Quick Look at the Nike Elite 2.0 Series

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)
Pics: Finch (@Sir_Stymie)

With Finch hooking us up with a couple of quick in-store looks at the Nike Elite 2.0 series, we thought we’d pass along the images and some brief thoughts on the performance aspects of each.

With some of the tech-packed Elite models officially hitting retail already and others coming at various dates within the next few weeks, we were interested to get our hands on the three models (at least from a first-look standpoint; we ball on a budget right now and will try to cop and review the Elites at a later date if possible) and take a closer look at the performance aspects.

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We have a nice look at the KD V Elite and the LeBron X Elite in the above picture, but we’ll focus on the LeBron X Elite model first. Much like the IX Elite, the LeBron X uses carbon fiber wings for lateral support. The IX featured a one-piece carbon fiber wrap around the lateral side and from my experience with the “Taxi” colorway of the IX Elite, the fit and support were excellent. Though the LeBron X Elite uses two separate carbon fiber “wings,” expect top-notch support. The 360 Zoom Air Bag remains intact for great, responsive cushioning. A Fuse upper with Kevlar-infused Flywire should provide great lockdown provided you don’t have a super narrow foot.

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Next up is the Kobe 8 System Elite in a Poison Green colorway. One of the things I’ve always loved about the Kobe line (we’re talking Kobe V-present) is the external heel counter that provides the best heel lockdown and fit on the market today. The Kobe 8 Elite keeps the external counter and upgrades it with a carbon fiber build, locking the heel on to the footbed. I’ll mention it later in the KD V Elite blurb, but I feel that the fact that the Kobe heel counter is attached to the midsole is what gives it an advantage over the floating heel counter of the KD V Elite. I believe the KD V Elite will give you an awesome fit, but carbon fiber counter locked into the midsole is at the top of the lockdown chart. I also love the Dynamic Flywire – which I found to provide great fit as a key element of the Hyperdunk Low – and its placement on the bottom two eyelets in order to provide extra lockdown in the area where lateral forces are most extreme.

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Aesthetically, I prefer the KD V Elite over the other two models and I hope to purchase a pair as soon as the price lets up slightly. The caged heel Zoom bag is HUGE and it works in conjunction with the carbon fiber shank to provide great support and cushioning underfoot. As I mentioned previously, I’m a fan of the carbon fiber counter but I do feel like it would be most effective if attached to the midsole. I expect the fit and lockdown to still be top of the line, but it remains to be seen how well I like the floating counter on-court. From a design standpoint, the shoe still reminds me a lot of the Nike Zoom Vapor tennis shoe series and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the KD V Elite has some inspirational roots in that line of shoes. Elite tennis shoes are light, low to the ground and stable laterally, which is exactly what a basketball player needs as well.

TGRR Blog: What It Means to be Elite

Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)

In 2012 Nike introduced the Elite series, which consisted of upgraded versions of the LeBron IX, Kobe VII and Hyperdunk for the athletes’ playoff runs. Upgraded construction like carbon fiber heel clips and midfoot panels, a reduction in layers of the Flywire-based uppers and beefed up midfoot shanks worked to provide wearers with a better fit, more durability and lighter weight.

On March 20, Nike officially unveiled the Elite 2.0 series. The LeBron X, Kobe VIII and the KD V all received the Elite treatment and were upgraded in different ways. We don’t normally do breaking sneaker news here because we try to keep TGRR as performance-based as possible – we’re not just another sneaker news blog. But this news was especially pertinent to us at TGRR, as these shoes are supposed to represent the best in Nike basketball technology and performance.

At the end of the post, add your vote to the poll at the bottom and let us know which of the three Elite 2.0 shoes you like best.

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The first model we’ll take a look at is the LeBron X PS Elite. “Unstoppable Power” is the tagline along with the shoe, and there are a few noticeable differences between the Elite version and the standard model. The midsole is slightly more chunky, but the real difference comes in the form of the large carbon fiber panels on the midfoot and heel. The heel piece, with three “wings” wrapping around the lateral side and two more wrapping around the back to the medial side, should provide a lockdown fit.

There’s also another smaller wing along the midfoot to provide some lateral stability. With Kevlar-reinforced Flywire and laces, this shoe is designed to lock you in and withstand any pounding a player could put it through.

LEBRON X PS ELITE: Unstoppable Power

Forged by time, heat and pressure, the diamond inspires LeBron James’s tenth Nike signature shoe. His elite version drafts off the rare Carbonado diamond, a virtually indestructible stone said to derive from an ancient supernova, the most explosive force in the universe. The shoe’s bright citrus colorway and graphic collar lining capture James’s unstoppable power.

The LEBRON X PS ELITE is designed to be stronger, offering the highest level of performance for James in the post season. The shoe builds on the innovative advances of the LEBRON X and takes it to a new level with:

  • Carbon fiber-reinforced mid-foot wings for excellent lateral stability
  • Kevlar® aramid-reinforced Nike Flywire technology for consistent lock-down through the midfoot
  • Kevlar® aramid laces resist stretching for a more consistent fit
  • Articulated foam tongue provides impact protection and minimizes lace pressure

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Next up in the Elite 2.0 series is the Kobe 8 System Elite “Deceptive Speed.” The Kobe 8 doesn’t get quite as many external upgrades as the other two – though it does feature a carbon fiber heel counter and midfoot shank – and some Dynamic Flywire shows up on the forefoot and reinforced with Kevlar. Under the hood though, the Kobe 8 gets Zoom Air cushioning (finally) and improved padding in the once paper-thin tongue. A better fit and more responsive cushioning should lead to a quicker shoe on-foot.

KOBE 8 SYSTEM ELITE: Deceptive Speed

Kobe Bryant often showcases the adept speed and precision of his on-court alter ego, the Black Mamba. The KOBE 8 SYSTEM ELITE is inspired by the lethal green pit viper snake and the x-ray vision emitted by its heat-sensing eyes. Bryant stays three steps ahead of his opponent with his keen vision. The KOBE 8 SYSTEM ELITE highlights Bryant’s power of deceptive speed with a poison green colorway and x-ray vision graphic on the collar lining.

The KOBE 8 SYSTEM ELITE is designed for precision footwork while offering:  

  • Carbon fiber heel clip and shank for lightweight stability, quick cuts and jumps
  • Dynamic Flywire technology reinforced with Kevlar® aramid to provide more consistent stability and lockdown
  • Articulated foam tongue provides impact protection and minimizes lace pressure
  • Kevlar® aramid laces resist stretching for a more consistent fit
  • Phylon midsole and Nike Zoom technology providing consistent, responsive cushioning

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Without question, the shoe with the most drastic changes from the base model is the KD V Elite. And I am instantly infatuated. The shoe goes from a mid-top in the regular version to a low in the Elite, a plus as far as I’m concerned. The next thing you’ll notice is the prominent, dare I say late 90s/early 00s-esque, caged Zoom Air bag in the heel. The large volume, visible bag transitions to the midfoot via a carbon fiber shank and noticeable arch. The arch and Zoom bag combination reminded me of the Zoom Drive or Zoom Vapor 8; I expect great cushioning and stability through the midsole but I’m interested to see if the heel-toe transition is smooth thanks to the high arch. Kevlar boots the Dynamic Flywire strands that are found throughout the upper, another new feature from the Fuse-based standard KD V. Carbon fiber shows up on the V as well, in the form of a large floating heel clip. If there’s a shoe of the three that I’d most like to review, it’s the KD V Elite.

KD V ELITE: Ultimate Control

Capturing Kevin Durant’s thunderous power of ultimate control, the new low KD V ELITE debuts in a volt colorway, illuminated by the sharp glow of lightning bolts. The design speaks to Durant’s versatility, shooting accuracy and finely-tuned court vision. 

The re-engineered low-top silhouette offers a full range of motion for Durant’s playoff push. Additional enhanced technical highlights include:

  • Carbon fiber heel counter and shank provide lightweight stability for quick cuts
  • Dynamic Flywire technology reinforced with Kevlar® aramid to provide more consistent stability and lockdown
  • Articulated foam tongue provides impact protection and minimizes lace pressure
  • Caged Nike Zoom unit in the heel for responsive cushioning and stability

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