words & images // Zac Dubasik
The Nike LeBron 8 Vs. The Nike LeBron 8 V2
Nike LeBron 8
Somewhere down the road, long after LeBron retires, and fans look back on his sneaker line, chances are the Zoom LeBron V won’t stand out as a high point. I completely understand how it may have missed the mark aesthetically for many people, and I would never even try to argue that it has any casual appeal. But while I may not even consider pulling out a pair to wear with jeans, it was the last shoe in the line that I truly loved from a performance standpoint. Its footbucket-based construction offered memorable stability. Large heel and forefoot Zoom Air bags added excellent and responsive cushioning. And its neoprene-like tongue is probably my favorite of all time. It was the type of shoe I could always keep in the car, just in case I didn’t like whatever else I had decided to play in on a given day. It was that good when it came to performance.
Ever since, things began to change dramatically for the line. While still a very good performer, the Zoom LeBron VI’s AF1-like visual appeal came at a sacrifice to performance, as the sleekness of the V was replaced with a casual-friendly chunkiness. Still though, the Zoom Air offered a great balance of cushioning and court feel. Then, things took an even more dramatic turn. The Air Max LeBron VII was stunning visually. It employed a brand new, full-length Max Air bag, a Flywire upper, rolled edges everywhere you looked, and a truly dramatic look. It was also, by far in my opinion, the worst performer in the line. As someone who has never liked full-length Max Air shoes going back across the full history of Nike Basketball, I was very disappointed by the shift in cushioning. I never liked the clunkiness of older shoes, like the Air Max Uptempo line for example, but the Air Max LeBron VII, with its lack of a traditional midsole and poor fitting heel, offered a lack of stability on top of the bulk.
Having accepted that, at least for now, Max Air was part of the direction the LeBron line was headed in, I did find some reason for hope. The transition was definitely not as smooth as the best hoops shoes out there, but it was definitely better than what I’d come to expect from heel-to-toe Max Air. A major reason for this was the impressive way the team at Nike Basketball was able to actually give the Air bag itself a slight radius in the heel. Also, the Flywire upper, and impeccable construction, gave me faith that performance innovation was in fact the line’s direction, even if it wasn’t exactly refined yet. The Air Max LeBron VII was best thought of as a starting point, rather than the sum of the seven previous years.
Now that I’ve laid all my cards out, it’s time to get to the Air Max LeBron 8 and its fraternal twin, the LeBron 8 V2. I’ll start with the most important improvement over the VII, and that’s the heel fit. Although I wasn’t a fan of the stability of the Max Air bag itself, I was far more concerned with the sloppiness of the heel in the VII. There was just nothing to hold your heel secure built into the collar. The 8 completely corrects this flaw with a molded collar foam package. The lockdown isn’t as precise as that found in the Kobe line, or the notched version often found in Jordan Brand shoes, but it does the job. With my heel secure, I was able (and willing) to push much harder in the shoe than I ever felt safe doing in the VII.
The other major highlight of the upper is its targeted use of Flywire. Rather than dominating the entire upper, it’s been incorporated into the points where the support is most important. This, in conjunction with the relatively wide-set eyelets, created a glove-like fit in the upper when fully laced. I also found the toe volume to be better than that of the VII. The upper’s breathability wasn’t great, but commendable for a shoe that features such heavy padding.
Moving to the cushioning, there are some positives, and some negatives. The ride of the 8 felt considerably softer than the VII. While the Air Bag is the same, the sockliner is much improved, having been noticeably beefed up, and the primary reason for the softer feel. The bag itself is still too firm for my tastes, but still offers excellent protection on heavy landings. Unfortunately, the court feel leaves a lot to be desired. I just never felt completely comfortable and coordinated with the court beneath my feet while wearing the 8. It’s a common problem with heavily cushioned shoes, and when you have this much cushioning (the Max bag, plus the beefed-up sockliner), it’s only amplified. Although the aforementioned heel radius makes for as-good-as-it-gets transition in a full-length Max shoe, I still felt like I was fighting with it at times. It’s not nearly as good as the smoothest shoes out there.
Looking back on the positives of the shoe, it’s worth highlighting the improved stability of the Air bag. The addition of an outrigger, and the slight wrapping of the outsole along the sidewall of the heel, have added much more stability than their visual subtleness would suggest. I found the cage-based system used by the Jordan Brand Take Flight to offer better stability, but this method was still a huge improvement over the VII. A combination of the Take Flight’s cage and the 8′s outrigger would be even better. Unfortunately, it would totally kill the looks of the shoe. But speaking strictly on performance, it would be a welcomed addition. Rounding out the shoe’s tooling is the outsole, which provided solid, if unspectacular, traction. It required more swiping than I’d like to worry about, but was sticky as long as it was kept totally clean. If your normal court is a dusty one, you’ll be giving the outsoles a lot of attention.
Nike LeBron 8 V/2
When it comes to the performance of the Nike LeBron 8 V/2, you can take pretty much everything I’ve said about the original 8 and repeat it here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. The upper is more minimal, and feels slightly lighter. It’s also more breathable. The team at Nike should be commended for taking a much more innovative, lighter-weight construction and replicating the performance of the 8, without it breaking down or falling apart.
With one of each shoe on each foot, I could feel a small difference in weight, but when I was just playing in the V/2, the weight difference was barely noticeable. The minimalism of the upper was much more noticeable, though, and the biggest perceivable difference between shoes. For me, though, if I’m going to play in a shoe that is bulkier and more protective than I like, I might as well go all the way. I preferred the fully plush feeling of the 8 rather than a slightly lighter, but still bulky V/2. It just wasn’t a big enough difference for me to sacrifice the comfort and protection. I also found the more substantial upper of the 8 to offer a somewhat better balance to the large tooling.
Both versions of the LeBron 8 are tough shoes for me to grade, because they fall so far from where my personal tastes lie. Did I enjoy playing in the Nike LeBron 8 and V2? Nope. But do I think they are well-designed, well-developed, effective shoes that lots of people will like playing in? Absolutely. The bottom line is that if you don’t like full-length Max Air, the 8 and 8 V/2 won’t do anything to change your mind. But if you are a fan of full-length Air, the 8 and V2 are easy recommendations. They are expensive, but you have to know going in that part of what you are paying for is the visual wow factor, which they completely deliver on. And more importantly, they deliver on the promise of what a full-length Max Air shoe can deliver, by doing it as well as any shoe has yet.
Break Down -
best for: Players who place a priority on impact protection and upper support.
key tech: Full-length Max Air, TPU-encased Flywire support overlays along heel and forefoot.
pros: Excellent comfort; fit; impact protection.
cons: Lack of court feel inherent with full-length Max Air.
improvements: Better stabilize Air Bag.
buying advice: While the Nike LeBron 8 and 8 V/2 may not be shoes I would reach for personally, fans of full-length Max Air should find its best use yet here. I preferred the cage system of support incorporated by the Jordan Take Flight when it comes to stability, but felt that the 8/8 V/2 offered a better overall playing experience. If you like Max Air, the 8 and 8 V/2 come highly recommended. As for which one to go with, if every ounce counts, and you want to go as high tech as possible, opt for the V/2. If interior comfort and protection is what you are after, go for the original 8.
Available now: Nike Air Max LeBron 8 and Air Max LeBron 8 V2