Jordan Retro 14 Performance Review | A Game Of Performance Telephone
words & images by Nick DePaula
In 1998, the Air Jordan XIV was top-of-the-line performance. Much like the Ferrari 550 that inspired its look and build, the shoe took every last consideration into consideration. The fit was exacting along both sides of the shoe. The asymmetrical collar was far improved from the variation incorporated a year before it on the XIII. And most of all, it was no-frills performance with as blueprint-worthy a chassis, traction pattern and cushioning setup as you’ll find.
All of that is hugely important, because in 2012, many of those details and construction intricacies are now oversights. While the retail price may have jumped just $10, even though inflation would suggest a $200+ price tag in today’s market, the shoe in its re-retroed form no longer goes through a stringent D1 weartesting program, no longer offers quite the same hug and flex that real full-grain leather and natural suedes of the original will afford, and it no longer performs as a best-in-market sneaker. It’s still a nice playing shoe, but that slide is disappointing and to be expected from nearly all other retroes that the brand is currently releasing.
For that reason alone, while it might be fun to break them out from time to time casually, the Retro 14 left a lot to be desired on the hardwood. For starters, the general shape of the shoe isn’t on par with the original, and there’s a huge drop in overall fit because of it. The shoe is comfortable enough along the sidewall and interior, although the upper’s thick materials are extremely outdated by today’s standards, but the fit is certainly nothing that’ll blow you away. The asymmetrical collar appears to be a bit lower than the original, which isn’t an ideal placement, but it works well enough to provide nice ankle support and collar lockdown. The one thing that is still fairly similar to the original in terms of the upper is the damn bar that extends out from the top of the tongue. It still hurts, too. Unless you wear extremely thick socks, look forward to the edges of the bar rubbing and irritating your foot. Perhaps a rubberized bar instead of using plastic would’ve worked better. Either way, the bar is still annoying.
While the fit is a bit sloppy and largely a letdown, the difference in the shoe’s general shape pales in comparison to the shockingly lower-quality materials. In its day, the XIV used the absolute best full-grain leather on the signature footwear market. It was soft to the touch and buttery smooth. Today’s version features some seriously weak pleather. If you’ve been following along with Retro Jordans for a few years now, suspect quality isn’t really anything new compared to the original shoes that actually took to heart the “quality inspired by the greatest player ever” tagline, but it’s the XII, XIII and XIV where the drop off is most disappointing. Considering that those models could still be taken to the court and perform well if some actual effort were put into their construction, you’re left hoping the brand cared that the on-court legacy of the shoes actually still translates on court. If you happen to have an original pair, a side-by-side and up-close comparison might be a sad sight. With the retail price jumping $10 from the original, the build quality and poor materials are definitely a hard recommendation at that price point. Unfortunately, Retro models are still flying off shelves and worn almost exclusively off court, so perhaps the brand is taking their focus off of performance simply because they can. The time will come that that approach catches up to them.
Because the original was so very good to play in, not all is terrible in the Retro. The ride is still as good as you may remember, keeping your foot seriously low to the ground and offering up some sweet and nimble court feel. The foam wings along the midsole of both sides of the shoe act as a nice harness of sorts to keep you over the footbed on cuts, and the support and traction is definitely a bright spot of the shoe. To go along with the low-to-the-ground feel and stance, the full-herringbone traction pattern works perfectly, gripping nicely on even an average hardwood floor. Don’t even act like you aren’t going to try MJ’s “Last Shot” move in these, either. It’s a must down the stretch of any close pickup game, and luckily the traction and hold is still there for the step-back cross. Of course I tried. Multiple times. Free scouting report, too, you guys: If you’re ever guarding someone wearing “Last Shots” and they’re going for a game-winner, don’t bite the fake. You’re better than that.
Moving back to the actual shoe, another aspect of the tooling that I found to be pretty solid, even by today’s standards, was the cushioning. A full-Phylon midsole, heel Air sole unit and forefoot Zoom Air unit can still do the job. While much else on the shoe might’ve been lost in translation or may now feel dated since its debut in 1998, the cushioning platform is still the preferred setup of most ballers almost 15 years later. The Zoom unit could have a bit more volume to it, but the tradeoff for some exceptional court feel is worth it. The entire system working together, which would include the heel Air bag, midfoot TPU shank and responsive Zoom bag up front, make for a great blend of impact protection, pure cushioning and court feel.
It might not seem like it’s been almost 15 years since Michael last donned a Bulls uni and a pair of Air Jordans on the hardwood at the same time – but it has. Because of the fact that the ’98 version of the XIV slipped a bit on the ’06 Retro version, and then once again now on the 2012 re-issue, the shoe’s performance suffers from that game of telephone accordingly. While a few specs and details of the XIV may still hold up in today’s era of lightweight- and synthetic-driven sneakers, the old fashioned leather and suede body of the shoe, coupled with a seriously flawed and unfaithful reproduction process, means the shoe will fall a bit short of your on-court expectations. There’re far better shoes out there hovering right around the $100 level that offer better fit, lighter weight, actual breathability and much, much more targeted fit and attention to detail. If it’s worth a full $160 of your cash to play in a shoe that might be remembered more for a single legacy-framing jumper than its actual hardwood merits today, that’s your call. I just can’t make that recommendation.
designed by: Tinker Hatfield
best for: Guards and forwards
colorway tested: Black/Varsity Red/Black
worn by: Dwyane Wade, Monta Ellis, Jared Sullinger and others
key tech: Heel Air sole unit, forefoot Zoom Air, herringbone traction pattern, Phylon midsole, foam support chassis, TPU midfoot shank, asymmetrical collar
pros: Great traction and ride; court feel is tremendous; solid cushioning that still is among everyone’s favorite setup today.
cons: Fit is less targeted than original; plays slightly heavy in modern era; poor materials, build and value for price; irritable bar on top of tongue; non-existent breathability.
improvements: Pay more attention to areas of fit and quality in order to preserve what was once a best-in-class performance masterpiece.
buying advice: Take the Retro 14 to the court if you fall under two categories: 1.) You’re simply a nostalgic dude. 2.) You’re a current pro athlete who doesn’t care for his own signature shoe. Otherwise, you can definitely find a better modern sneaker for a better price than $160 that’s lighter, more breathable and more well-built. If court feel is your very favorite thing in a shoe, then they might be worth checking out, too.