Performance Review: Air Jordan 2012 Deluxe

Air Jordan 2012 | Six Different Paths to Performance

words & images // Zac Dubasik

“We always start with performance. We always start with trying to make a better basketball shoe. We are always trying to improve performance for the best basketball players in the world, knowing that if we can achieve that, then of course people at all levels in the world of basketball will get a better shoe.” – Tinker Hatfield

Jordan Brand may be best known these days for their frantic, riot-inducing Retro releases, but even those shoes were the performers of their day. So it’s always refreshing to hear that the direction of their modern on-court shoes has kept that performance focus. But while modularity certainly has performance potential, it still feels like a bit of a gimmick. In practice, though, does it actually offer performance options that are as good as its non-modular competition? Because if not, is there really any point in being able to switch out a single shoe when you could buy two different shoes for the same price? It doesn’t matter if it’s simply a good modular shoe when there are such outstanding standard shoes out there.

When rumors and leaks started, indicating that Jordan Brand would take their dual-midsole Air Jordan 2011 to a whole new level of modularity, I’ll admit I was skeptical. As details started to emerge that there would be six different combinations rather than two, it just seemed like a bit much. Who really needs all those options on a single shoe? The basketball world has been surviving on single-option shoes forever, and I can’t really recall an outcry of complaints from players about their lack of modular choices. In fact, most of the previous attempts at modularity have either been shunned (Nike MORF), or short lived (Air Jordans XX1 and XX2). But that doesn’t mean options are a bad thing. If it could be done right, it’s easy to see potential. But again – these shoes can’t be judged on the fact that they are modular. They have to play as well as their competitors. And from my very first run, all that skepticism was put to rest. The only thing that reminded me that they were modular was the fact that I was excited to try out more combinations and options.

The initial setup I chose was the low-cut bootie combined with the Fly Over midsole. This was the closest to my usual preferences, and seemed like a natural starting point. The first thing to note, though, is how impressively made this shoe is. Materials, construction and finishing are all top-notch. It is an essential element of this shoe, though, because that kind of precision is an absolute necessity with all of these loose parts. If everything didn’t fit perfectly together, it would be an unacceptable performance compromise. Not only do things fit perfectly together, though, they are relatively easy to switch in and out. What that meant, for me at least, is that I was more likely to switch out from game to game and try more options.

Before I look at the individual options, though, I’ll comment on the constants. Beginning with the outsole, I found solid traction and outstanding flex. The grooves mimic your foot’s natural motion, as designed. Jordan Brand’s Tom Luedecke explained that, “it’s zonally engineered to actually match a footprint. We are looking at a footprint and where abrasion happens the most, and [we] place just the right amount of traction pattern there – taking rubber out wherever we can.” What also aids in transition is the shoe’s outstanding Flight Carbon shank. The proprietary weave developed by Jordan Brand doesn’t necessarily function any differently than standard carbon fiber, but the size and shape are as good as it gets. It offers just the right amount of rigidity, while still allowing the foot to flex naturally. The flex and court feel are so good, actually, (regardless of which insole is selected) that the shoe plays and feels much lighter than its weight would imply.

Moving to the shoe’s main upper, Flywire provides the primary support. Regardless of which bootie is selected, I found that the shoe cinched up perfectly and provided excellent fit despite its modularity. Lockdown was excellent, just as it would be on a well-fitting standard shoe. My only real complaint was that I felt the shoe needed a more rigid heel counter. I’d guess that ease of use when switching components in and out led to this softer heel, but it wasn’t a major issue. When fully laced, my heel was secure – just not as secure as the best examples out there.

The booties themselves were where I found the most pronounced effects of the shoe’s modularity. Sure, there were noticeable differences between the midsoles  – more on that later – but those didn’t give the feel of an entirely different shoe like switching booties did. Between the low-cut bootie and the thin collar of the main shoe, I experienced range of motion much more similar to a low-top when using that setup. It was my preference between the two, and once again, felt just like any other shoe as far as not suffering any ill effects due to being modular. But when I switched to the hi-top version, I was shocked. I almost expected it to feel like I had a glorified higher-cut sock on.

But instead, it truly gave the impression that I’d switched out to a hi-top. Increased padding, as well as a taller stance and strap, produced a very perceivable difference in support. We all know at this point that a low-top can provide just as much ankle stability as a hi-top by controlling the heel. But the higher cut provides that extra level of padding and reassurance that some players prefer regardless. And while it wasn’t my first choice, I thoroughly enjoyed playing in the higher bootie. Even though range of motion in the ankle may have been limited in comparison to the lower version, you still get all of the excellent transition and court feel from the main shoe.

Moving on to the cushioning, I’ll first mention that each midsole took a run or two to break in. But once they did, it allowed the flex of the main shoe to shine even more. While I initially chose the Fly Over (heel Air, forefoot Zoom) midsole, I found that it wasn’t my favorite option. As much as I like forefoot Zoom, the articulation used in this particular bag, coupled with the fact that it just had such low volume, made for an uneven feel. I’ve personally never had a complaint about a standard Zoom bag not flexing well enough, and I would have liked to have seen one used here.

The Fly Through option (full-length Air) provided, as expected, the most protective ride and was probably my personal preference. The Fly Around was a close second, though, whose heel Zoom and forefoot foam I found to be very smooth and soft once broken in. One note on all of the midsoles is that this season the Air units are bottom loaded, as opposed to how they were top loaded on the AJ2011. I preferred last year’s as far as cushioning, but Luedecke explained that by bottom loading the units, “you can control the contour a little bit better. … We were about [getting] better contour around the foot, which makes for better fit.”

I would agree that the 2012 fit better than the 2011, but I definitely miss the cushioning of last year’s shoe. At certain times, and on harsh cuts, I could feel the edge of the midsole not quite being tight enough to the inside main shoe. It didn’t produce any stability issues, and probably is a result of ease of use once again. I wouldn’t call it a major issue, but it is worth noting. It will probably be mostly noticeable only to players with wider feet.

So there you have it. The Air Jordan 2012 not only has six different options, but six different usable options. As I said at the beginning, the modularity is a moot point if I can get a better playing experience out of a standard shoe – especially when you could buy two standard shoes for the price of this. But once you’ve made your choices, it’s really a matter of lacing up and going about your business as usual. Sure, there were traces of modularity that leaked into the shoe’s playability, but nothing that materially harmed the experience.

Thanks to the overall comfort and supportive-yet-natural flex, it’s become one of my favorite shoes of the season. At $223 for the complete system, this is easily the most expensive Air Jordan yet. The biggest question will be one you have to ask yourself: Do I need all these options? If not, the single-option versions are available for $180. That’s still on the pricey side, but there’s always a premium to be paid to wear an Air Jordan. While it may not be the best value out there, it’s an excellent performer and an easy recommendation for almost any player.

Grade Breakout:

A (94/100)

comfort & fit: 5/5

cushioning: 4/5

ankle support: 4.5/5

breathability: 4/5

heel-toe transition: 5/5

traction: 4.5/5

weight: 4/5 (15.5-17.4)

best for: Most players will find some combination that works.

colorway tested: Wolf Grey/Black/Ice Silver/White

key tech: Interchangeable booties and midsoles that include Air and Zoom; Flywire; Flight Carbon midfoot shank

pros: Comfort, transition, adaptability, traction, plays lighter than it weighs

cons: Heel counter too soft; articulated Zoom in Fly Over forefoot felt lumpy

improvements: Add rigidity to heel counter even at the expense of ease of use for switching out parts; use standard Zoom unit rather than articulated.

buying advice: Just because modularity may be a bit gimmicky doesn’t meant it isn’t entirely effective. I was pleasantly surprised at how switching booties and cushionings yielded such different results – all of which were usable depending on your playing style and personal preferences. If you don’t need modularity, single options of the Air Jordan 2012 are available, and are excellent choices. But if modularity is of use to you, the AJ2012 Deluxe is the “System” to go for.

Available: Air Jordan 2012 Deluxe

This post was written by: - who has written 751 posts on Sole Collector.

14 Responses to “Performance Review: Air Jordan 2012 Deluxe”

  1. DRUMattX says:

    Thanks for this review. It’s good to know that it offers the options that attempt to sort of justify the exorbitant price tag. I cannot get over the aesthetics of this shoe tho. To me, I equate it to teeing off golfing with a bright orange ball & a custom painted driver head – it would completely distract me from going about my business in a confident way vs. using a white ball & black-top driver. If you don’t like the looks of something, you don’t act the same and mentality has a lot to do with overall performance in sport. The Gigantic jumpman on the sides is brutally bad, as is the rough Durabuck patches that resemble saddles and the way it disrupts the toe is unacceptable. It’s a wild departure from the fairly clean & simple look of the 2011s which in the year ’11, had some mimicing qualities to the XIs with great advancements. While neither 2011 or 2012 pairs are a favorite at all & while there definitely appears to be a gain in overall performance, the price tag kills the potential and loses cushioning over a nearly $60 jump in price.

  2. @DA_CLEAR_SOLE says:

    #dopesolereview by #ZacDubasik…#SOLECOLLECTOR ALWAYZ AHEAD OF DA SHOE GAME ..

  3. Nguyen-Luan says:

    Thanks for the review. Yeah, system-wise this is better than Kobe VII Supreme. Also, you can get other midsole options in NikeID if you buy $180 version. Will guys review the Elite collection once it releases? Or go with the reviews you made on their respective normal versions? At $200+ point you get a lot of bang for your buck, if had to buy either Elites or this.

  4. Brandon says:

    How can you give these a 4/5 on breathability??? These are great shoes, but they allow basically no air in besides on top of the tongue. They are completely covered in a material that allows no air to go through it.

  5. WUTANGFAN says:

    good review…i just copped these for $150

  6. OnlyFootball says:

    Two things (neither meant to be criticism):

    1) You say “duel-midsole” when it should be “dual-midsole.” I don’t mean to be picky, and I make these careless mistakes all the time. Just thought I’d help and point it out.

    2) I think there’s more to having a higher-cut sneaker than just placebo effect. Generally speaking, having a higher collar means engineering heel lockdown will be easier and require less attention to detail. Of course, this isn’t always true, but I’ve found that high cut sneakers will have better lockdown than a lower cut counterpart with similar padding and construction. On lows, brands really have to make sure the heel counter is rock solid and well sculpted, the ankle cut is PERFECT and the padding is well-placed and long-lasting or else it just won’t work.

    Great review though. I’ve been reading good things about the 2012, which is surprising given my generally loathing of modular sneakers.

  7. David says:

    Anyone that wears orthotics bought this shoe? keen on the shoe but the custom midsoles rules my orthotics out completely.

  8. jtag says:

    also played in these though i havent switched insoles yet that much. i just felt that the hi bootie does have a thicker foam than the low bootie, and as such i considered some pinching on the forefoot because of the thicker foam (i have wide feet). not sure if breaking them in would make a difference.

    but yeah, playability wise, the transitions were smooth and it felt lighter on feet than “on hand”

  9. Lovethexiv says:


    Can you use the 2011 insoles in these?

  10. jtag says:

    to lovethexiv

    to answer your question, no you can’t. the configuration of the 2 is wayyy different from one another. the 2012 won’t have room for the thick 2011 insole.

  11. jordan junky says:

    got these on the release date in university blue love the way they look n feel. go get them if u don’t already got them

  12. jordan junky says:

    does anyone blog

  13. Kidstazion says:

    nothing is perfect, Nike Air Jordan is different. Can have it around $150 even more low if lucky.

  14. noel says:

    109.99 is what i paid.. price to high at 180 or 223