words // Zac Dubasik
When the original Hyperdunk released in 2008, the landscape of the basketball sneaker world looked much different than it does today. At 13 ounces, with a daring – and almost abstract – materials story, it was light years ahead of what the competition was offering. Adidas was in the midst of its short-lived Team Signature concept, Reebok’s EasyTone hadn’t yet brought the company back enough to get their hoops line in order, Under Armour hadn’t even stepped into the footwear arena, and Shaq was the only thing keeping Li-Ning from complete obscurity with U.S. hoops fans. What a difference four years make though. Today, adidas has the lightest hoops shoe on the market at under 10 ounces, Reebok is back in the business of making signature shoes, Under Armour has emerged as a major player, signing two of the draft’s top picks, and Li Ning, along with their country-mates Anta and Peak, have fully infiltrated the League.
What I’m getting at is that although the Hyperdunk was groundbreaking in its time, its time was three years ago. A shoe weighing 13 ounces won’t even get you noticed nowadays. And even back then, the Hyperdunk wasn’t without its faults. The often-criticized Lunar Foam in its forefoot was only good for a handful of wearings before breaking down, its breathability was so bad that you could actually see the Flywire fog up on white-based colorways, and its traction disappeared the second you stepped on a court with less than pristine maintenance.
The follow-up to the Hyperdunk, the Hyperize, took small steps towards righting some of those wrongs. Its traction improved, however its continued use of Lunar Foam still rendered the forefoot cushioning borderline disposable, it fit sloppy, and it was highly criticized for its lack of midfoot support. At first sight, it appeared the Hyperize’s successor, the Hyperdunk 2010, finally got everything right. Out was Lunar Foam, and in was a heel and forefoot Zoom cushioning setup. Traction improved even more, with herringbone now wrapping up on the midsole. The biggest problem was that although things appeared to be in order with the upper, the synthetic skinwire just didn’t flex and become one with the foot as well as it could have, causing some comfort issues.
And that’s where the Hyperdunk 2011 comes in. With refinements, rather than drastic changes, needed with the tooling, the team focused on improving the upper, and started at the most logical place possible: by changing the last, and in turn, providing a more one-to-one fit. “That was the main goal going into this year’s upper,” explains Leo Chang, the shoe’s designer, and Design Director of Nike Basketball. “That actually started with the Hyperfuse and the Kobes. Both of those shoes are built on a specific last, and having literally a third of the NBA wearing the Hyperfuse at some point was pretty cool.” The QF-8 has been a long-time go-to last, even being repeatedly used on Jordan game shoes. “What we were finding was that it works great with leathers and synthetic leathers, but once you start getting to this zone where you have a really thin composite package, it creates a lot more volume within the shoe,” says Chang, which lead their team to the BB-03 last. I found this new last to be an excellent fit for my foot. It’s definitely not as generally accommodating as the shape found in the past Hyperdunks, but not prohibitively narrow. My feet are even slightly on the wide side, and I had no issues. The last is only half of the story as to why the upper is such an outstanding fit though; the change in materials greatly adds to it.
“I had the factory take the Hyperdunk 2010 and try new upper packages,” begins Chang. “Then I began to draw what the upper silhouette and lines could look like. I knew we needed protection in the toe and in the heel, and then I went back after weartesting and looked at covering up even more areas, like the eyestay holes to make sure they didn’t tear. The Flywire pattern definitely evolved along the way.” While the Hyperdunk 2010′s Skinwire was certainly an improvement over the plasticky TPU-based upper of the original, it still didn’t have the flexibility to truly give that glove-like fit. This latest version however conforms to the foot and moves with it – not to mention offering better breathability. It’s light, comfortable and pliable, all while providing rock solid stability. It’s about as much as you could ask for in a basketball upper.
The shoe’s collar features a familiar silhouette that you’ve now come to expect in the line. “I definitely wanted to stay within the Hyperdunk language,” says Chang. “You still have the exaggerated collar and the high to low feel.” This not only gives the Hyperdunk its signature look, but is also functional. “It adds a level of flexibility and proprioceptive confidence,” explains Charles Williams, Nike Basketball Product Line Manager. While the cut is not overly restrictive – it’s quite good for a high-top – it’s definitely more restrictive than a low or even a mid. I tend to prefer a lower cut, and at times experienced some pinching in the rear of the collar, but overall found it to be effective and secure. Aiding in that security are two small molded nodes found inside the collar – similar to those found in the Zoom KD line – as well as an external heel counter. “We actually started out with an internal counter to get a bit lighter,” began Chang, “but then we added on an external counter to get a better 3D molded heel shape and lockdown. We felt like adding things that were a benefit would be better than getting it lighter at an expense.” My heel felt exceptionally secure between the nodes, the collar itself and the external counter. If you’re a die-hard fan of low-tops, then the heel notch alone will probably not offer enough range of motion for you. But everything else about the shoe is so good, it’s worth a try if you can be open minded about the cut.
The biggest issue I had with any aspect of the shoe was that when tightly laced, I felt more lace pressure than I would have liked. I tie my shoes very tight, and definitely felt the laces dig in across the top of my foot. The tongue of the Hyperdunk 2011 is thin, and made up of a large and open mesh. This is effective for breathability, but bad for protection. The original Hyperfuse featured thin, but targeted padding built into the tongue, which was highly effective at eliminating lace pressure. I’d like to see a system like that implemented here, even if it cost a fraction of an ounce when it comes to weight.
The outsole appears fairly similar to last year’s Hyperdunk, but there’re a few notable differences. The dynamic herringbone traction pattern is very similar – not to mention excellent – but now features clear windows in the heel and forefoot to give a glimpse into the shoe’s Zoom bags. The bigger, and much more important difference, is that the TPU shank found in the HD2010 has been replaced by a molded, glass-reinforced shank. “We went away from the shank that we had in the 2010 for a number of reasons,” explains Chang. “The shank gave pretty much everyone great support, but it was a bit flat and still bending when we didn’t want it to. We wanted to make sure that doesn’t happen, and the shank really evolved both in size and geometry.” The new shank is so rigid that the shoe actually felt “slappy” when I first tried it on. I worried that the transition wouldn’t be as smooth as I like with all that support. But the second I stepped on the court and started to push the shoe, my fears quickly dissipated. On-court, while running, the transition is very smooth. Cushioning-wise, the Hyperdunk 2011 is outstanding. Its 14mm heel and 8mm forefoot Zoom bags encased in a Phylon midsole provide the low, responsive cushioning that only Zoom Air can.
So, there you have it. Four years in, the Hyperdunk has finally gotten pretty much everything right. It’s one of the best playing experiences a shoe has offered me in a long time. It’s fast yet strong, light yet supportive, and comfortable yet secure. Could it be lighter? Of course. There is a very notable lighter shoe out there already. But rather than focus primarily on weight, the Hyperdunk 2011′s focus was on making each and every aspect of the shoe the best it could be. And it’s still impressively light considering how much protection and security it offers.
For now, the Hyperdunk 2011 stands at the top of the hoops shoe mountain, much like the original did four years ago. The difference is that this time, the competition is much closer – there’s not nearly as much breathing room as in the recent past. The biggest question is “What’s next?” The 2008 Olympics served as a launching point for the original Hyperdunk, and a new direction for Nike Basketball. Will the 2012 Games act as a catalyst for another dramatic shift? Or will the line continue to evolve rather than being reinvented? Or, will the Hyperdunk become a basketball shoe of the past, with something brand new taking its place? Only time will tell, but based on the progress made with the Hyperdunk 2011, I will be anxiously waiting to play in whatever comes next.
best for: Most players other than large centers and those who favor a low-top
colorway tested: Black/Dark Grey/Black
key tech: heel and forefoot Zoom Air, Flywire, 3D midfoot shank
pros: fit, cushioning, traction, midfoot support, lockdown
cons: few and far between – if you are used to playing in a low-top, the collar may feel a bit restrictive in comparison; too much lace pressure
improvements: thicker targeted tongue padding, like the Hyperfuse, to cut down on lace pressure
buying advice: If you’ve been a fan of any of the previous versions of the Hyperdunk, you’ll find even more to like here. The Hyperdunk 2011 improves on almost every aspect of its predecessors. At $125, it’s not cheap, and it may suffer slightly from the law of diminishing returns, but there’s just not another shoe out there currently that gets this much right all at once.
Available now: Nike Hyperdunk 2011