words // Zac Dubasik
images // Nick DePaula
It’s strange to think back, and realize that it’s only been a year since Under Armour’s hoops line hit retail. Brandon Jennings was the first athlete to sign a shoe deal with the apparel giant, and has been wearing their kicks since his 08-09 season in Italy. But, wanting to ensure their footwear was ready for mass consumption, Under Armour fine-tuned their line for another two years before finally launching last fall. Fans were frustrated when they couldn’t run out and buy a pair of Prototypes following Young Money’s (aka Young Buck, aka Black Ice, aka Compton’s Most Wanted) 55-point explosion against the Warriors his rookie season, but in return for their patience, were rewarded with an impressive debut that outshined kicks from some companies who have been in the footwear game decades longer. Much of that credit has go to the team behind the line. While it was their first with Under Armour, they were hardly new to the business, having brought experience from hoops-centric brands like AND1 along with them. The logos on-court may have been new, but the feel of the shoes was familiar. That’s not to say that everything was perfect though. The initial line, while impressive, did have issues. One that showed up with consistency (with the exception of the Micro G Black Ice) was in the traction department. And unfortunately, that’s right where the Supersonic, one of the first releases in UA’s second hoops lineup, picks up.
The traction pattern may be different from that found in last year’s line, but the results are similar. On a well-maintained court, you are good to go. But once a little dust is introduced to the equation, things go straight downhill. I respect that designers are not complacent, and don’t want to simply throw herringbone on an outsole and call it a day. But when it comes to an element as important as traction, if you can’t beat the non-proprietary industry standard, I’d like to see shoes stick to it. It’s too bad, because other than one additional and notable problem, everything else about the shoe is fantastic.
The Supersonic’s midsole, for instance, is exceptional. If you are familiar with Micro G cushioning, there’s nothing new here, and that’s a good thing. Micro G is soft, without being mushy, providing an outstanding balance between protection and court feel. As good as the cushioning is though, the highlight of the midsole is its buttery smooth transition. The flex groove in the outsole encourages you to stay on your toes, and along with the supremely flexible upper (more on that later), functions as a complete system. I’ve played in plenty of shoes that have a smooth midsole transition, only to have an overly stiff upper fight against it. But the Supersonic is close to perfect here, with the outsole, midsole and upper all working together to promote optimum transition. The shoe is light, and plays even lighter thanks to the mobility that transition provides. And thanks to the addition of its TPU shank, the Supersonic doesn’t lose support.
Moving to the upper, the Supersonic smartly utilizes the technology Under Armour made its name with: advanced textiles. In this case, that means the light and breathable HeatGear. And while moisture management is great, in my opinion, that was secondary to how well it fit. When fully laced, it achieved that one-to-one ratio that all performance shoes should aim for. What makes it so impressive is that as great as it fits, it flexes just as well. There were no hot spots or pinching to be found. The addition of patent leather overlays provides additional support where needed, without adding bulk.
Just when I thought everything was spot on with the upper, a problem reared its head…its painful head. When I received my pair of Supersonics, I was shocked at how drastically asymmetrical the collar was – the Air Jordan 2010 is the only shoe I can think of off hand that comes close. It may look drastic, but I loved how it felt. The medial side feels fully supportive, while the dip on the lateral is a pure low-top height, and allows for excellent range of motion. The problem was that by the time I finished my first run in the Supersonics, I could feel the internal heel counter directly against my heel, and it did not feel good. The collar padding is just too sparse, and what is there isn’t dense enough. The Zoom Kobe IV taught us how important that collar padding can be. When done right, it not only adds protection and comfort, but benchmark-quality lockdown. Thanks to the upper, the lockdown on the Supersonic is fine, but the comfort and protection in the collar just didn’t work for my feet. That said, everyone has uniquely shaped feet, and this may not be an issue for all ballers. But to my feet, this miss with the collar foam directly led to discomfort. I was able to compensate somewhat by wearing thick socks, but it didn’t completely alleviate the problem. Plus, I don’t like playing in thick socks.
If I sound disappointed by the Supersonic, that’s only because it was so close to being so much better. That’s saying a lot too, because, even as it is, this is a great shoe. The things that the shoe did right, it did really right. And moving forward, it makes me even more optimistic about the future of the Under Armour line, because the misses here are very correctible (which also makes them harder to forgive). There is a solid foundation in the UA hoops line, and the Supersonic’s upper is an exciting introduction to boundaries that can be pushed thanks to their textile expertise. Now, if they can only get the easy stuff right…
best for: Players at most positions looking for a well-rounded team shoe
colorway tested: Black/Black/Silver
key tech: Micro G foam, TPU midfoot shank, HeatGear upper, asymmetrical collar
pros: cushioning; cut; transition
cons: traction, lack of quality collar padding caused comfort issues with internal heel counter
improvements: if you can’t beat herringbone, use herringbone; better quality padding in collar
buying advice: As much as I wanted to love the Supersonic, its average traction, and comfort issues in the heel were problems. But I still really liked it. And at $90, it’s an easy recommendation for players looking for outstanding court feel and transition, with little compromise to cushioning.
Available Now: Under Armour Supersonic