words & images // Nick Engvall
Performance basketball shoes have come a long way in the last 2-3 decades. From relatively no cushioning in the early ’80s, with solid rubber being the only thing between you and the hardwood, to relatively no weight in 2011 with a wide variety of superb cushioning options to choose from. So with all of the choices for tested and proven technologies, do we always see players in the NBA opting to wear retro models? Perhaps a better question is how do these retro models actually perform against today’s standards of lightweight and superior cushioning?
For some models, like the Nike Air Go LWP, they were so far ahead of their time that they still remain a competent performance choice in retro form. For others, we’d like to take a closer look. In the same manner that we take a look at current models in our Performance Reviews, today we take a look at one of the performance aspects and back-story of a returning retro model, the Nike Air Max CB 34, in a new series called Performance Revisited.
In the early to mid-nineties, Charles Barkley was a beast on the boards. Earning himself the nickname the “Round Mound of Rebound” due to his abilities on the court, and also, due to his less than conventional body type. After being awarded the NBA Most Valuable Player award in 1993, Nike took Barkley’s footwear to the next level. Charles’ signature sneaker line was one of the early adopters of Air Max2 technology, arriving in the 1994 release, the Air Max2 CB. The follow up to that design was the Air Max2 CB 34 that Barkley not only featured the same cushioning, but also helped establish Sir Charles’ place in the memories of sneakerheads for years to come.
Today’s version of the Air Max2 CB 34 may not be cutting edge technology, but after playing it a few times, aside from my own personal preference to play in a lighter more agile basketball shoe, I think it would be perfectly suited for Charles to make a return in. After all his requirements would probably remain similar, stability and cushioning able to support his oversized frame being the priority.
The Nike Air Max2 CB 34 has some slight changes, most notable being the change from full-grain leather to synthetic leather used throughout the upper. Despite the switch, the quality is solid for a synthetic, it still does what it needs to, and it serves as a placeholder for one of the most memorable details of the embossed ‘CB34’ throughout the side panel nicely.
Cushioning may not be the same, as full-length Air Max shoes of today like the line of LeBron shoes, however the Air Max2 and Phylon midsole combination does a great job still to this day. In my opinion, the rubber surround of the design actually feels more stable, and more responsive than a full-length Air unit without the exoskeleton-like support. The trade-off is obviously weight. Barkley’s shoes might be just as deserving of the Round Mound of Rebound nickname compared to similar designs of today that weigh nearly half as much.
One of the most noticeable aspects of the CB 34 compared to today’s basketball shoes is the traction. Now, taking into account that Charles wasn’t exactly a quick mover, I can understand that it probably wasn’t much of a thought back when this shoe was originally designed. The reinforced and rugged toebox on the other hand, probably withstands battles in the paint better than many of today’s designs, appropriate considering the amount of time Barkley spent scrapping for rebounds.