words // Zac Dubasik
When the Air Jordan XX8 was unveiled to the public for the first time last December, it was introduced along with the concept of “stealth.” During the design process, when the theme was taken to MJ, he pulled no punches when explaining what the concept meant to him. “Stealth is like Black Cat. It’s an ultimate aircraft. You never hear it coming, but it’s deadly as hell. You don’t ‘F’ with stealth. My game is like that. When you see it, it’s too ‘F-ing’ late.” The concept of stealth could even be tied in to the fact that the shoe was the first Air Jordan of the blog-era to not leak beforehand.
But while “stealth” may have defined the shoe’s design aesthetic, and even the unveiling, beneath it all, this is basically a shoe you’ve seen before. A much better version than you’ve seen before, but still a shoe who’s lasting impression comes more from its refinements rather than breaking entirely new ground.
Since it’s impossible to look at the Air Jordan XX8 without taking note of it’s sky-high height, let’s start there. The Air Jordan line has been a pioneer in collar heights, dating back to the mid-cut of the III. “This time, instead of being the first one to be a mid-cut, this is going to be the first one to ever be an eight-inch tall basketball shoe,” explained Tinker Hatfield. “We’re using these super lightweight materials so we can make it still a very lightweight, high-performance shoe, but it’s eight inches tall. And it has the silhouette of a military boot – something that you’d see in battle.”
As tall as it may look though, the XX8 more or less plays like a low-top. You may feel a bit of proprioceptive reassurance when the collar is fully zipped, but it offers basically nothing in terms of support. And that’s just fine, because as we’ve learned over the past few years of low-tops becoming more widely accepted on the court, the real support comes from controlling the heel and cradling the midfoot, rather than collar height.
That means the majority of the support and control comes from what’s hidden under the shoe’s shroud, which is basically a low-top inner shoe. The dynamic fit inner system is composed of a heavy mesh sleeve, with five finger-like straps, which wrap up from the midsole, and provide a fit that’s both fully supportive, and extremely comfortable. With only five eyelets, it almost seems like there aren’t enough to provide the necessary lockdown, but it somehow works. It works so well, in fact, that the midfoot lockdown offers enough stability that it allows the toe area to have minimal support. That allows the toes to spread more naturally, which increases comfort and court feel, without sacrificing performance. When combined with the carbon fiber external heel and forefoot counters, I felt locked in at all the right places, yet unrestricted.
One important note here is that the shoe runs large. I’d recommend starting a half-size smaller than what you normally wear. Jordan Brand has stuck with the traditional, generally accommodating QF-8 last, which they’ve used on all recent Game shoes. This means the shoe will fit more people than the sleeker lasts used by Nike Basketball, but it won’t fit as close as say, a Kobe model. There’s a little more volume in the toe box and a slightly wider overall fit. And with the particular construction and method of support utilized by this shoe, the right fit is extremely important. A half size big will have your foot moving around too much for proper lockdown. So, if you have the luxury of trying a pair on first, take advantage of it.
One last note on the shoe’s upper, is the outer sleeve’s lack of breathability. The material itself may breath, but it’s adding a layer, which means the whole shoe gets that much hotter. I accepted a long time ago that regardless of a shoe’s breathability, my feet will be soaked by the time I get done playing. And that’s fine. I always look at breathability as a bonus for me. If it’s there, great. If not, it doesn’t affect how much I like a shoe.
But the Air Jordan XX8, with its extra layers, never seemed to dry out. Almost every time I put them on, they would still be wet from the day before. And that’s not a particularly pleasant experience – especially when the shoe is so comfortable otherwise. Faster drying materials would have been a major improvement, assuming they didn’t impact the shoe’s playability otherwise.
It’s still Zoom Air, still the same reactive fibers embedded in an air unit, but thanks to a more holistic system, you are able to get more out of it than ever before. “The basic system is all around compression, deflection, and ultimately moderation,” explained the shoe’s developer, Josh Heard. “Zoom Air bags by themselves are extremely energy efficient. The problem was the way we had used Zoom Air bags in the past. We would encapsulate them in foam and what not, and it would lock up all the energy. So what we did was we unlocked the Zoom. We unleashed the Zoom. We’ve cored out foam all around the Zoom Air bags, so literally you are stepping directly on Zoom when you are getting that first, initial feel. The outsole also helps, as I said, piston that effect. And then we have a moderator plate on top, that eliminates any bumps or hot spots under the foot. So, it’s moderated all the way through, and you get that nice, comfortable smooth feel.”
The change may seem small, but the results were immediately noticeable. You can feel “more” Zoom, without the use of “bigger” Zoom, such as the full-length Max Zoom bag found in the LeBron X. That means more responsiveness, with better court feel. Cushioning and court feel typically have an inverse relationship. As one increases, the other deceases. But thanks to this new system, protection and flexibility increased simultaneously. When combined with an outstanding midfoot shank, the Air Jordan XX8 was simply one of the best playing experiences I’ve ever had. They flex where needed, support where needed, provide responsive cushioning where needed, and have zero break-in time. I can’t think of a performance shoe that’s ever felt as good right out of the box. With the only exception possibly coming from the traction improving over the first few wearings, the shoe was basically as good on my first run as the twentieth.
Other than the aforementioned breathability issues, price, and sizing, the only other negative I found with the Air Jordan XX8 was a potential durability issue. The first two pairs I played in were early sample runs, and I had separation issues with the shroud on both. I noticed some tearing right where the fuse layer met the shroud at the toe, which you can see in detail below.
My third pair was from the actual production run, and even after an extended testing period, I experienced no problems on that pair. It’s very possible that these issues were addressed, and that you will have no problems with retail pairs. I’d also like to see Jordan Brand move at some point to a sleeker last for their Game shoes. But thanks to the widespread appeal of the Jordan Brand name, I have doubts that they’ll ever switch to a more refined last shape, when that could mean it will fit less players.
The good news is that through innovative fit systems like the one found here, you can still achieve a great fit – it just might take some experimenting with sizing. I eventually found a great fit when I put my orthotics directly over the standard insoles, rather than in place of the standard insoles, which I usually do. That gave me an effect similar to sizing down, and eliminated the slipping I initially felt.
The $250 price of the Air Jordan XX8 will probably be a deterrent to a lot of potential buyers. At one point in time, the $200 Air Jordan XVII seemed impossibly high, and at least it came in a metal briefcase. Calling the XX8 a “deal” would be inaccurate. There are exceptionally good performing shoes available for less than half the price. If you want the best shoe of the season, this is it. If price is no object, or only the best will do, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the XX8 for a second. If you are more sensitive to price, but still care about performance, I’d probably recommend skipping a retro or two, and still looking at these. I liked playing in them that much. I can’t think of another shoe I’ve played in that addressed both performance and comfort this equally. The Air Jordan XX8 isn’t perfect, but if you can find a size that fits, its imperfections are minimal.
designer: Tinker Hatfield
colorway tested: Electric Green / White
best for: most players other than larger forwards and centers
key tech: Flight Plate system with heel and forefoot Zoom Air, Carbon Fiber midfoot shank and heel counter, Dynamic Fit inner sleeve
pros: comfort; cushioning; transition; fit; zero break-in time
cons: breathability; durability; sizing
improvements: more breathable outer sleeve, more true sizing
buying advice: As shocking as the looks of the Air Jordan XX8 are, what makes it such a great shoe are refinements on tried and true principles. Zoom Air and a carbon fiber shank have never felt so effective. Excluding the Sport Pack editions of the LeBron X, which no one actually wanted for the Sport Pack integration, the Air Jordan XX8 is the most expensive shoe out this season. And while there are much better choices from a value standpoint, if you want the absolute best, regardless of cost, the XX8 is an easy recommendation. Also, if you are unable to try a pair on before buying, plan on going down at least a half size as a starting point.
Tinker Hatfield (left) and Josh Heard (right):
words // Zac Dubasik
images // Jotham Porzio & US10
When adidas announced their newest running technology, Boost, they made quite a claim. That it would “Change Running Forever.”
Only time will tell if that plays out to be accurate, but you might be wondering just what makes Boost so special, and how exactly it could change the running world.
Here are just five things that set the Boost apart, as explained by adidas Head of Design for Sport Performance, James Carnes.
1. How it’s different:
Traditional shoes using a foam-based cushioning utilize one large piece of foam. The Boost platform has taken an entirely different approach – individual capsules.
“These little capsules are molded together, and they retain their normal properties better than any material out there,” explains Carnes. “They’re able to absorb energy, and then unleash that energy at a consistent rate, over and over.”
EVA might be the most well-known foam that’s used in footwear, but it isn’t the most advanced. Companies have been improving on it for years, and adidas claims that Boost is not only better than EVA, but even the best of the competition.
“We checked all of the latest technologies and foam-based materials on the market from every competitor right now, and it’s superior to all of them,” says Carnes.
Hopefully you like the Boost’s white midsole, because that’s going to be your only option for the foreseeable future.
“The foam itself is actually rare enough – there’s not enough of it on the planet – and you can basically only get as much as we’re producing,” reveals Carnes. “And right now, white is the best color to produce it in. So, the foam itself wlll be the same color indefinitely, but we really just wanted to highlight the foam and the upper separately.”
There’s no reason to beat around the bush. Lunar foam didn’t last too long. Sure, it felt great at first, but it quickly broke down, and became exceptionally unspectacular. Not so with Boost, claims adidas.
“It never stops,” says Carnes. “From the very first step, to a thousand steps later, or the first kilometer you run, until 500 killometers later, you have exactly the same properties coming out of those energy capsules, as from the very beginning.”
If you’ve spent any time running outdoors in the winter, you may have experienced a firmer ride from your shoes than you were used to in warmer weather.
“If you’re cold, you think, ‘I’m supposed to be cold.’ And if your shoes are hard, you’re like, ‘Well, it’s cold out, so they should be hard.’ When you actually start walking around in these things in the cold weather, and they feel soft still, it’s this new experience, and you realize that you’ve been putting up with some crap for a while.”
As mentioned earlier, only time will tell if the new Boost cushioning platform from adidas will truly revolutionize performance running, and luckily, you can finally find out for yourself, as the Energy Boost launched today.
words & images // Zac Dubasik
In the past year, we’ve seen a wide range of offerings from PUMA. There have been modified classics, such as the many new takes on the Clyde seen in their UNDFTD collaboration, as well as more drastic reinterpretations of past models and entirely new silhouettes like those found in their Hussein Chalayan-designed Urban Mobility line. For the new Suburb, PUMA challenged their designers with a goal of creating a model that was clean and contemporary to PUMA, but updated with a twist.
Taking its name from the ideal of being an outlier of a city or boundary, the initial Suburb releases feature subdued blacks and grays, not unlike the color pallet common to the Urban Mobility line, but highlighted with subtle color pops and contrasted outsoles. This infusion of color, as well as the shoes’ materials, were inspired by club music and lifestyle, which PUMA has been celebrating with their PUMA Social initiative.
The Suburb is available now at Eastbay and retails for $85.
words & interview // Zac Dubasik
As Dwight Howard’s game has developed and matured, his adidas signature line has as well. It only seems right that the most dynamic big-man in the League would have a decidedly un-big-man signature shoe. Creating a shoe that can protect one of the league’s biggest and most popular players, as well as giving him the mobility that makes him such a special talent, is a balancing act.
We caught up with Category Designer Robbie Fuller and Global Senior Product Manager Gabe Heller to get the inside story on Dwight’s latest signature adidas basketball shoes.
Zac Dubask: The shift to the adiPower Howard from the Super Beast was pretty minimal. But we see something completely different with the adiPower Howard 2. What was your starting point for the 2?
Robbie Fuller: Just like you said, we had a good platform, and a lot of things that were working, like the Alive cushioning system. We knew we wanted to stay consistent with that. And from there, I think this is a premium version and continuation of some of the things we’ve had, like on the Super Beast with the really massive Stripes. How do we take that from being synthetic stitched, to being this 3D-molded cage in the midfoot. That’s where a lot of this came from. And then, through talking to Dwight, he has a huge personality. I think we’ve done a good job of working in the details we can, but until this point, we had never fully committed the actual texture and design and everything to really showcasing this one little tidbit of his game. I was working with another designer that was helping out with this, and we were just challenging each other back and forth.
I can remember the comment. We had herringbone all over the outsole, and it was like, “That’s not a story. That’s not an explanation.” It’s going to work, and it’s super functional, but, is there a way to just get at explaining a better example of what signature can mean? And that’s where we started going back and forth with “shatter.” AdiPower is always about energy, and Dwight is probably the only guy in the league right now who doesn’t even have to touch the goal; he just looks at the goal, and it’ll fall down or the backboard will shatter. [laughs] We started there, and had that theme and idea take over the whole shoe. You see it from the bottom. It starts in the forefoot and just echoes all the way out. It’s kind of similar to what’s going on with the miCoach. The micoach is starting small. We are integrating it into the shoes. But over the years, it’s going to really grow and become a critical part of why you are going to buy these shoes in the future.
ZD: In the past, with a typical big man shoe, you could have raised the collar, added as much padding to the upper as possible, given it as much cushioning as possible, and called it a day. But Dwight’s line hasn’t been like that. What’s that balance like, with Dwight being such a big guy, but such a mobile guy at the same time?
Robbie: You look at Dwight, and he is not like the guys that I remember from the mid and late-‘80s playing ball. If you saw standing next to a Bill Laimbeer, or a Jack Sikma, it’s just night and day. [laughs] He’s such an amazing athlete. He probably has 4% body fat. And we take that same look and bring it into the shoe. He doesn’t need a massive boot, up to his knee. He can probably beat any of us in a race to the corner, and he’s super agile. It just happens to be that he’s almost seven feet tall while he’s doing it. In the shoes, we look at all those features. What is the torsionability of the shoe? It doesn’t need just to be for putting your back to the basket. It’s the sprint down the court so that he get’s the lob before the point guard can even get back on defense.
Gabe: A big thing for us, moving into spring, with Dwight not being your prototypical big man, was really looking at a brief for how we make a shoe that’s not looked at as a big man’s shoe. How do we capture Dwight’s personality in it, and it just happens to be a hot shoe that’s worn by a big guy. And I think we’ve really captured that with the personality, which Robbie talked about, with the shattered backboard.
ZD: I feel like I see some EQT B-Ball influence through the midfoot. Was that on purpose?
Robbie: I wouldn’t say specifically, but every time we start a product, we don’t start from scratch. We have such a history and herratige, and a DNA of adidas design. Anything that’s going on now, we already did it. Whether it’s Select System, or anything, we’ve been there. We have such a treasure trove of functional concepts to go back to, and the three Stripes just seem like a place that we can work in one of those cues from an old EQT shoe.
ZD: This shoe uses the Alive cushioning system again. Could you explain how that works?
Robbie: The way that works is basically like a piston. We’ve cored out the EVA that’s behind the rubber so it can kind of go up in that void area. Imagine a trampoline that’s only two inches off the ground. It’s going to suck. But one that’s three feet off the ground, you can go down and back up. That’s what is so cool about this. It’s these separate pistons that basically engage depending on how you run. If you are on the outside, you are going to engage the outside. If you are running straight, you are going to engage pretty much all of them.
ZD: Could you talk about the shank, and how it maybe has influence from SPRINTFRAME?
Robbie: When we know we are going to built an adiZero [shoe], we set the weight target, and we know exactly what we want to try and achieve. That’s why you see SPRINTFRAME, and see it stitched. For this shoe, it’s always a trade off. The shoe can’t have everything. You don’t see a hummer doing 0-60 in three seconds. [laughs] You have to make concessions. We felt that instead of having the SPRINTFRAME execution on this particular shoe, we thought really locking down the midfoot was the right way to go, and the right recipe for Dwight and his game.
ZD: Was any particular feedback from Dwight incorporated into the design?
Robbie: “Don’t make it heavy!” This is the lightest Dwight. He’s been echoing that same thing in the last couple of meetings. He’s super open to continuing to push function, continuing to push the storytelling, and he’s challenging us not to make a boot. [laughs] He’s seen some of the things going on with adiZero, with how light and how reactive those shoes can be to your movements, and he wants to make sure he’s got something that’s just as strong.
Gabe: Couple that with when you meet with him, he has a size 18 foot, so he’s very conscious about how the shoe looks on his foot. It’s really taking those cues, and giving him that stylish component where when he does put on a size 18, it’s not drawing attention to how big his feet are. And I think this shoe does a great job, and just fits together real well.
ZD: Were there any personal details that he asked to be incorporated?
Robbie: We’ve been working closely with him and Rose, and starting to build up a tool kit of graphics and sign offs. We really respect the level of a logo, because it means a lot. We met him him three separate times, and had 10-feet tall, by five-feet wide logos printed out, and he got to go through them. But besides that, we made sure we have a sign-off of his name on there, and the “one, two” for his number. The shape of the tongue top is reminiscent of stories we’ve highlighted in the past. [laughs]
Gabe: And he’s big on luxury materials, so the vamp now is microfiber synthetic to really give you that nicer feel, but it’s microfiber for lighter weight and better breathability.
Robbie: Even the webbing comes from the trim of their uniforms.
words & images // Zac Dubasik
On paper, there is not really anything that stands out about the Zig Encore. If you look at each individual aspect of the shoe (which we will), nothing is really outstanding. And that makes this a hard shoe to grade, because I somehow ended up really enjoying playing in it. Make no mistake – the Encore is a decade behind a lot of the season’s best performers – some of which are much cheaper. But everything that the Encore does right came together pretty well, and made for a satisfying playing experience.
My biggest gripe with last year’s Zig Slash was its awful traction. It did have a herringbone pattern, but unfortunately, most of it was grooved into the tooling foam. Much more rubber was used on the Encore though, which resulted in solid traction. Unfortunately, the rubber compound used is a little on the firm side, and doesn’t grip as well as I’d like. But overall, and especially compared to last year’s, it’s dependable when clean.
The Zig Slash featured a sky-high cut that wasn’t very comfortable, but was supportive. The Encore has a much more modern cut, and offers far greater range of motion. Combined with the improved traction, it is a much faster and more mobile shoe. The collar lockdown isn’t perfect – I would have liked to have seen more molded padding to keep the heel in place better. Thankfully though, a solid internal heel counter kept things in place when I was laced tightly.
As for the rest of the upper, the patent leather-based colorway I played in was stable, yet flexed well. And despite how busy it is, I had no rubbing or hotspots where the many layers come together. It also held my foot securely over the footbed. The shape of the upper, on the other hand, is puzzling to put it frankly, and one of my bigger issues with the Encore. The shoe fits great through the midfoot, but the toe has far too much room at the tip. This is an extreme comparison, and an exaggeration, but it helps illustrate my point. Imagine a pair of men’s dress shoes with a pointed toe. The shoe fits close through the midfoot, but then has empty space in the toe to accommodate the pointy shape. While this may create a pleasing aesthetic in certain situations (I guess), I am lost as to why a similar last shape would be used on a performance shoe.
The Encore isn’t nearly as bad as that example, but any amount of excess toe room in a performance hoops shoe is just unnecessary. I don’t feel that it’s a matter of sizing up or down either, because if your foot is narrow enough to fill the midfoot, the shoe will be far too wide and roomy across the ball of the foot. The last shape wasn’t a deal breaker when it comes to playability, but it did make for a sloppier fit than what would be ideal. That excess toe length doesn’t work in its favor.
Moving on to the tooling, the revamped ZigNano midsole is much more basketball friendly than the original. This sleekened out version is lower to the ground, resulting in better court feel, and it also has better flex. What’s interesting is that this new version has more foam through the forefoot than the original. The platform’s exaggerated wavy midsole is filled in for more stability and a consistent ride up front. While the shoe’s Zig technology itself was of course adapted over from Reebok’s Running division after the instant success it experienced, the Reebok Basketball team did a nice job improving on the sport-specific needs of a Zig concept this time around.
Cushioning wise, I found the heel to be much softer than the dead-feeling Zig Slash. It’s not particularly responsive by industry standards, but very good when it comes to impact protection. The forefoot on the other hand, is firm. This is often the tradeoff when you get lower to the ground, and upgrade court feel. If court feel ranks highly among your preferences, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I found myself wanting a little more protection up front though after long runs.
The single biggest issue I have with the Zig Encore though is its price. At $115, it just doesn’t offer the quality, innovation and playability that we’ve come to expect at that price range in today’s market. It didn’t seem to cause any durability issues, but the construction is downright shoddy. There are crooked stitch lines and excess threads throughout the upper. The bonded seams and smooth lines of its competitors make the Zig Encore feel dated in comparison. And it just doesn’t offer enough from a performance standpoint to make up for it, and justify the price.
That doesn’t mean it’s a bad shoe – just not a good value. It’s hard to recommend at $115 over the competition, but I did enjoy playing in it from a sum-of-its-parts perspective. If you are a Reebok or John Wall fan, the Zig Encore is a perfectly capable on-court performer. If you’re after exact fit, great cushioning or modern construction, you may want to look elsewhere.
best for: casual players who like the aesthetic of Zig-based shoes
colorway tested: White/Black/Red
key tech: ZigNano midsole
pros: transition, heel cushioning
cons: last shape, build quality, price
improvements: refined last shape, more attention to detain in construction of a $115 shoe
buying advice: The Zig Encore is a major step forward compared to last season’s Zig Slash. Nothing about the shoe stands out as amazing, but I thoroughly enjoyed playing in it. At $115 though, it there are better playing options from almost every competing brand. But if you like the aesthetic of the Zig tooling, and are looking for an alternative to the bigger names, the Encore does play well.
Available Now: Reebok Zig Encore