All-Star Baseball Cleats: Our top picks halfway through the professional season

All-Star Baseball Cleats: Our top picks halfway through the professional season

Baseball fans, rejoice! We’ve made it to midpoint of the grueling 162-game season. Now it’s time to kick back, relax, and enjoy baseball’s All-Star game. For the avid or casual fan, this is one of the best games of the year. The biggest names in the game assemble for one night of big hits, spectacular plays, and fun-loving trash talk. It’s also where these top players show off the all-star cleats they use to elevate their game. Eastbay is home to the best selection of baseball cleats, including the newest models chock-full of cutting-edge technology. Let’s check out some of the top picks and the All-Stars who’ll be rocking them throughout the second half of the season.

New Balance 4040v5

All Star NB GIF

Baseball is a game of ever-changing strategy, and the new era of ballplayers is constantly adapting to the evolution of America’s pastime. So, when you step onto the diamond, you need a versatile cleat for this versatile game. The fifth version of New Balance’s popular 4040 cleat offers a new Kinetic Stitch upper, strategically placed in high-stress zones to support the foot with stronger material that doesn’t compromise flexibility. New Balance tested the cleat using a variety of baseball movements that included balance while batting, stability while planting during a pitch, and accelerating while running the bases. Plus, when All-Stars like DJ LeMahieu and Jorge Polanco consistently rock the 4040 line, you know it’s a legit cleat built for all-around players. After browsing our large selection of team colors, make sure to check out the new All-Star colorway, available at eastbay.com.

Nike Force Zoom Trout 6

All Star Trout
Personalized Mike Trout features include: Cleat plate mapped to Trout’s foot and 865 area code on the heel to pay homage to Trout’s hometown

Smacking dingers, driving the gaps, blazing the base paths, and making plays in the field. Is there anything the overall leader in All-Star fan voting, Mike Trout, can’t do? The short answer is no, and it’s only fitting that the newest version of Trout’s signature cleat is designed to help you do it all, too. The Nike Force Zoom Trout 6 features Flyweave construction that conforms to your foot, providing the ultimate lightweight support. Nike also used a data-generated design from the two-time AL MVP’s foot to pinpoint where to reinforce the bottom plate, providing exceptional traction. Finally, the sixth version of this cleat has a large strap across the lacing that keeps your foot locked down during intense movements.

adidas adiZERO Afterburner 6

All Star Afterburner

If speed is the name of your game, then the Afterburner 6 is the perfect choice for you. The tongueless bootie construction feels like a natural extension of your foot, while the widened anatomical lacing system delivers a custom, locked-down fit. These cleats were specifically designed to allow for quick, multidirectional movement when turning that single into a double or chasing down a ball in the gap. So, it’s no surprise that All-Star starters, Alex Bregman and Ketel Marte, sport the newest Afterburners while tearing up the diamond. Don’t forget to visit eastbay.com for the brand new “Iced Out” colorway.

adidas Icon V Boost

All Star Icon V Boost
*More colorways to come

There’s a reason that Kris Bryant is one of the best young players in baseball today. It’s because he works tirelessly day after day to perfect his game – down to the smallest detail. So it’s only fair that adidas put in the same effort when designing the newest Icon Boost cleat, worn by the superstar slugger. The Icon V Boosts feature a full-length BOOST midsole that provides game-changing comfort while easing the pressure felt from metal spikes. These cleats also include a brand new fit system that uses flexible elastic bands for an easy on/off and a back-lacing configuration for a locked-down feel. The Icon V Boosts are also available in the new “Iced Out” colorway, in addition to a large selection of team colors.

7-on-7 Football: Best Gear for the Upcoming Year

7-on-7 Football: Best Gear for the Upcoming Year

One-handed catches, highlight-reel jukes, and in-your-face celebrations – the non-stop action of 7-on-7 football is back. Eastbay knows that 7-on-7 football comes down to two things, speed and style, so we’re here to highlight some top-tier gear that’ll look and feel as good as you do after burning that cornerback or making the game-winning interception.

CLEATS

Nike Vapor Untouchable 3 Pro

Built for the dynamic playmaker, the Nike Vapor Untouchable combines mesh and synthetic skins that let your foot breathe while still maintaining the durability you need. Its sleek design comes in a variety of colorways, showcasing the cleat’s electric speed on the field. Finally, the one-piece bootie has a tongueless construction, creating a sock-like fit that wraps around your ankle for comfort and control. If you’re the playmaker on offense or the chasedown artist on defense, then the Vapor Untouchable is the cleat for you.

adidas adiZero 8.0

The adidas adiZero 8.0 was made for players meant to stand out. From the stimulating Snowcone Pack colorways to the zebra-like 3-stripe life design, the adiZero 8.0 prioritizes uniqueness over all. Along with the personality this cleat brings to the gridiron, it was also specifically built with one thing in mind – speed. The knitted bootie upper reduces weight and the Sprintframe plate propels you forward with every step. For the player looking to make plays with speed and style, the adiZero 8.0 is right up your alley.

Under Armour Spotlight MC

True to its name, this cleat was constructed for athletes who crave the spotlight and live for the big moment. The Under Armour Spotlight MC is one of the most comfortable and lightweight cleats on the market. It features a SuperFoam insole that absorbs shock and utilizes the combination of bladed and conical studs to enhance your sprints, cuts, and stop with sharp acceleration. For game-long comfort and the ability to stop on a dime, you have to grab a pair of Spotlights.

GLOVES

Nike Vapor Knit 3.0

These gloves are the epitome of cool and comfortable. The Nike Vapor Knit 3.0 features a high-quality knit back that ensures airflow and snug support. They also have a modern, layered overlay design that’s stylish and practical, increasing durability and fit. This receiver glove will fit and feel like a second skin on the field.

Nike Vapor Jet 5.0

The most famous glove in football just got a little better. The Nike Vapor Jet 5.0 features lightweight padding around the thumb for protection from defenders while utilizing Nike’s classic magnigrip palm material that top players trust. These gloves were built to make the impossible catches possible.

adidas adiZero 5-Star 8.0

Looking for the stickiest gloves in the game? Look no further than the adiZero 5-Star 8.0. These gloves emphasize adidas’ famous GRIPTACK palm technology, providing the ultimate grip while catching the football. The stylish design on the gloves complements the unique colorways adidias showcases on their cleats. So, if you’re rocking the adiZero 8.0s on the feet, then you must get the gloves to match.

Under Armour Spotlight

Last but not least, Under Armour has created a pair of gloves chock-full of technology to help you make the tough catch in traffic. The Under Armour Spotlight gloves are made with high-compression HeatGear fabric that provides ventilation, while the mircoknit fabric allows for stretch and recovery. UA GlueGrip technology keeps the ball in your palms, and Power Catch panels limit distractions so you can make the precise play. These receiver gloves are lab tested and battle ready.

ACCESSORIES

Nike Hyperstrong Core Padded Forearm Shivers

When showing up to do battle on the gridiron, you better come protected. Nike’s Hyperstrong Forearm Shivers shield you from defenders without losing an inch on your range of motion.

Jordan Skull Cap

Show out in style with the Jordan Skull Cap. Dri-Fit fabric wicks away sweat to keep you dry and the tight, dynamic fit allows you to wear it under any type of hat or helmet.

Eastbay is your one-stop-shop for all things 7-on-7 football, so make sure to check out eastbay.com and browse our full selection of gear to help you elevate your game.

Performance Review // Air Jordan XX8

Performance Review // Air Jordan XX8

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.

Kicksology // Air Jordan XX8 Performance Review (2)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.

Kicksology // Air Jordan XX8 Performance Review (9)

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.

Kicksology // Air Jordan XX8 Performance Review (4)

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.

GRADE BREAKDOWN:

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.

Available: Air Jordan XX8

Kicksology // Air Jordan XX8 Performance Review (5)

Tinker Hatfield (left) and Josh Heard (right):

Kicksology // Air Jordan XX8 Performance Review (6)

Kicksology // Air Jordan XX8 Performance Review (7)

Kicksology // Air Jordan XX8 Performance Review (8)

Nike Zoom Hyperdunk 2011 Elite Performance Review

Nike Zoom Hyperdunk 2011 Elite Performance Review

words & images // Nick DePaula

Sometimes you’ll read paragraph after paragraph about a shoe before finally making it to the verdict and main chunk of the performance review.

This is not that review.

That’s because the Hyperdunk Elite is the best shoe of the season – the best shoes in years, actually – and a complete joy to play in.

During that first week after I got my pair, I was looking forward to the clock hitting 6:30 every day so I could bounce from work and go play in them. They’re the best-fitting shoe I’ve ever worn. They’re incredibly supportive, lightweight, cushioned, responsive and stable. Everything you’d want in a sneaker, these have. (Well, maybe not the price tag …)

The Zoom Hyperdunk 2011 was already my favorite shoe of the year when it launched, with its sweet blend of cushioning, fit, traction and support. When I first heard about the Elite Series that Nike Basketball was kicking off this spring, I really wasn’t sure how they could improve on it.

It’s pretty easy to see that pretty much the entire upper has been revamped here, and while the launch Hyperdunk 2011 fit damn well, the Elite version takes things to an entirely new bar-setting level. The upper has actually half the layers, and it hugs better than anything I’ve ever worn.

On top of that awesome fit, the Pro Combat tongue is tremendously plush and padded, but unlike the LeBron 9 Elite, it’s only incorporated right over the top of your foot and then thins out towards the top of the tongue, resulting in less puff and exact lockdown around the collar. The shoe is flooded with Kevlar Flywire, and in tandem with the actual carbon fiber heel counter, you’re locked right in.

This is the first shoe in a while that I have zero complaints about. Perhaps the breathability could be better, but literally everything about them is money. The traction is squeaky and perfect on even a dusty court. The lockdown and support are perfect for slashing players and speedy guards. And the sheer comfort that comes from the beefed-up insole, Pro Combat tongue and heel / forefoot Zoom Air combo is unmatched.

You won’t read many reviews this brief, and in this case, it’s because the Hyperdunk Elite is simply that good. If you have any specific questions that you’re curious about, fire away in the comments section and I’ll be sure to answer. Literally everything about these is awesome, and they’re also great for any position on the court. (Unless you cut powerfully and plan to have Marc Gasol stepping on your foot.)

If you’re up for the $200 price point (even though you can definitely buy two pairs of the launch Hyperdunk for that much now that those are on sale), you won’t regret it all. They’re one of my favorite shoes in years.

Grade Breakout //

designed by: Leo Chang

best for: all positions

colorway tested: Black / Metallic Gold

worn by: Blake Griffin

key tech: two-layer bonded upper with Kevlar Flywire strands throughout, sizable real carbon fiber heel counter and midfoot shank, heel and forefoot Zoom Air units, Pro Combat tongue, anatomical sockliner with grip nubs, Kevlar laces

pros: The best combination of fit / support / cushioning / traction and total performance in years.

cons: price

improvements: I seriously can’t think of any.

sizing: true to size

buying advice: The Hyperdunk Elite is my favorite shoe in years. Right out of the box, everything about them is amazing. The fit and feel, cushioning and ride, and support and traction are all industry leading. All in all it’s a monster of a sneaker that I’d recommend to everyone. That is, if you’re ok with the monster price tag.

Available Now: Nike Zoom Hyperdunk 2011 Elite

Nike LeBron 9 Elite Performance Review

Nike LeBron 9 Elite Performance Review

words // Nick DePaula
images // Ryan Unruh & Justing Ji

As I’ve learned through the years, not every shoe is for every position. In the running world, specific running styles, gait motions and support needs can direct people to some very specialized options that are designed to meet a set criteria of performance demands. If your foot veers inward every time you hit the pavement during your stride, there are shoes available that help to offer up more support and perhaps even motion control. In hoops, pretty much none of those variables are ever factored into the equation at retail, and the average person often picks a shoe based on the player that wears it, the way it looks, or because of a familiar cushioning unit or technology incorporated into it.

Well, basketball sneakers aren’t all that unlike running shoes, in that some models work better for specific needs than others. As I found out while playing in the LeBron 9 Elite, this is simply a case where what could be a great shoe for someone else doesn’t quite line up with my wants, preferences or on-court musts.

That’s largely been the biggest downside of the LeBron James signature series up to this point. He’s an absolute beast that needs support at the expense of weight, and protection far beyond what the average consumer demands. In turn, his sneakers have oftentimes been less adoptable for players of all positions. In the grand scheme of things, it’s an impossible problem to balance for Nike Basketball, as they have to first meet the needs of the athlete himself, but don’t want to run the risk of alienating less physically gifted fans of a guy who’s so universally admired for his skills, power and speed. They could never approach things the other way around, either, and make a shoe accommodating for his fans that would never work on-court for James. It’s an odd reality and dilemma that’s plagued the series now for years.

The $250 LeBron 9 Elite, the category’s most expensive sneaker ever at retail, is a shoe that has all of the makings and specs to be a tremendous performance sneaker, but just not for me. I’m 6’-3” and around 185 pounds, and these days, I value light weight, traction, court feel, transition and low-to-the-ground, resilient cushioning — roughly in that order. As you can visibly tell, the 9 Elite is jam-packed with a long list of innovations and specs, like its heel Max Air unit, forefoot Zoom Air unit, abundance of carbon fiber everywhere and its Kevlar Flywire cables. There’s even Kevlar in the laces, which is literally unheard of.

While that might be awesome for LeBron’s needs – and from what I’ve heard, he’s been waiting all year to wear them and thinks they’re perfect – it’s simply too much shoe for me and for most other people. Just like how if you’re after a barefoot runner you wouldn’t pick up the Brooks Beast, if you’re after a lightweight sneaker that can glide through a full-court game, this isn’t the answer. In the category’s eyes, that’s the idea behind building a full product portfolio in the first place.

“A smaller guy that doesn’t need as much support is not going to wear the LeBron anyway,” says Leo Chang, Nike Basketball Design Director. “They would wear a Hyperdunk or a Kobe. That’s why we’ve created a spectrum of product from most supportive and protective to something very lightweight and accommodating for all.”

As you can probably tell, I’m a guy that would rather wear a Hyperdunk or a Kobe. (The Hyperdunk Elite is seriously, seriously good too. My favorite shoe of the year. Check back for that review next week.) They’re lighter, more nimble and flexible, and they emphasize court feel and transition over maximum protection and added materials. That’s not to say the LeBron 9 Elite isn’t a potentially great shoe if the right player has it on, it just isn’t a great shoe for me.

With the shoe’s $250 price tag, there is one very noticeable upgrade from the $170 LeBron 9 that stands out beyond the rest. There’s a HUGE carbon fiber wing that slopes along the lateral side, and it truthfully can lay claim to a good fraction of the price increase. It’s sizable, firm to the touch and clearly engineered, contoured and placed in a targeted zone, but when I really got to playing in it, I couldn’t really feel either a noticeable level of hold or any points of discomfort. Because it was neither impressive nor painful, that’s still disappointing. I was expecting it to feel more rigid when cutting and really enhance the shoe’s lockdown, unlike any standard material I’ve worn before, but it just wasn’t all that noticeable. Is it worth paying a huge jump in price for a component that is perhaps more looks than true performance? It’s hard to say from my experience, and it might take a player much more powerful and sizable to really feel the benefit of the carbon fiber wing. The most impressive element support-wise of the shoe was actually the, in this case, pink harness that you lace through right before moving into the collar’s eyelets. The placement and feel is outstanding, and it’s probably the single piece most responsible for locking the foot into place.

Above: An isolated look at the LeBron 9 Elite’s midfoot harness, which offered up quite a bit of lockdown.

While the carbon fiber was a bit of a disappointment right from the start, something else I was extremely curious about was the way in which the group, as designer Jason Petrie called it, just “flooded” the whole upper of the shoe with Pro Combat padding. It’s real impressive, and it evolves the story that began at the start of the season when we saw the plush padding system normally found in the Nike Training line incorporated into minor zones around the ankle bones of the launch LeBron 9. While the Pro Combat system fully engulfs your foot immediately as you slip the shoe on, which feels awesome to the touch, I did notice that it also worked to basically trap air in while you’re playing. The feel is great, but they need to take a look at how they can get the liner to manage moisture a bit better. The shoe heats up quickly, and only gets worse as the games continue on.

The sheer lack of breathability and the carbon fiber wing that doesn’t quite provide all of the value you’d expect from its spendy cost were two big downsides right away for the 9 Elite, and another is certainly its weight. At 15.6 ounces, it’s actually .6 ounces heavier than the launch version of the 9, and with great shoes now on the market in the 10- to 11-ounce range for the past year, you’ll feel each one of those additional ounces.

For a guy like LeBron, the 15.6 mark is actually fairly light in comparison to his earlier signature sneakers that once veered as high as 19 ounces. With his playing style and needs in mind all along, getting the weight down wasn’t much of a concern. “The goal here was more about protection,” explains Petrie. “We’ve tried to go that lightweight route with the last two PS models, and what we ended up having to do with the 8 PS was actually add more foam and protection into LeBron’s version because it had gotten a little bit too thin and light. We wanted to add in all of that protection here and not have him worry about the shoe at all. He has not stopped talking about it since we got them to him.”

There is absolutely quite a bit of protection, both in terms of traditional support and lockdown, as well as in the form of impact protection underfoot on landings. The cushioning is a huge bright spot of the shoe, giving you a ride far more tuned for performance than most shoes that are focusing more on lighter and lighter weights. With a huge Max Air unit in the heel that really softens your landings and an 8-millimeter Zoom Air unit – two more than most other embedded forefoot units – for unparalleled responsiveness up front, the cushioning package is top notch. Many shoes on the market are getting lighter and lighter as they thin out the tooling and rely more on pure foam for cushioning. This isn’t that shoe, and if weight doesn’t mean much to you, it might be worth taking a look at the 9 Elite’s on the merits of its substantially robust cushioning setup alone.

Another upgrade that I also happened to like was the shoe’s traction. For the past few years, one of the worst trends to happen in footwear was a reliance on “design storytelling” in traction patterns. The Kobe IV’s herringbone pattern worked better than the traction stories found in the V and VI, just as the herringbone in the KD II and III worked far better than the lightning bolt pattern on the KD IV. I thought the LeBron 9, too, fell victim to some classic over-thinking, and luckily, Jason Petrie looked to re-design the forefoot pod of rubber here where you make the most ground contact. While it still tells a story of sorts – you’ll notice the rubber is actually an interlocking “6” and “9” that was inspired by one of LeBron’s doodles during a meeting – the traction is far improved right out of the box. It’s not the best traction ever, but it’s much improved and definitely reliable.

If you’re keeping score at home, the traction, cushioning and overall plush feel of the shoe are all great, while the weight, breathability and price of entry are definitely drawbacks that should be taken into account before buying. To some, the weight and price might each be enough of a factor to force you to look elsewhere. The LeBron 9 Elite is a fine shoe to play in when you take into account its total package of support and comfort, but at $250, I would assume most people are looking for the absolute best of all elements. It’s just such a lofty and outrageous price point for a hoop shoe that I couldn’t help but feel let down when the shoe played well, but wasn’t out-of-this-world impressive. Things like Kevlar laces, an upgraded and beefed up anatomic insole and that much real carbon fiber really do cost money, but is it all necessary if you just want to get in some runs at the gym? I’ll leave that up to you.

If you’re an active larger player that really puts a pounding on his shoes and needs an extreme level of support and impact protection, then they’re worth a look and might be one of the better shoes you’ve played in lately. Much like most experts at your nearby running specialty store who recommend exact models for exact needs, it’s just hard to recommend the LeBron 9 Elite unless your game and your wallet are a perfect match for it.

Grade Breakout //

designed by: Jason Petrie

best for: bigger forwards

colorway tested: Wolf Grey/New Green/Flash Pink

key tech: Carbon fiber support wing, heel Max Air unit, 8 mm forefoot Zoom Air unit, Pro Combat tongue sleeve, Kevlar Flywire cables, carbon fiber midfoot shank, Kevlar threaded lacing, anatomic upgraded insole

pros: outstanding cushioning and step-in comfort thanks to Max Air/Zoom Air combo and plush-feeling Pro Combat liner; build quality is impressive and materials are exceptional

cons: expensive; has seriously bad breathability; is far heavier than many options available; stiff to start and needs break-in period

improvements: Improve breathability and perhaps reduce weight from tooling.

buying advice: At $250, the LeBron 9 Elite is simply a tough recommendation. There are tons of shoes at more than half its price (like the Hyperenforcer, for example) that are definitely capable and enjoyable options for everyday playing. If you’re a guard that places a premium on light weight and court feel, forget it. Take a look at them if you’re a larger forward that values impact protection, plush and padded comfort throughout, and doesn’t mind a shoe on the heavier and expensive side.

Available Now: Nike LeBron 9 Elite

Nike Zoom Hyperenforcer Performance Review

Nike Zoom Hyperenforcer Performance Review

Nike Zoom Hyperenforcer Performance Review
words & images by Nick DePaula

As teams on both the NBA and college level look to make their playoff run every season, the hope of the coaching staff and players alike is that they’re playing their best ball down the stretch – improving on the inconsistencies and missteps that plagued them early in the season. Luckily what will be on many of their feet, the new Hyperenforcer, fits right into that approach, too. It builds on everything the start of season Hyperfuse 2011 offered and perhaps came up short on, with minor tweaks and improvements here and there to really maximize your performance.

While the Hyperfuse franchise has been gradually emerging to a huge level of adoption through the pro and college ranks, I had a single complaint about the 2011 that I thought really needed to be looked at. It was way too damn stiff through the forefoot. Because the shoe’s Fuse upper, a thin synthetic of bonded layers that is used on all but a few Nike Basketball sneakers these days, didn’t really rely on much of a backer or mesh insets right over the toe, the Hyperfuse 2011 was exceptionally stiff directly underneath the flex zone. The problem was that on every single step, stride or movement, you could feel the shoe bunching and working to break itself in. Right out of the box, they were annoyingly stiff and unnatural. Things only got better after a few weeks, and while the rest of the shoe was dependable and well built, that was a huge flaw. For Nike Basketball Design Director Leo Chang, that flex point pressure was exactly where he wanted to start when he began to work on the update to the Hyperfuse 2011, the Hyperenforcer.

“Tracy Teague, our Creative Director, and I were talking and he was just saying how when these guys are making their run for a trophy, whether it’s college guys in March Madness or pro guys come summertime in the playoffs, they don’t want to have any distractions,” explains Chang. “They don’t want to have stuff to think about, and in some ways, the shoes should almost disappear. That was the thought that went through my head in designing this shoe. I wanted to look at the areas where there could be some potential irritation.” Because there were a lot of players that were wearing the Hyperfuse to start the year, Chang and the Nike Basketball team were also able to hear a resounding and echoing chorus of irritation and flex pressure complaints.

So, how did they fix the issue in a shoe that is named kind of the same, looks kind of the same, is priced kind of the same and appears to be constructed kind of the same? There’s actually an entirely different way in which the tongue is anchored this time around, and it makes a world of difference. The biggest problem with the Hyperfuse was that there were stiff layers – and too many of them – bunched together in a zone known for transition that needs to be flexible. So Chang simply moved the bottom of the tongue attachment along the eyestay up – about two eyelet punches forward to be exact – and incorporated some more generous flexing mesh over the toe. It’s pretty much a paper clip-like solution in its simplicity, and the improved fit, flex and feel is pretty surprisingly good given how similar the shoe still is in general design. The best part about the re-aligned tongue is that you’d never notice a difference without some close examination, as two punched eyelets into a slit layer on both sides of the eyestay help to keep the lacing setup exactly the same as most traditional hoop shoes. It’s an impressive fix for what was a huge problem.

In addition to the moving up of the tongue, the actual Fuse package is different too; instead, they opted for a more breathable and dynamic mesh base layer, as compared to the stiffer synthetic layer found on the Hyperfuse. Another huge deal here, you guys. There’s exceptionally better flex throughout, and that’s key if you struggled through the break-in period that never quite went away in the Hyperfuse. Since I’m always looking for perfection, I of course would like to see perhaps even more underside padding added in, as the thin Fuse layers (coupled with my love of thin socks) always means a stiffer sensation for my feet. If you like to play in Nike’s ultra-thick Elite socks, you’ll be fine. I tried for the first time with these, and they’re simply too hot for my taste.

While the upper of the Hyperfuse was in need of some major flex upgrades, the shoe’s traction, ride and support were all really good, and yet, Chang looked to still improve them as much as possible. The Hyperenforcer, which also features a full-herringbone traction pattern, looks like more of the same upon first sight. It’s even better though, thanks to some minor adjustments to the pattern that really get the most out of each and every groove. “If you start from the bottom up and look at the outsole now, it’s a finely tuned herringbone for the motions of basketball and having durability in mind,” Chang begins. “If you look at the lateral edge of the forefoot, the beveling is actually more skewed towards the lateral side. Then you have the toe-off area, and that is angled back a little more. As you look at the heel, there’s a bevel in the direction to help that breaking motion. In the midfoot, it actually spaces out more because you don’t need as much traction there. You need traction and durability under the ball of your foot and in the heel.” Pretty technical to follow, but it’s efficient stuff. The traction, smooth flex and close fit were my favorite parts of the shoe.

Another area of the Hyperenforcer that I really enjoyed was its general support and stability. The shoe’s low heel and high collar top-line design lock you in precisely, and there’s a noticeable helping of collar foam here that we didn’t see in the Hyperfuse that is very much welcome. You have to lace pretty high to get just the right lockdown and fit, but if you’re not loyal to lows and like a little more proprioceptive protection, it’s definitely worth the tradeoff for mobility. The shoe’s exactly targeted outrigger, great fit and sturdy base make it perfectly supportive for shifty guards, skying forwards and lumbering bigs. It’s a great team option for that reason alone, and probably would’ve been a better shoe to launch during the fall when all teams make those buys. If you’re on an AAU squad that isn’t good enough to have trucks backing up to your crib weekly with loads of gear, you’ll definitely want to check these out.

All that said, there’re two things about the Hyperenforcer that you might be concerned about on paper if you’re really closely reading up on them. There’s no heel cushioning. And the weight is listed at 13 ounces. Unfortunately, the heel is indeed what it is. There’s Phylon, and a deflection pad through the middle of the outsole that tries as hard as it can to provide some heel softness. But it’s still firm and something you’ll have to live with. Of course, the forefoot Zoom unit is great and exactly what’d you’ve come to love and expect. The Hyperfuse and Hyperenforcer don’t feature heel Zoom Air for a reason – they’re priced in that $100 to $115 zone and sit just below the Hyperdunk. If you want Zoom up front and in the heel, go grab those.

Luckily, the Hyperenforcer actually plays much lighter than its listed weight, a credit to the shoe’s outstanding fit, transition and support. I was also pretty shocked to actually look up the weight after first playing in it and see the 13-ounce figure. If weight is your number-one priority, there are definitely great (lighter) options out there, but I wouldn’t at all rule out the Hyperenforcer by any means because of weight. It plays lighter than the Hyperfuse 2011 because of better flex and fit, and those were listed at over a half-ounce less.

The playoff and college tourney run is always an interesting time for companies to launch new sneakers. It totally makes sense from a “moment” perspective, as the game’s best are hitting buzzer beaters, cutting down nets and all of those exciting things that we somehow will remember forever. For the most part, though, the average high school and rec guy buys their main shoe at the start of the NBA season. If you happen to fall into the category of needing some new shoes now and are on the hunt for something current, the Hyperenforcer is a great option. Other than a few expected scuffs and bruises here and there, they also held up real well throughout the month I wore them. A great gauge for all of the reviews I do is also how long I plan to wear them after my allotted testing time is through, and these will definitely be getting run into the ground all summer long. They’re great for all positions, I really liked the improved flex from the Hyperfuse, and they also feature outstanding traction and extremely sturdy support and stability. Unless you must have heel and forefoot Zoom units or feel like getting hung up on a listed ounce or two, I’d definitely recommend the Hyperenforcer for any level of play.

Grade Breakout:

designed by: Leo Chang

best for: all positions

colorway tested: Black / Black / White

worn by: Russell Westbook, Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, several college teams and many more

key tech: Hyperfuse-construction upper with Flywire cables, forefoot Zoom Air, dynamic herringbone traction pattern, Phylon midsole, TPU midfoot shank

pros: superior traction and support, great forefoot cushioning, smooth transition, plays much lighter than listed weight

cons: upper is a bit thin and firm in some zones; could use more heel cushioning

improvements: add padding to Fuse underside

buying advice: This is a really good shoe. It’s also a really good shoe for all positions and as a team option. Look elsewhere if you absolutely must have heel and forefoot cushioning, but the Hyperenforcer offers targeted fit, great support, exceptional traction and a smooth ride that I really enjoyed playing in.

Available Now: Nike Zoom Hyperenforcer