words & images_Zac Dubasik
The concept of the Evolution ’85 is an interesting one. It was based on the question of, if the Air Jordan I were designed now, what would it be? Rather than keeping the shoe’s original appearance, like the Alpha AJ1, this was a complete redesign. It incorporates elements of the original that made sense from a modern performance standpoint, like targeted overlays, and updates them to function in ways they never originally did.
While I was excited about the fact that performance was the key factor driving the shoe, the first time I saw the Jordan Evolution ’85, my reaction wasn’t a positive one. Any time I see this much elephant print on a shoe, I’m skeptical as to how much emphasis actually was put into its performance. That may or may not be a fair judgment to make, because I haven’t experienced poor performance with elephant print-laden shoes in the past. But then again, I’ve also never played in a Rare Air or Classic ’87, being that on-court performance wasn’t their forte. Regardless of its fairness, I don’t think I’m the only one that feels that way when I see the overused and abused pattern dominate a shoe the way it does here. It’s just not something that screams modern performance, but maybe the fact that it was an updated variation should have been a clue. Luckily, even though the aesthetic may have made me cringe, it quickly turned into a smile the second I stepped into the shoe.
As skeptical as I may have been initially, the supreme comfort I experienced when I put the Evolution ’85 on immediately got me excited to get this shoe on-court. Aside from being close to perfectly shaped for my foot, the shoe’s faux-bootie adds an additional level of comfort. According to the shoe’s designer, Justin Taylor, the Evolution ’85 was originally designed as a bootie with straps, but for functionality purposes, transformed into a more traditional construction. “We still kept the bootie lining package, so you get the comfort of an inner bootie, but you get the adjustability of a traditional eyestay,” explains Taylor. And that couldn’t be a more accurate explanation. I’ve never worn a shoe that felt more bootie-like, without actually having one. One of the caveats of a full bootie, though, is the bunching that can occur, and as a result, a decrease in comfort and lockdown. I experienced none of that with the Evolution ’85. It’s a system that works exactly as it was intended: bootie comfort with traditional adjustability.
To touch a bit more on the shape, the reason it works so well for my foot is that it is a bit wide, especially in the forefoot. I don’t have overly wide feet, but occasionally have issues with overlays or counters rubbing on more narrow shoes. If you have narrow feet, you may want to try these on before you buy. While it appears that the forefoot strap (an updated performance nod to the original Air Jordan I’s forefoot overlay) may help you out here, I found it to be less than functional. The surface area of the Velcro on the strap itself is relatively small and won’t have much to grab the further you pull it across. I didn’t find this to be a problem, as simply lacing the shoe up provided the security my foot needed. But those with narrow feet may not be as fortunate.
The upper’s collar is another major updated performance point from the original Air Jordan I, and this one functions much better than the aforementioned strap. Taking inspiration from the AJ I’s collar overlay, this modern take detaches the overlay from the upper, which makes for a much more secure fit. When fully laced, this collar system provided excellent lockdown.
Moving on to the most visually dominant feature of the upper – the one with all of the elephant print – is the shoe’s large and wrapping TPU counter. While I may not care for the aesthetics, from a performance standpoint, it completely works. It’s as big of an unsegmented external counter that I can ever remember playing in, and provides outstanding lateral stability. I worried that it may be too rigid, and rub uncomfortably on the lateral side of my foot, but experienced no such problems.
The Evolution ’85’s cushioning comes courtesy of a full-length encapsulated Air bag, which is housed inside a TPU cage. The interesting part of this cage is that it actually wraps below the foot in the midfoot and acts as a support shank. The full-length bag works well from an impact-protection standpoint. I don’t find it to be the most optimal for court feel or transition, but it is a great compromise to a Max Air bag when it comes to retaining as much as possible in those departments. Thanks to that compromise, it should suit a wider variety of players who want a combination of both cushioning and court feel.
The outsole of the Evolution ’85 is the last area you’ll notice some visual cues to the original Air Jordan I, through its pivot point and the pattern on the medial side of the heel’s crash pad. You’ll also notice the important addition of herringbone in all the areas that count. It doesn’t wrap up the midsole like the very best of today’s traction does, but I found it to be excellent on both clean and dusty courts. The shoe’s very slight outrigger was another useful update to the original shoe, and added a comforting level of support, despite being on the small side.
On the negative side, it’s a shame that a shoe with such exquisite comfort has such bad breathability. The shoe’s weight, while not necessarily a highlight, is perfectly acceptable. But at the end of long runs, the shoes were soaked and heavy. I’d recommend going with one of the colorways featuring mesh panels. I don’t think it all of the sudden will become a highly breathable shoe, but it couldn’t be any worse than the nubuck version I played in.
As proof that you should never judge a book by its cover, the Evolution ’85 has ended up being one of my favorite shoes of the year. When it comes to comfort and fit, this shoe is outstanding. I’d like to see a little better court feel and transition (and a lot better breathability), but it’s a nice change of pace for me to have this kind of impact protection and still feel like I know where the court is beneath me. When it comes down to it, the single most important thing for me in evaluating a shoe is simply whether or not I like playing in it. And when it comes to the Jordan Evolution ’85, I’m actually disappointed that I have other shoes to review, because I’ve enjoyed playing in it so much. It’s no surprise that Jordan Brand has made this a prominent shoe for their college teams this season, as its versatility and overall effectiveness will make for a top-tier team shoe.
Available now: Jordan Evolution 85