words_Zac Dubasik
A Sole Collecter Performance Review

To my feet, the legendary Air Max 95 is the most uncomfortable popular shoe of all-time. (This is assuming that the adidas Superstar isn’t actually as popular as some like to claim.) I think the AM95 looks awesome, but the supposed “Air” bags feel more like sacks of rocks to me. And I don’t even want to get started on how unwieldy the massive tooling feels underfoot. What I’m getting at here is that I am not in any way, shape or form a fan of heel-to-toe Air Max shoes. I don’t like the way Max Air is somehow much firmer than its direct-to-the-point name would imply; I don’t like the clunky court feel and I don’t like the way they make me feel as slow as the shoes look. So, after being such a fan of the way Zoom Air has been excellently used in the LeBron James signature line, I was less than optimistic about the shift in cushioning technology, and understandably went into my testing of the Air Max LeBron VII with low expectations.

Having said that (definitely a Curb Your Enthusiasm reference), I’ll start off with the positives, because there is a lot to admire about this shoe.  The thing that you’ll immediately notice upon viewing the Air Max LeBron VII is its striking looks. From an aesthetic standpoint, the shoe has received almost universally positive responses. While that normally wouldn’t matter in regards to the shoe’s performance, the build and materials quality has a lot to do with both facets of this shoe. When you spend $160 on a sneaker, you expect certain things, and the VII delivers on its premium price point. Rolled edges, thick patents, precise stitching – not to mention the full array of Nike’s latest technology – are found in every last inch of this shoe. Even the presentation is reflective of the price, with its heavy-duty slider box and matching paper. When you are paying that much for a sneaker, this is the kind of quality that should be expected.

There’s good news on the construction side of things too, because the chosen materials not only add value to the shoe, they actually work. The large panels of Flywire do exactly what what they should, which is reduce weight without compromising support. When fully laced, the VII formed nicely to my foot. Unfortunately, due to the excessive amount of toe volume, it also created one of the largest toehawks I’ve ever experienced. The newly redesigned Air Max bag is also a huge leap from past models, and yields a much better court feel than I’ve come to expect from this type of cushioning system. It’s lower to the ground, and still produces a softer feel – in the heel at least.

Another positive aspect of the VII is its traction, which continues one of the most important traditions in the LeBron line. Even with a new designer and new cushioning platform, the line’s consistently above average traction has been carried over here. When making harsh cuts, I felt very secure about my footing from a traction standpoint. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about my confidence in the integrity of the “midsole.” I’m just not comfortable with the stability – or lack thereof – that the edge-to-edge Air lends itself to. The 360-degree lack of rigidity around the edges plagues the shoe for me. From my very first wearing, I felt a tendency to roll towards whichever direction I was heading due to the overly soft perimeter of the Air Bag. And ironically, in areas where you’d want it to be less rigid, such as the center of the forefoot, it felt as firm as if there were no Air present at all.Above: The Air Max bag found in the LeBron VII, a source of instability and firmness at times.

Now, onto more bad news. You may have noticed that with almost every positive performance aspect I’ve noted on the Air Max LeBron VII, it’s come with the condition “for a Max Air shoe.” So while I feel that it is a major step in the right direction towards making a more responsive, faster Max Air technology, it still falls far short of what it could be. Yes, there is better court feel than I’ve come to expect from a full Max shoe, but is it as good as I’d like? Not even close. Yes, it’s a softer ride than I expected, but are there more responsive alternatives? Absolutely.

Luckily, for the Air Max LeBron VII, there are an awful lot of people that do like playing in Max Air shoes. I’ve asked a number of ballers that I’ve seen wearing the VII what they thought of it, and received a pretty equal number of positive and negative responses. If you are someone that has been playing for years in full-length Air, I suspect this will be one of the best versions you have ever played in. The variety of different styles of hoops kicks offered by Nike Basketball is something I’ve come to respect quite a bit. Every single shoe doesn’t have to be everything to every player. A shoe designed for Kobe Bryant should play much differently than one designed for LeBron James. It just comes down to which style fits your needs best.

As much as I feel that a lot of my disappointment in this shoe just comes down to personal preference, there is one area that is inexcusable, and that is the heel fit and security. Between the massive amounts of toe volume and the sloppy heel fit, I’d recommend possibly going down a half size from what you normally wear. Even still, because of the way the collar padding was designed and developed, you just won’t get the type of heel lockdown that I feel is essential in a top-tier hoops shoe. Shoes from the entire spectrum of price range, from both Nike and Jordan Brand, have started giving more and more attention to the collar fit – and there’s just no justification, performance wise, to not have more heel security in the VII. Also, if you are buying the VII to actually hoop in, you’ll want to steer clear of colorways using patent leather along the collar. Even with longer socks there’s an unpleasant rubbing that occurs due to the materials inherent lack of friction.

All in all, while there’s a lot to like about the Air Max LeBron VII, and a lot of promise it offers, I feel like it needs some important performance refinements before it’s ready to stack up to what it could become. Changing the signature shoe technology of their biggest superstar was a bold move by Nike Basketball. It’s a move that could prove to be very positive though if future iterations of Max Air make as much progress as this one has. Think of the Air Max LeBron VII for what it is, which is the beginning of an exciting new era for the line, rather than a refinement of seven years worth of progress. And even if you don’t like the change to Max Air, things could be worse. At least it’s not full Lunar Foam.Who’s Worn It: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), University of Akron, University of Kentucky, Saint Vincent Saint Mary’s High School, Christ The King High School, Nate Robinson (Boston Celtics), Jason Williams (Orlando Magic), George Hill (San Antonio Spurs)