words_Terence Tang
images_Nick DePaula
A Sole Collector Performance Review

Anyone who is at all exposed to basketball has seen or heard of the Nike Hyperize. They’re everywhere. If the Hyperize were a fast food chain, they’d be McDonald’s. Driving down a street without passing a McDonald’s is as unlikely as witnessing a basketball game without seeing a pair of the Hyperize on someone’s feet. Since their release, they’ve been a staple for NBA players and recreational ballers alike.

However, they’ve gotten their share of negative reviews. Some have claimed the shoes fell apart on them after several weeks. Others say they’re uncomfortable. Complaints of subpar ankle support were plentiful. And most recently, they’ve been blamed for multiple ankle sprains by Detroit Pistons strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander. I had already played in the Hyperize earlier last fall, and though I noted a slight stability issue, I personally didn’t experience any major problems or injuries. In the wake of Coach Kander’s ban of arguably today’s most popular performance shoe, I decided to give the Hyperize another go to see if anyone is truly putting themselves in danger by playing in them.

Let me start by mentioning that these shoes run big. My standard size 12 was noticeably too large, evidenced not only by the ridiculous amount of excess room in the toebox, but also by the toebox creasing and digging into my toes (shoes are generally designed to crease right over the area where your toes crease; if the crease is too far forward, i.e. on top of your toes, that probably means you’re wearing too big of a shoe). I went down a 1/2 size and the fit was absolutely perfect. No more toe digging and perfect amount of roominess in the toebox.

One would think going down a half size would result in the dreaded “pinky pain” due to the decreased width, but this was not the case; even after multiple wearings. I never experienced any foot discomfort whatsoever. In fact, the fit is quite perfect throughout once I had the sizing down, with the foot well-cradled but not constricted in any way, and the full-length mesh inner sleeve contributes to the seamless, glove-like feel of the Flywire-based upper. This effortless comfort goes all the way up the collar, which isn’t incredibly padded, but very flexible. Even with the shoes laced tightly all the way up (I highly recommend doing this), the collar allows for unrestricted movement while providing a reassuring hug around the ankles.

Moving to the full-length Phylon midsole, a 14mm Zoom Air bag generously cushions the heel strike, but the Lunar Foam in the forefoot almost seems nonexistent. Don’t get me wrong – the forefoot doesn’t feel stiff or harsh by any means, but Zoom heads will be left craving at least a “met bag.” Fortunately, the outsole benefits from the ever-so-trusty herringbone pattern for terrific traction and a generous outrigger on the lateral side for support. Thanks in part also to the well-shaped tooling and the glass fiber midfoot shank, this setup, though not perfect, allows for great court feel, crisp movements, and smooth heel-toe transition. (I’d still prefer more forefoot cushioning.)

As great as this shoe performed for me in areas of fit, support and transition, I did notice that the medial side of both my socks were absolutely drenched. Gross, I know; but upon closer inspection of the shoes, four small triangular vents can be found on the lateral Flywire panels, but no such vents were found on the medial panels (they appear to be there at a glance, but a quick feel from the inside of the panel confirms they don’t function as vents). I can’t figure any reasoning as to why the vents don’t exist on the medial side, as they would greatly promote the shoe’s overall breathability without sacrificing fit or support.

Sounds like a good shoe, right? So, in what way do they warrant a team-wide ban, as seen on the Pistons? I’m taking a quick sidestep here to explain something: Higher cut shoes do not prevent ankle sprains. It’s just impossible. Simply put, ankle sprains are freak accidents and there are many ways for it to happen – such as landing on someone’s foot, getting tripped up and stepping wrong, or even having weak muscles that support the foot and ankles to begin with – but if you’ve done something to turn your ankle, you’re pretty much screwed regardless of whether you’re wearing highs, mids or lows. No basketball shoe is going to be guaranteed to protect you from an ankle sprain considering the insane amount of force you’re exerting on your ankle during the injury. For the best protection, you’ll want to look for the most exacting heel and midfoot lockdown you can find, and even then, landing on someone’s foot may still keep you out a few weeks.

However, certain aspects of some basketball shoes can contribute to an ankle injury. If you look at the midsole/outsole of the Hyperize, you can differentiate the Phylon from the rubber. Of course, Phylon is a softer foam compound and rubber is more firm. If you look at the lateral heel (seen above), along the heel there is more Phylon, right where it meets the flex groove of the sole. There’s very little rubber in that part of the shoe, which means that area is quite soft. So if someone were to land off-balance, coming down on the outside part of the heel, the midsole would give way and possibly allow the ankle to roll. I also noticed that the width of the heel is amongst the most narrow I’ve seen. By comparison, the Kobe V heel measures a full centimeter wider. One centimeter doesn’t sound like much, but when you compare the two shoes sole-to-sole, the difference is staggering. The soft heel combined with its narrowness is definitely a potential hazard, and as one of our esteemed readers pointed out (thanks, Coach!), this problem area is right under the subtalar joint, which is essentially the lower part of the ankle.

Without knowing the full circumstances of each Pistons’ ankle injury, there’s no way for us to know whether the Hyperize was convicted unfairly. However, it’s apparent that the shoe does indeed have a problem area; whether it’s major or minor is your opinion. Again, I didn’t experience any issues while wearing these shoes, and I still think they’re solid performers,  having enjoyed outstanding traction, support and transition throughout my many wearings. My only personal complaint would be for more responsive forefoot cushioning, which Nike appears to have adjusted for next season’s Hyperdunk 2010 with the inclusion of forefoot Zoom Air. If the Hyperize still scares you away, and you’re that afraid of spraining your ankle, maybe you should take up a different sport.

Who’s Worn It?: Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks), Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers), Amar’e Stoudemire (Phoenix Suns), Danny Granger (Indiana Pacers), Jason Richardson (Phoenix Suns), Grant Hill (Phoenix Suns), Trevor Ariza (Houston Rockets) and many more.

Available now: Nike Hyperize