words // Nick DePaula

Were this 2007, the LeBron 8 PS would rank near the top of my favorite shoes ever.

But I think you guys all know what happened that following summer. The Hyperdunk hit, with a new lightweight containment gizmo called “Flywire,” a car-leaping endorsement from the game‘s best player and even its own fictitious recovery center for victims. And then, things changed. We’re in 2011 now, and just as players themselves evolve, the sneakers that we depend on dearly have evolved too. To thinner, lower and lighter — much lighter — ends of the spectrum that we probably didn’t even think was possible. It’s not just a Nike Basketball thing either, as adidas Basketball can lay claim to the lightest sneaker out today, and you can bet brands around the industry are looking to innovate to even newer thresholds of lightweight.

So how does all of this impact the LeBron 8 PS, an otherwise solid and sturdy sneaker that seems to offer up a ton of benefits? We have to grade it relative to what else is out there, and were this a pre light-is-more era of footwear, it would be among the very best shoes you could hope to play in. Unfortunately, it’s still a really great basketball shoe, but there’s quite a few alternatives that can offer just as much performance at three, and even an unimaginable four ounces less. The LeBron 8 PS clocks in at a commendable 14.2 ounces, making it one of the lightest shoes he’s worn, but compared to other models out there, many in the lower 11’s and some quite known to be at 9.8 ounces, the 8 PS is noticeably heavier on-court, and that might be an issue for some of you.

To be fair, LeBron couldn’t actually play in a Hyperdunk and get the same feeling of full support that he gets from his signature models. Taking his shoes towards the ten ounce mark isn’t a discussion that the group appears to be looking at. “It’s not about making the most light shoe that you can,” Nike Basketball Senior Designer Jason Petrie says, when asked about the weight of the PS. “It’s about making it appropriately light for him. He likes it light, but you don’t want to have him out there in a running shoe, because he needs a certain level of protection and confidence in that protection that it instills in him.” Which makes sense. The downside, of course, is not all of us are 6’8” and 260 pounds.

If you’re a bigger forward or simply not hung up on every last ounce that you’re lacing up for whatever level of hoops it is you’re competing at, the LeBron 8 PS is definitely worth some serious consideration. While the upper features a true three-layer Hyperfuse composite throughout, evolving along the season-long story of LeBron’s eighth signature shoe, the true gem of it is the cushioning set-up. There’s an entirely new Air Max 180 unit, dubbed a “porkchop bag” by Petrie and his right-hand man, Nike Basketball Footwear Developer Ben Smith, and the bag is oh-so-much-better than where the category has been in the past. While the up-and-down cushioning properties that you’ll feel from a sensory level are pretty comparable to heel Max bags found in other shoes, it’s the noticeably more smooth radius of the bag that makes it much improved from a heel-to-toe standpoint. My longtime issue with heel Air bags has been their propensity to feel a bit slappy and clunky at times, but now with the new bag’s more radiused shape and contour, there’s an easier transition once your heel strikes, and you’ll notice it right away. A few slight changes to the angle of the way in which the heel sits might not seem like a big deal, but it can single-handedly change the way the shoe plays. As a result, the overall transition is better, the shoe plays faster, and there’s less sharp points on landings that you might find in more flat heel setups like older Max units or all-but-done-with Shox columns, allowing for even better stability.

Performance Review: Nike LeBron 8 P.S.

What makes the LeBron 8 PS an outstanding shoe — regardless of any relative weight shortcomings it may have — is its amazing cushioning. With heel Max Air and a full-wide forefoot Zoom Air unit, the 8 PS incorporates a cushioning setup we surprisingly haven’t seen all that often from Nike Basketball as of late. It’s responsive, protective and stable. The last shoe to include the same set-up was last year’s Zoom LeBron Soldier IV, albeit with a more clunky heel Max unit, but you’d have to go back at least five years to find another similarly cushioned shoe. With the re-sculpted and re-introduced heel Max 180 “pork chop” (because of the additional Air extending through the midfoot) bag seen here, we’re luckily on the horizon of a new era of heel Max / forefoot Zoom that the upcoming LeBron IX will be taking one step further. Regardless of frame, you’ll love the cushioning here.

Nike LeBron 8 PS Review

Another bright spot of the 8 PS is the traction and support, which can be a credit to not only the unique pattern design, but also the shoe’s highly sculpted outsole and targeted outrigger. Built to support sudden movements and changes of direction, the shoe’s snug upper fit allows it to move in tandem with your foot, and the forefoot outrigger, heel radius and precise flex points keep the shoe balanced and stable throughout play. All good things. The only negative of note with the outsole is that it’ll take a game or two to really engage the traction, and I also did notice some slipping when I was teetering at an extreme angle on the medial side of the forefoot on cuts. There’s a lot of sculpting there, and perhaps not as much rubber coverage as you might need. You may have even noticed LeBron slip a few times during the NBA Playoffs too, as he appeared to lose his footing when sharply curling around a screen at the elbow and beginning to attack right. After a few games, the problem completely went away for me, but it was interesting to follow LeBron through the Playoffs as he encountered some slippage issues on more than one occasion. As you know, he plays in a brand new pair every game. If you plan to play in the 8 PS on more than one occasion, as I expect you would, it shouldn’t be a major concern.

Performance Review: Nike LeBron 8 PS

Aside from the cushioning and support, which over time I really took a liking to, the other aspects of the 8 PS that you’d probably be concerned about, like ankle support, fit and durability, were all outstanding too. The shoe laces up easily and well, with a nice variable width eyestay that was carefully measured, and the taller height and lower heel give it that sweet balance of protection and mobility. You never feel restricted in it, but you also always feel protected and supported, a great achievement of the design. It’s arguable that there’s that much more breathability offered up by the Fuse upper pattern, as breathability is neither noticeably great or poor. It’s a shoe. You play for two hours in it. Your feet sweat. Pretty straightforward stuff to deal with. The upper is well designed, supportive and does a great job of hugging through the medial side, and there’s absolutely nothing to complain about in terms of potential irritation points or flaws. I’m not crazy about the sockliner that’s used in it, as it has a clothy feel and could be more smooth, but it’s not a dealbreaker either.

Again, the 8 PS is truly an awesome shoe — one of LeBron’s best shoes — and were it three ounces lighter, I’d tell everyone I know to grab five pairs immediately. Even with lighter options out there, I’d still highly recommend them, but I’m just doing my best to point out that you might like something even lighter, because we have those options nowadays. If we were all hanging out in 2006 and wearing all-over hoodies, camo shorts and multi-colored runners in our free time, the 8 PS would certainly be in everyone’s arsenal once it came time to hit the hardwood. It offers everything that you’d want in a shoe, with outstanding cushioning, reliable support, great traction and excellent durability. As industries evolve and priorities change though, sometimes those few ounces can actually be noticeable, and that’s really the only downside of the LeBron 8 PS. Whether or not a few ounces matters to you is really what it’ll come down to.

Designer: Jason Petrie

Developer: Ben Smith

Season: Spring 2011

Colorway tested: Black / White / Varsity Red

Best for: Forwards

Key Tech: Heel Air Max 180 unit, 6mm forefoot Zoom Air unit, Hyperfuse upper composite construction, sizeable sculpted glass-fiber midfoot support shank

Pros: Outstanding impact protection and cushioning to support even the largest of frames, great traction on hardwood after a few break-in period games, smooth transition for such a sturdy shoe, great lockdown when laced snuggly

Cons: While the materials that go into the PS are the most modern that Nike Basketball has to offer, the 8 PS is a few ounces heavier than other alternatives;  both traction and support take some break-in time

Improvements: Reduce weight, change out sockliner for smoother feeling fabric

Buying Advice: If you’re a forward looking for maximum cushioning, support and  transition, look no further than the LeBron 8 PS. It offers tremendous and long-lasting cushioning in a beast of a package. If you’re after a lighter solution that offers similar cushioning, you’ll be best suited to check out the Hyperdunk and Hyperfuse 2011s.

Available now: Nike LeBron 8 PS

Nike LeBron 8 PS Performance ReviewPerformance Review: Nike LeBron 8 PS