words & images_Nick DePaula

For most of 2010, LeBron James has repeatedly mentioned one word to Nike Basketball: Transformation. He’s transformed from boy to man. He’s transformed from Cleveland to Miami, as you know, taking his talents down a bumpy road to South Beach. He’s even transformed everything from his style of play to his jersey number to his new logo.

And for the first time in the series, the Zoom Soldier model has transformed as well. Gone is the heel and forefoot Zoom Air cushioning set-up that we’ve become accustomed to, as a heel Max Air and forefoot Zoom Air platform enters the equation. Another new twist to the franchise is the addition of Flywire, seen atop the midfoot along the shoe’s midfoot strap. But the biggest transformation of them all can be seen in the general approach of the shoe.

LeBron didn’t wear them in the Playoffs, a first, instead opting for a post season aimed version of his signature Air Max LeBron VII. The shift in strategy means the Zoom Soldier IV will now lead the unofficial Team LeBron umbrella of squads outfitted head to toe in King James branded shoes and unis. His alma mater, of course, Akron-based Saint Vincent Saint Mary’s. Christ The King in New York, and Fairfax in LA, as well. Only LeBron will wear his signature shoe, and for collectors, that means no more player exclusive versions of the coveted high school colorways. (Sorry.) The Zoom Soldier IV is now being positioned within the line as the ultimate team shoe, and as I found out over the course of a few weeks, it’s just that, the perfect playing shoe for high school teams and the all-around athlete.

At first glance, the Zoom Soldier IV, designed by Leo Chang, brings with it familiar traits from past Soldier shoes, which always focused on blending LeBron’s “Power” and “Speed” game. There’s a sturdy and stable stance to the shoe, with a perfectly placed outrigger offering outstanding support on cuts and movements. I wore the Cool Grey/ Dark Plum colorway, and I really enjoyed the reduced weight of the quarter’s ballistic mesh and the main nubuck overlay rand. I’d have to suggest the ballistic-based versions of the shoe over the leather-based, as the shoe is just a bit lighter and more pliable. The ballistic mesh and nubuck upper flexes great during play, all the while exactly locking you in thanks to an easy-in lacing setup and supportive midfoot strap. You can disregard the Flywire along the strap as simple marketing, as it’s best employed on the upper just above the outrigger for lateral cuts, but when tightly fastened, the extra layer of support is surely welcomed. Rather than incorporating both a collar and forefoot strap like last year’s Zoom Soldier III, the IV goes back to a more simplistic system more closely resembling the Soldier I. One pull across the midfoot is all you need for the extra harnessing of players of any position.

While it’s quite a departure from previous Soldier models (and the signature shoe continues to evolve its cushioning as well), the Zoom Soldier IV’s cushioning is certainly one of the highlights of the shoe. While I personally prefer heel and forefoot Zoom, many hoopers have come to love and specifically seek out heel Max/ forefoot Zoom, as the more stable impact protection in the heel and responsive forefoot makes for an impressively reliable and durable package. From the second I took the shoes out of the box and straight to the court to the very last time I took them off, the cushioning felt exactly the same, never losing feedback or bottoming out at any time. It’s sometimes hard to say the same for foam, Zoom or Lunar-based cushioning. If you’re in for the long haul and looking for one shoe to hold up for several months of daily pounding, the long-lasting and dependable cushioning of the Zoom Soldier IV might be its greatest selling point.

Along with the top-tier cushioning, another highlight of the shoe was its traction. Clearly, full-length herringbone works. Pretty much every time. Leo Chang, who just recently was promoted and named Design Director at Nike Basketball, has thankfully relied heavily on the tried and true traction pattern, refusing to sacrifice grip for trying to tell a cute story through an area where the shoe needs no-frills performance at all costs. He brought herringbone back into the Hyperdunk line. Relies exclusively on it for Kevin Durant’s sneakers, and there’s been a steady reliance on the zigs and zags of rubber throughout the Nike Basketball line. You’ll find the traction in the Zoom Soldier IV to be one of the very best of the season. Once again, the traction hardly wore out along the way, as you’ll find durability reaching all points of the shoe.

Throughout my multi-week testing of the Zoom Soldier IV, I had a hard time finding any faults. To be overly critical, there might be just a bit too much toe volume for my liking, resulting in a wild-as-hell toe-hawk when laced overly tight. (I tie my shoes REAL tight.) But generally speaking, the high-school team athlete has continually said they like a bit of “wiggle room” — which I never have. A simple preference difference there. The Zoom Soldier IV also doesn’t exactly bring with it new levels of innovative design, opting for a clean color-blocking and team friendly look instead. That’s not a knock on the shoe at all, just a testament to the IV feeling more team bank and safe than past Soldier models, which carried a bit more of a semi-signature feel as LeBron wore them throughout his ring-less Playoffs journey. Both of those complaints are admittedly pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things, as the Soldier IV’s versatility for players of all positions, great traction, outstanding cushioning, and great value at $110 rise to the top and make it a tremendous performer.

The best part of the Zoom Soldier IV is the fact that players of any position can enjoy it. For a full season too. It’s no longer designed for the playoff push of LeBron James, but rather the extended season of an elite high school team. With that transformation comes added durability and versatility for larger players. Bigger guards will love the stable base, lockdown and traction. Swingmen and slashing forwards will appreciate the heel-to-toe transition, cushioning and stability, and the biggest of bigs will be thankful for a great overall package highlighted by sturdy support and impact protection. It’s not the lightest shoe of the season — as you don’t see the “Hyper” word of course — but if you’re looking for more durability and long-lasting support, the Zoom Soldier IV is certainly worth the trade-off.

Who’s Worn It? LeBron James (Miami Heat), James Jones (Miami Heat), Mike Miller (Miami Heat), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Miami Heat), Daniel Gibson (Cleveland Cavaliers), The Ohio State University, Saint Vincent Saint Mary’s High School, Fairfax High School, Christ The King High School

Available Now: Nike Zoom Soldier IV