words, interview & images_Nick DePaula of Sole Collector Magazine
Nike Basketball has been experiencing quite a noticeable resurgence in recent years, and you can point to a single model as the catalyst for the category’s suddenly accepted sleekened and faster design language: The Hyperdunk, designed by Eric Avar. Marketing glory aside, whether it was Kobe Bryant leaping an Aston Martin DB9 or an incredibly sexy “McFly” colorway that set eBay on fire, the Hyperdunk was quickly the hardwood standard because of its feathery weight, exceptional performance and ability to meet its seemingly lofty expectations.
Even though it was seen on the feet of the world’s greatest players at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and on nearly every prominent Nike Basketball athlete during the following NBA season, which certainly helped, the Hyperdunk marked a new era in basketball footwear because of its ability to reignite possibility in a market that had conceded that everything had already been done. It was simple innovation in a world of none. As the retro-laden lull of briefed-in toe caps and jean-friendly silhouettes had run their course and suddenly began to disappear from Nike Basketball’s line plans, the shift towards a technical performance look season after season had became widely accepted. To most industry analysts and casual fans alike, it was largely a surprise. The days of “performance as casual” were thought to be long over. Led by Eric Avar and the “performance is everything” on-court validation of Kobe Bryant, the structured geometry of Flywire, overly pronounced outrigger placement and awkward-yet-functional collar height worked, and the hyper-everything approach was here to stay. The flagship Hyperdunk grew overnight into an anticipated series that is now in its third year.
Nike Basketball Senior Designer Leo Chang has worked to craft the latest edition, and the Hyperdunk 2010 will be following up on both the original Hyperdunk and last year’s Hyperize, once again with lofty expectations in store. We caught up with Chang early this past summer to break down every last detail of the Hyperdunk 2010, and you can check out our in-depth interview in its entirety below.
Nick DePaula: You designed the Hyperize, and once you started the Hyperdunk 2010, what were some of the things you were hoping to improve on and get after?
Leo Chang: I started the Hyperdunk 2010 when I was on the tail end of the Hyperize, and we had gone through a bunch of testing and then I think that shoe had just started hitting.
For the Hyperdunk, there’s always an issue of weight reduction. That’s our primary concern. The first Hyperdunk was around 13.5 ounces. The Hyperize was just over 12.5, and we’re currently with the Hyperdunk 2010 just over 11.5 ounces.
LC: I think it’s hovering right around 12. One of the major innovations with the Hyperdunk series is definitely Flywire. On the Kobe V, they introduced the new Flywire 2.0 basically, what we call Skinwire. The benefit of that is that it’s lighter, and it’s more conformable to the foot. The material itself actually has a mesh lining base and it’s still a five layer Flywire process. There’s a hot melt in the middle, mesh where the embroidery is, another hot melt and then the outer skin. That creates a composite, whereas in the past, Flywire has been a TPU piece on the top and backside, and it was also a five layer process. The TPU on the original Hyperdunk was .52 mm thick on both the inside and outside panel, and now the new Skinwire panel is .42 mm thick on the inside and .52 mm on the outside. We went to a lighter mesh on the inside, and everything that we looked at we wanted to make lighter. This Skinwire could roughly save an ounce out of the shoe. That’s a huge weight savings there. So really, the Hyperdunk 2010 takes a lot of the learnings from the Kobe V in using that Skinwire application.
The biggest thing you’ll notice too is that you can take away the synthetic leather element that you saw in the Hyperdunk and the Hyperize, and use Skinwire in the toe. We couldn’t really bring the original Flywire into the toe of the first two models, because it was just plastic. This new version of Flywire just flexes better, so you can actually bring it over the toe.
Weight was definitely still a big target for us to reduce and bring down, and for me, I love hearing good and bad feedback on shoes. There’s tons of people wearing the Hyperize right now, and some people love it and some people hate it. I learned a ton from that, and it was all good things that I could learn from when I was hearing negative feedback. One of the things was just that some people thought there was just overall too much space in the toe area. The Hyperize is a little sloppy in the toe, and a little long. I think if you sized down, it probably fits right.
NDP: Needed to do that — but didn’t. They definitely felt too roomy in the toe for me.
LC: Exactly. All of those things all helped make the Hyperdunk 2010 better. Also, just the rigidity of the midfoot area. On the Hyperize, it was a little bit too flexible through the midfoot for some people, so going back and adding in more contour to the shank to give it a little more structure there helped too. The primary things we wanted to fix were just fit in the forefoot, overall lightness of the shoe, updating the Flywire and some of the stability elements of just more rigidity in the midfoot.
NDP: What about the alignment of the Flywire? It was more of a floating panel in the Hyperize, and there was less of a linear alignment to the strands. The 2010 seems to have more of an anchored-down look.
LC: The Hyperize was also anchored down, just visually we had an overlay around it and that acted as a frame. The Flywire went all of the way down to the base, and they all anchored to the eyelets as well. It became about, “How do you strip down this shoe to its essence, and have just the Flywire cables on the upper?” Almost a one-piece deal. I didn’t want to have any additional overlays on the shoe, because Flywire can hold the foot over the footbed.
NDP: Because the shoe is nearly a one-piece upper, there aren’t any toe overlays or as many color breaks as other models. Did that lend itself to become more of a graphic and pattern story along a lot of the versions that are coming out?
LC: This new Skinwire top layer lends itself to amazing finishes that you can do. With the Hyperize and the Hyperdunk, it was translucent and you could see the cables of the Flywire. This version, you can see the x-ray of the cables, but it’s more about the finishes. Early on, we had a huge gamut of materials, and when it came down to it, each material and release paper on here actually had an affect on the bond as well. We talked about the Hyperfuse and how those little things can make a difference, and it was a huge undertaking to narrow down the best release papers to get the best bonding. This material [with abstract thin strands throughout] was actually coined “Leo’s Hair” around here, cause it’s got these small fibers in there. [laughs] Just going through the exercise of starting with a hundred different textures, and then narrowing that down to around ten different panels you could use was difficult. With the Kobe V, you had some really cool finishes you could do, and it’s the same thing here.
NDP: Do you think that’s been a response to people seeing Flywire for a couple of seasons, understanding what it is and now you guys can move to a more subtle “x-ray” approach to how you incorporate it?
LC: I think it was just more of a result of the new construction of Flywire. We definitely haven’t given up on showing the Flywire and we’ll continue to do that, but this is just a different take on it.
NDP: Can you talk about the collar height? That’s been an almost iconic thing that’s unique to the Hyperdunk line.
LC: I see it as a best of both worlds, in that it’s high on the top, but it’s low in the back. What it does is it gives you a really nice free range of motion around the ankle, so that nothing in the back is really digging into your Achilles. If you were to take a hard cut with a higher heel, it’d really inhibit your motion. When the height slopes up higher, it feels proprioception wise like you’re protected a little bit more. It’s almost like a hybrid height. It’s super high at the top and then drops really low in the back.
Above: Original sketches and renderings from Leo Chang, depicting the design shift of the Hyperdunk 2010.
NDP: One of the things with the Hyperdunk that I really liked was the hidden ghilley eyelet, and you guys didn’t have one in the Hyperize.
LC: We actually brought that back for the Hyperdunk 2010.
NDP: Sweet! It just felt like it married the first set of eyelets on the eyestay with the collar eyelets and made everything more secure.
LC: For us, it’s a flex notch in there, and some of the common things we were seeing with wear testers was that it was collapsing right there and the panel was bulging out. The eyelet in there does help suck it back in and be more secure. If you like it, you can use it; if you don’t, you don’t need to lace it there.
NDP: What were some of the other changes that you guys made?
LC: We went back to a lightweight injected Phylon midsole, and on the Hyperize we had gone to Phylite. For durability reasons, we wanted to just close up the bottom and less foam is exposed than in the Hyperize. We had gone with more exposure on the Hyperize, and we were getting some peel-outs of the rubber in the high contact zones. We just figured we could play it safe and add more rubber to make sure it holds up and doesn’t blow out all over the court.
You can also see that the shank changes too. One of the things that we were noticing with the carbon material was that the shank was flat and with certain movements could actually come into contact with the ground. That was almost grating the fibers on the shank and that wasn’t good. It was the same shank as the Kobe IV and the V, and we were getting some bonding issues between the midsole and outsole. For the 2010, we went to a TPU shank and have this gradient Swoosh application which is pretty cool, just for better durability. We wanted to make sure it held up and wasn’t looking like crap when you wear it on the court. [laughs]
NDP: In terms of heel counters, the Hyperdunk had both an external and internal counter, while the Hyperize had just the external counter. Where did you guys land for the 2010?
LC: The 2010 is an external 3D molded counter.
NDP: The outrigger also appears to be pronounced just a bit more too.
LC: Yeah, this is positioned in our quicker silo for us, and for these guys, we want to really focus on the 60-80 zone of lateral support. [Meaning, the zone of the outsole located in the 60-80% range of the shoe’s profile.] You’ll see the rubber wrap higher there and also an outrigger always.
Above: A sample version of the Hyperdunk 2010, left, featuring added flex grooves though the outsole, and the final version of the Hyperdunk 2010 on the right.
NDP: The outsole design is more in tune with the micro herringbone we’ve been seeing across a lot of the in-line models.
LC: And that’s just our best practices in terms of the angles of the flex grooves. You could see on the Hyperize, we had more foam exposed, but now we’re using a full rubber micro-fractured out herringbone. The idea is that you have a primary anatomical flex groove [horizontal across the toe box], and then a dynamic flex groove [linear through the forefoot]. The anatomical groove will line up with the angle of your met heads, and the dynamic groove can vary in angle, but the idea is that basketball players can cut, run and jump and land in various ways, and this dynamic angle is just to promote stability and a proper toe off. In the heel, you have this kind of crash pad zone too.
NDP: And it just became less deeply sculpted over time?
LC: Yeah, over time, but it still is down to just the thickness of the rubbers. That’s become the best practice that you’ll see across all of our stuff. Sometimes we’ll push newer flex groove patterns, and oftentimes we’ll be in this zone.
NDP: For the cushioning, both the Hyperdunk and Hyperize had heel Zoom Air and forefoot Lunar Foam. For the 2010, you went back to Zoom in the forefoot right?
LC: We did! I think it was one of those things where we were listening to the athlete, and there are guys out there who love Zoom, and for this type of product, they want that nice responsive pop under their forefoot. There’s nothing better for that than Zoom. Some will say it’s a similar set-up to the Kobe V, but it’s actually not, it’s a full-width 6 mm Zoom Air unit.
Above: A closer look at the shoe’s Z-Corp 3D model and the Zoom Air placement of the Hyperdunk 2010, seen in orange.
NDP: That’s one of the only complaints I had with the Kobe V, and I guess the traction wasn’t ideal, but I really wish they used a full-width unit and not just a met bag. That’s great you guys are using the fuller bag here.
Zac Dubasik: The traction of the Vs was a deal-breaker for me.
NDP: Once I got into the KD2s, I never went back.
ZD: KD traction is SO GOOD!!
NDP: I gotta have that crazy squeak man!
LC: What helps in the geometry of the herringbone is just having a little bit of a flat top on the ridges. You get a little bit more surface as compared to a super sharp knife edge.
Zac: And then there’s the super sharp knife edge of the Air Jordan 2009. It felt like you were getting paper cuts if you ever tried to swipe the outsole with your hand.
NDP: And the heel is a standard 14mm Zoom Air unit?
LC: Yup. It’s 14mm in the heel and 6mm in the forefoot. It’s the same as the Hyperfuse in the forefoot, and then that nice big heel Zoom Air bag.
NDP: The price point is $125 again. Did going from Lunar to Zoom have an affect on the costing of the shoe?
LC: Lunar is actually more expensive than most people think because of the formulation of the foam. It’s super expensive, and I worked on the Lunar Trainer, and that thing was way expensive because it’s just a huge piece of foam inside of an even bigger piece of foam. It’s not cheap stuff, it just so happens that the current formulation may not be appropriate for this type of product. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t stopped working on making it better.
NDP: That’s what I was gonna ask, are you guys working to improve and maybe re-introduce it in basketball?
LC: There’s no set date for when something like that will hit, but we definitely haven’t given up on it.
NDP: It won’t be in the line this Fall, for the first time since it was introduced, because the Kobe VI will also have Zoom in the forefoot.
Yeah, you’re right.
NDP: What were some of the biggest changes design-wise during the development process?
LC: Surprisingly, even though it doesn’t look like it’s changed, there’s little things like Flywire being taken out and then put back into certain zones of the upper. Even though the Kobe V was already out in production, we had to go back and re-test a lot of the Skinwire alignments on the 2010, because the Kobe V had more toe overlays and panels, and in the Hyperdunk 2010 it was almost a one-piece upper. Little things that you might not see, we had to go back over. It was more on the development that we saw most of the changes and improvements. Our shoes always have to pass our D1 testing [for elite collegiate athletes] and that’s the most critical beating that we put our shoes through, and then we made improvements and changes along the way.
LC: Hmm, how many do I have there? [laughs] Nope. I was gonna say there are ten perfs in some spots, but there aren’t. [laughs] There’s not really any kind of details like that. You’ll see some things like the year on the tongue, but the bigger subtle story for this shoe is maybe the tongue, where it’s thinner and conforms better, but then has more zonal cushioning and padding. It’s perfed out and articulated on the sides, and there’s a curve and break to help it conform. Initially, we didn’t have that, and it was just flat, and when I put it on, it felt like it was just going to shave the hair off of my leg. [laughs] That wasn’t cool. [laughs] So I just notched it out here and hand-cut the sample, and it bends nicely now. Little things to help perfect it.
NDP: How’d you guys go along doing the treatments to the upper? Was that a materials team effort, or the designers or marketing team?
A little bit of everybody actually. You’ll see a lot of colorways of this shoe, just like you saw a lot of the Hyperdunk and Hyperize, like the special packs for the FIBA games and team stuff obviously, and each one is going to be a little bit different.
NDP: It looks like you guys are sticking with that sweet welded dubret again?
Yeah, the sweet welded dubret is back! [laughs]
NDP: Do you have a favorite colorway?
The white, aqua and red one.
Zac: Nick and I have been talking about how weird it is that the original Hyperdunk already looks dated.
LC: Why do you think that is?
NDP: I think Jason [Petrie] said it really well last year, when we were actually talking about the Flight Club and Fun Police — which I was really excited for, but they both tanked hard. [laughs] I asked him what it was like doing older 90’s styled shoes, and he just said, “Man, the Hyperdunk looks like it was designed by a computer, and these shoes look like they were hand-drawn. They flow.” I always thought that was real cool how he described it, and it’s almost like when you see a tech product or car that is all about a tech story. The design could be cool, but when the tech feels old, then the shoe feels old.
Zac: It’s funny, cause when I first saw the Hyperize, I was like, “Man, that thing is so much cooler than the Hyperdunk.” And now the 2010 looks even more cooler than the Hyperdunk, and I can’t believe I ever thought that looked cool compared to this.
NDP: It just seems like they’re at least five years apart, as compared to two.
LC: For me, the oval laces kind of date them. I started doing a lot more flat laces, and on the Free 3.0, we had a super minimal tongue and with the flat lace, you get no pressure. So for me, I look at a lot of stuff in the late 90’s, and they all had oval laces.
NDP: Just more broadly speaking, this is a pretty marquee shoe. What’s it like being the designer of this shoe each year now? Eric Avar started with the Hyperdunk, but can people expect you to be the Hyperdunk designer going forward?
LC: I think so. At least for a little bit of time, until Eric decides I’m screwing up. [laughs] I definitely have been the guy doing it, just like how the LeBron line is Jason Petrie’s thing right now. The Hyperdunk and Hyperfuse has been something that I’ve been leading up, and I definitely enjoy doing that kind of stuff. Pushing how we can get things lighter and lighter, and hopefully we’re getting it light but not taking away any stability or things like that. I’m always somebody who sees my product out there and is super critical of it, and I’m always open to criticisms and seeing what people want to throw out about it.
NDP: So obviously, I’m going to ask you about the Detroit Pistons trainer that banned the Hyperize last season. What was your initial reaction and how did you guys respond as a category. He said they weren’t supportive enough for his players to wear them. You may have heard. [laughs]
LC: At first, I was like, “Well, who’s wearing it on the Pistons?” [laughs] I wasn’t sure who the guys were that were affected by it, but the whole Pistons thing, you know what, we had like 700,000 pairs of that shoe out there, and we had it on such a wide range of people. Some people may not be appropriate for it. There were people that loved it, like Amar’e, he loved it, and he just recently switched out to the KD2. He was saying that he just wanted to switch his style up.
NDP: For a guy that’s practiced in Yeezys — it’s all about the style.
LC: Exactly! There was nothing wrong with the Hyperize though. KD loved wearing the Hyperize too. There were criticisms, and there’s definitely a lot of things I could learn from that. I’m not going to be offended by something like that, but if they’re saying that it’s flexing in different areas, like I met with [Director of Medical Services] Dr. Donnie Strack from the Thunder and he works with KD, and he was just saying that some of the guys were wearing it and it was flexing in weird areas, and I was like, “Ok cool, I can fix that.”
Below: A pullover sample of the Hyperdunk 2010.