words & images // Zac Dubasik
The first time I saw the Jordan Phase 23, two things immediately came to mind. One, was that its design placed an emphasis on casual appeal. And two, was that the heel view looked shockingly similar to the Zoom LeBron VI (which, not surprisingly, was also a shoe that was strong on casual appeal). With modern constructions and sleek lasts now beginning to dominate the hoops world, the Phase 23 appeared dated from the word “go.”
Upon further inspection though, the Phase 23 revealed some decidedly non-casual traits. For starters, herringbone wrapping up the medial side of the midsole isn’t a necessity when looking good in the streets. Also, the “dog bone”-shaped collar molding provides a level of lockdown above and beyond the rigors of most off-court situations. Was the Phase 23 Hoops really a performance monster in disguise?
In a word, no. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a very capable shoe. Starting with the positives, these Jordan shoes have excellent cushioning. Its full-length encapsulated Air bag, embedded in a full-length Phylon midsole, are smooth and protective. You don’t get the response of a Zoom bag, but you do get a great balance of impact protection and court feel. Rounding out the shoe’s excellent tooling is an outsole which has been given a healthy allotment of herringbone. The Phase 23 Hoops gripped both clean and dusty floors – so much in fact that I found myself wanting to make cuts that I normally don’t. Smaller and faster guards will probably find that the Phase 23 is too much shoe, but for bigger players looking for that nice mix of speed and protection, it plays quick.
Moving to the upper, the aforementioned dog-bone molding in the collar is efficient, as always, at stabilizing the heel. What prevents the shoe from having even better ankle support though is the lack of refinement in the tongue, and the rest of the collar. When fully laced, the tongue and collar get in each other’s ways, resulting in both comfort and fit issues. There’s just too much tongue. The TPU wings add an additional layer of support to the ankle area, and when combined with the excessive tongue material, contribute to a restrictive collar. Even with the collar dip in the heel, I felt range of motion suffered. If you are used to a low-top, this will be an issue. But if you are a player that favors highs, this might be a positive.
When I said that one of my first reactions to the Phase 23 was that it was casual-friendly, the forefoot strap was one of the reasons. I found it to be largely unnecessary, and didn’t add much, if any, more support. The rand however, which the strap is connected to, wraps the entire forefoot, and continues all the way back to the TPU tabs, and did provide extra durability and stability. Even with the shoe’s rock-solid traction, I didn’t feel any slip over the footbed when cutting.
Breathability-wise, the Phase 23 appears to have some things going for it. There are plenty of perforations through the midfoot and collar. But like in many shoes, those perforations don’t do much good if they are backed by materials lacking breathability. That said, breathability is average and acceptable. And at the end of the day, a hoops shoe with great breathability will be just about as soaked when you are done playing as one with bad breathability.
Not every baller wants the most boundary-pushing sneaker out there. There are plenty of players that still care as much about (their interpretation of) looking good than having the latest technological innovations. And because of that, there’s a place for shoes like the Phase 23. It would never be the first shoe I’d reach for to hoop in, but was actually pretty good once it broke in. I like to think of it as a casual shoe with some subtle, yet important modern performance traits, more than a performance shoe with casual appeal.
best for: Casual ballers who find the shoe’s looks appealing, but also want modern performance touches
colorway tested: Stealth/ Black/ Light Graphite/ White
key tech: Full-length encapsulated Air, Phylon midsole, TPU wings on ankle, forefoot strap
pros: smooth transition (especially after the first few wearings), outstanding traction, cushioning
cons: tongue and collar in each other’s ways, plays heavy
improvements: refine shape and construction of tongue and collar to work in unison
buying advice: For serious ballers, there are much better choices out there – including many from Jordan Brand. But if you like the casual appeal of the Phase 23, and want a shoe that still has modern performance attributes, it’s a playable and solid choice.
Available now: Jordan Phase 23 Hoops