Performance Review: Jordan Fly Wade

Performance Review: Jordan Fly Wade

Jordan Fly Wade | Supportive, stable, and pretty light too.

words // Zac Dubasik
images // Nick DePaula

When Jordan Brand Creative Director Mark Smith began work on the Fly Wade, it wasn’t even the Fly Wade. “The shoe started out actually as the AJ 2011,” he explains. And while the Air Jordan 2011 project would eventually move in the direction of modular cushioning, the Fly Wade retained that design’s original direction. “We really had one goal with that, which was to create the lightest Air Jordan.” Weighing in at 13.7 ounces, the Jordan Fly Wade is in fact the lightest option out there in performance hoops from Jordan Brand.

That said, the first thing to examine in evaluating the Fly Wade is its weight, which has been billed as “impossibly light.” In recent times, the lightest weight, and most advanced materials, haven’t been what Jordan Brand has been about. In terms of their performance kicks, they’ve been much more likely to use thick leathers, and plush liners, giving their kicks a more handcrafted than high-tech feel. And in comparison with some of the more luxurious of those examples, the Fly Wade is in fact a major step in weight reduction. By current benchmarks though, the weight of the Fly Wade is not mindblowing by any means, and very “possible.” The fact is, there are shoes out there now approaching a full four ounces lighter than the Fly Wade. But that’s not to say that the Fly Wade isn’t a good shoe. It definitely holds its own, and even surpasses some of those lighter shoes in other areas.

The primary method the team at Jordan Brand employed to reduce weight was through careful attention to the upper materials and construction. “It really started with a very simple inner bootie that was as light and breathable as possible, then we started adding skins for support,” explained Smith. “Knowing that we couldn’t use the skins all the way up [the collar], because of the ability to hold his foot in, we put some synthetics and key support elements in the upper portion.” Throughout the midfoot, the upper creates a true one-to-one fit when tightly laced. The combination of shape, materials, and the underlying bootie feel outstandingly secure.

Adding to that security is one of my favorite Jordan Brand support elements: their often-used molded collar notch. “We call it the dog bone,” explained Dwyane Wade, at the media launch of the shoe this past March. “It’s the same element from the [Air Jordan] 2010 that I felt locked my ankle in.” A rock solid heel counter rounds out the shoe’s lockdown. “One of the other things we did,” says Smith, “was took the internal heel cup, and we exposed it on the final version.”

By way of this exceptional heel lockdown, the ankle is fully stabilized – so much so, in fact, that the collar height is largely unnecessary. It’s also one of my two biggest complaints about the shoe. I found the collar’s cut and shape, despite being asymmetrical, to be too restrictive, and at times even uncomfortable. The collar padding above the aforementioned “dog bone” is very thin. Thicker socks helped with the comfort issue, but definitely not with range of motion.

My other major, and stronger, complaint with the Fly Wade also deals with the upper. While the midfoot fit was superb for my foot, I found the toe box had too much volume. The bottom two eyelets, when laced tightly, pull close together, which in turn creates an unnatural flex point in the forefoot. The awkward angles, coupled with the rigid “skin” synthetic used on the upper, pinched on both the medial and lateral sides of my forefoot, causing constant discomfort. Thicker socks provided some relief, but not enough to remedy the problem. Breathability is pretty standard fare for a more supportive shoe, which means not spectacular, but completely acceptable.

As for the shoe’s cushioning setup, Smith describes it as “the best of both. … We’ve got the heel Air, and then the forefoot Zoom – a little bit of Quick and Explosive.” As you might expect, this targets the heel with impact protection, while offering more responsiveness up front. It wasn’t the most responsive forefoot cushioning I’ve ever felt, whether it was because of the bag thickness, or the layers over the bag, but cushioning was still very good. The shoe was also very stable, thanks to its wide base and large TPU shank. The base felt so stable initially, that I thought it came at too much of a sacrifice to transition and court feel. After three or four wearings however, the midsole became more flexible, which helped dial back some of those initial shortcomings.

The direction of the Fly Wade may have split from the concept of the Air Jordan 2011’s final direction, but it does share one similar trait. Smith explained that “some of the technical pieces that we took … were developed at the same time as the 2011 game shoe.” In particular, that refers to the performance graphics used on the shoe’s outsole. An inverted and twisted elephant print makes up the traction pattern, and provided reliable footing. I actually found it to be a slight improvement here over the 2011’s.

The marketing of the Jordan Fly Wade focused heavily on its weight, but if you are looking for a shoe based on weight alone, there are better options. The Hyperdunk 2010, Hyperfuse and Kobe VI are all nearly two to three ounces lighter. The adiZero Crazy Light from adidas Basketball is nearly four ounces lower. However, if you are a player in search of a fast shoe, with no compromise in the cushioning, stability and ankle support departments, the Fly Wade is worth some serious consideration – especially if your tastes trend away from the low-cut craze. The shoe is much better suited for bigger, stronger slashers and swingmen than point guards looking to go as minimal as possible.

It’s far from perfect, but I’m a fan of the direction of DWade’s first post-Converse signature shoe. It fills a void at the signature shoe level in terms of the player it’s best suited for. While the issues I had were fairly major in terms of comfort, thanks to the pinching toe box, there was also a lot I liked about the shoe after the initial break-in period. The Fly Wade’s support, cushioning and traction were all great. Considering that the shoe is tweaks (although very important tweaks), rather than major changes, away from being exceptional, I’m looking forward to the line’s potential.

Jordan Fly Wade details:

designer: Mark Smith

season: Spring 2011

best for: Players looking for a shoe that’s as fast and light as possible, without making any sacrifices to cushioning and support; players who don’t mind a more restrictive collar

colorway tested: Black/ Varsity Red/ Dark Grey

key tech: Heel Air; forefoot Zoom; TPU midfoot shank; lightweight synthetic bonded upper; asymmetrical collar

pros: midfoot fit; stability; cushioning; ankle support

cons: firm collar, excess toe volume creates pinching at flex points

improvements: add padding to top of collar for increased comfort, or better yet, lower collar height; better control flex point through materials and pattern geometry in toe

buying advice: While the Fly Wade is billed as being “Impossibly Light,” there are choices from multiple brands that are far lighter. It is, however, the lightest current option from Jordan Brand, and offers exceptional heel and midfoot stability. If you are looking for a fast shoe, with a greater emphasis on cushioning and ankle support than weight, and you are a Jordan Brand fan, the Fly Wade is worth considering. It’s far from perfect, but a good starting point for DWade’s line to build on.

Available Now: Jordan Fly Wade

Performance Review: Zoom Soldier IV

Performance Review: Zoom Soldier IV

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