Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Performance Review: Nike Zoom BB3

My Nike Zoom BB3 review has just been posted! Enjoy!


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Performance Review: Nike Air Max LeBron VII 7

It's hardly fair. The guy is built like a power forward but can move like a guard. Throw in his natural talent for the game and you have one of the most dominant forces in basketball. A guy who performs at such a high level needs a shoe that caters to his unique game and physique. Enter the Air Max LeBron VII.


Let's start with the obvious. The most glaring design aspect that sets the LeBron VII apart from the previous models is the massive full-length air bubble. Until now, the LeBron signature line utilized Zoom Air cushioning in the midsole - sometimes even double-stacked units in the heel. Mr. James is very fast and very quick, so it only made sense to give him the lower profile cushioning that Zoom provides - but let's not forget the guy weighs 250+ pounds. Players of this build usually default to shoes with Air Max cushioning, and with the latest advancements in Air Max 360 technology, the newly tuned-for-basketball air bubble boasts 80% more air than previous air max units.


Another first for the LeBron signature line is the application of Flywire technology, which improves fit by sculpting the upper into a more natural foot shape, reduces weight while maintaining durability, and of course adds aesthetic beauty.


Upon removing the shoes from the box, it's hard not to notice the LBJ VII's light weight despite its fairly large silhouette. Your feet will slide into these sneakers very easily, at which you will notice a comfortable, roomy interior with a very natural fit. Fully laced, the Flywire sculpts the upper to your foot, creating a snug and instinctive fit. I did find my pair of size 12's to run slightly large; I recommend everyone to try on your natural size as well as a half-size down before purchasing. Because of the over-sizing, my pair didn't lock down quite as well as I'm used to, and there was a bit of extra room in the toebox. However, I was able to tighten them enough to get good runs out of them. I have no doubt that an 11.5 would have fit like a glove.


The first few steps made me realize how much higher off the ground these are than most shoes. The large volume Air Max 360 unit is obviously the culprit, but the cushioning produced (especially in the heel) is quite amazing. I have a very harsh heel strike, and the LBJ VII absorbed the impact of each step extremely well. The comfort level was very high, as the mesh inner boot gave a perfect amount of plushness while shielding any seams that may have otherwise dug into my feet. The arch support was perfect for my almost-flat arch, so those of you with really high arches may seek additional arch support.


It isn't until you start running back and forth that you can fully appreciate the first tuned-for-basketball Air Max 360 unit. Compared to Zoom Air, the feel of Air Max cushioning is very different. Zoom Air cushioning is very springy, as it seems to push back when you step down on it. The LeBron VII's cushioning doesn't have the same reflexive behavior, but instead seems to absorb the impact perfectly while not sacrificing too much lateral stability. Those of you who are expecting a very springy feel from this massive air bubble will be sorely disappointed, but I don't believe that was designer Jason Petrie's goal by switching to Air Max. Since Mr. James carries the weight of a larger player but still makes guard-like cuts, the perfect balance of cushioning and lateral stability was needed. As evidenced by the double-stacked Zoom Air units in LeBron's previous shoes, Zoom Air was probably simply not enough impact protection for his 250+ pound frame. To be honest, my first thought was that the small amount of air in the forefoot (compared to the heel) wouldn't be enough cushioning, but the idea is to keep the forefoot relatively low to the ground since the majority of basketball is played on the balls of your feet. Had Nike put too much air in the forefoot, the players' movements would've been greatly stunted.


It seems as though the harder you play, the better these shoes feel. Come to think of it, the harder I played, the more I completely forgot about the shoes. The fit and cushioning are so instinctive that I really didn't think about the shoes much - and that's what players really want in a shoe. My lateral movements were sharp, but of course not nearly as crisp as they would've been had I been wearing something like the Zoom BB. Lateral stability was very good, as I felt completely safe from rolling my ankle despite the enormous air bubble. Ankle support was also very good, with small triangular pillows hugging the ankles on either side. Lockdown was superb throughout the foot even though my pair ran slightly large, and heel lockdown is aided by an extra heel pad that supports the backside up to the achilles. A lot of shoes have you re-adjusting something mid-game - such as pulling the tongues back up or re-tightening laces - but the LeBron VII required no such in-game tweaking.


There are a few minor gripes, but none of them are deal breakers. First, the LBJ VII, like most other LeBron shoes, are slightly on the bulky side. Though these don't look as boot-like as previous models, it still has a somewhat boot-like feel because they're so high off the ground. I noticed that my first step was a tad slower due to sacrificed court feel, but this is offset by the superior cushioning and superb comfort. I experienced a couple of traction incidences where my cuts were slowed by minor slips, but I'm not sure if those were anomalies due to dirty spots on the floor or maybe due to my unfamiliarity with non-low-profile sneakers. Breathability wasn't bad, but it wasn't terrific either; the mesh tongue didn't seem to do much to dissipate heat.


The Bottom Line: The Air Max LeBron VII is a great innovation in basketball shoes. It's terrific fit, comfort, cushioning, and performance combine with stunning aesthetics to form a true luxury balling sneaker. Priced very high at $160, it's actually quite difficult for me to argue that they aren't worth every penny. However, they're not suited for the average player; if you're a lighter player that naturally plays the guard position, you might be better off sticking to the Huarache's and Zoom BB's; this shoe is tuned for big forwards and quick centers. Players who crave the feel of Zoom Air will be left wanting a little more.