Anyone who wanted to be a little different in the ’90s wore Reebok basketball shoes. Kemp, Iverson, Nick the Quick, Big Dog, Shaq — the Vector had a lineup of All-Stars on court, as well as Frank Thomas and Emmitt Smith on their respective fields of play.
Then, it didn’t. Only the public can explain the fickleness of the public, and the people turned on Reebok with a quickness (some say Professor K killed the basketball line, but it was really the money thrown into the NBA uniform deal and lack of progressive cushioning and usable technology).
Now, Reebok is back on top — of Crossfit. The Nano series is a huge seller whenever colorways release. Clothing emblazoned with the Crossfit/Reebok triangle logo is everywhere (just watch five minutes of UFC). And the Vector still has a huge presence in football with JJ Watt.
Which brings us to the performance review of the JJ I crosstrainer. The JJ I Trainer is very much a shoe in the old “Bo Knows” Nike Air Trainer SC style, but, well, new. It’s a shoe designed for every activity — weights, plyometrics, short running, turf and grass work, and maybe basketball — just put it on and go. Let’s break it down…
TRACTION – The use of the Triangle logo was a nice touch, but most story-telling patterns suck. Luckily, Reebok went a little extra step: the logos are angled and off-set, leading to multi-level traction that grabs. This worked great in the grass for ropes and running, felt good pushing on leg press platforms and squats, and yeah, even grabbed the floor decent enough to run a couple of games to 12, full court. Told you, a shoe for everything. The rubber is hard so it won’t wear down quickly, and beware before getting on-court — if you have done any off-road training there will be mud, grass, and trash in your lugs. Transition from training to basketball, or even walking across wifey’s newly swept floor, will lead to serious repercussions (and maybe some concussions).
CUSHIONING – Every brand needs a signature cushioning, whether it’s Gel, Boost, Zoom Air, or Cushion-3. It is what sets your technology apart and what the wearer most identifies with a brand. This is where Reebok had been struggling since the early 2000’s, when DMX went away (and not that $#!+ show that was DMX Foam). I-Pak DMX was great, and so was the DMX-10. In the JJ I, Reebok brings us Liquid Foam.
Bad news first: there ain’t much liquid in this foam. Good news: the stability and response is very, very nice. The midsole is extremely solid and stiff, but not so much so that it is uncomfortable. The cushioning is absorbent; no energy came back up my knees and legs while working out, but it has no give in the compression. Reebok still needs to work on this aspect.
MATERIALS – Mesh and fuse — stop me if you’ve heard that before. Normally, I am not a fan of the rubber uppers, but for some reason, the JJ I feels great on foot. The fuse is kept to a minimum and used only around the toebox, laces, and the forefoot saddle, all areas of high-stress and quick wear. The mesh areas are soft, flexible, and help provide great fit. After three weeks of weights, short running, and basketball, the JJ I shows very little signs of wear.
FIT – After going a half-size down, fit is freaking awesome. One thing about traditional lacing systems: they allow for a variety of fits and loosening and tightening makes the shoe work. The JJ I has seven lace holes if you lace all the way to the top, and wide footers and skinny people will all be happy, unless you are extremely wide. The fit-straps in the forefoot might have posed a problem, but the last of the shoe allows for loosening. One thing a lot of companies have started doing (UA Clutchfit Drive 3, Jordan CP3.IX) is adding lace loops that run over the tongue instead of down to the midsole. This pulls the tongue down into the foot for even better lockdown in that area.
If you lace all the way to the last hole there will be some ankle pressure on the front, under the knot. You can skip that hole and still be fine.
SUPPORT – Weight room shoes are built for stability. Wide bottoms, solid midsoles, great lacing systems, and cushioning that won’t bottom out or wobble under stress. The JJ I is no exception. We covered the cushioning and lack of give, but for stability and support, that is perfect (same as the Under Armour Architech). The heel counter isn’t high but it’s rock solid, and coupled with the lacing system, locks the foot into the shoe. There is no outrigger like a basketball shoe would have, but the white saddle overlay works with the lace straps mentioned in the Fit section to secure your forefoot over the shoe. Overall, once you are strapped in to the JJ I, you are solid.
OVERALL – It’s fitting to say “Overall” because this is one of the best “overall” shoes out there. These did see court time, and they performed. Traction grabbed the floor, fit and stability were on point, and the cushioning wasn’t special, but for a couple of games after lifting (you know, “just getting my cardio in”) they worked.
If you are an all-around athlete who wants to stay in a one-shoe budget, the JJ I is great. If you need a true Crossfit shoe, or a true basketball shoe, definitely look elsewhere, because it is too structured for only Crossfit but not cushioned enough for basketball, at least for me. That said, this is a shoe that stays in rotation, both because of function and looks (c’mon, it’s a great design). Reebok may be out of basketball, for now, but they still know how to make a good shoe — the JJ I is proof.