10 years. Yeah, I have been doing published performance reviews for 10 years, and every year I think it will be my last one. Not because I don’t still love shoes – I do, although my tastes have changed. No, I always think it’s my last because I figure no one wants to read my opinions anymore. Alas, I have had more than a few ask about my year-end wrap, and here it is: in my humble opinion, the best basketball shoes of 2019. Another slow year in the market but the shoes, man, THE SHOES didn’t let up. Let’s have the envelopes, please…
COMEBACK BRAND OF THE YEAR
This is a tough one. Last year, And1 released the Attack and it was a good shoe, finding itself on 4 NBA players and providing good cushioning and great traction. So far, And1 hasn’t dropped anything worth the Attack (but it’s coming, oh it’s coming). Reebok kept the straight line, producing altered classics and regular classics and, well, classics, which are good, but we want new (check out @wayner46 on IG to see some serious Reebok designs). So who was the comeback brand of the year? Easy.
Out of the game for 20 years, the Clyde Court Disrupt dropped in 2018 and was a knitted, Hybrid-foamed wonder on the court. After 20 years and to drop a shoe like that is amazing, but to then follow it up with the completely underrated Uproar and the Legacy (both seriously fun shoes to play in) would make a great year for most companies. Then, they gave us the Clyde Hardwood. Knit, leather, and a classic look and feel while having some of the best all-time traction moves Puma to the front of the comeback line. Well done.
COMEBACK SHOE OF THE YEAR
This is where we look at a shoe line that may have dropped off last year but hit hard in 2019. That shoe this year is the Nike KD 12. The KD 11 was comfy, all knitted up and React and Zoomed out, but mother earth was it uncontained and felt unstable (to me). I constantly felt my foot shifting off of the footbed on hard cuts and if I landed slightly off balance the midsole felt like it wanted to roll. Enter the KD 12. While the shoe still has a narrow midsole, the foot sits inside the TPU cage/midsole, stopping the sliding. The lacing system and upper is also better locked in, with no stretch, so your foot stays put there too. The cushioning is upgraded with a Zoom strobel board and still has the React foam under the Zoom for extra bounce. Way to go back and re-energize the line, Leo (although the “supposed” KD13 is looking iffy).
Honorable Mention: UA Anatomix Spawn
Widely regarded as the second or third-best Under Armour shoe ever (Curry 2, Clutchfit Drive), the UA Anatomix Spawn was a shoe based on foot-mapping in both the upper (second skin and flex points) and the midsole (barefoot concept, segmented outsole). The new Anatomix Spawn isn’t as mapped but still brought us Micro G in a form-fitting upper and killer traction reminiscent of the Kobe 9. Looking at images of the Spawn 2, it seems the progression is on track with the line again.
Not even close for me – the Nike Zoom GP. Remember, this is a performance list, and we have had the Jordan XI so many times it’s not an event anymore (kidding – it totally is). However, we have NEVER had the Zoom GP since 1999-2000, and it is STILL a great performer. Great traction, great Zoom, great fit and materials (on the green and the white colorways), the Zoom GP still holds its own with any shoe on the market. Full disclosure – this is one of my top 5 shoes to play in ever and my 1999 pair just tore up in 2015 (that’s the pair we reference for the pictures of the segmented Zoom). Now we just need to get the black/volt colorway, but I’m not hopeful.
Honorable Mention – Reebok Answer V
This was a tough call, as I really like the Shox BB4 for nostalgic reasons, but the Answer V is just a little better. Great materials, improved traction, a muted DMX but still good – the shoe still plays when you need a crossover wearing a gold rope and baggy shorts while hi-fiving Jada. I honestly figured the IV and Question would still get more love this year (and I am still waiting on the Answer II and III retro) so the V was a great surprise. Oh, yeah, the yellow/silver is really nice in person, so grab that one if you can.
BIGGEST DROP OFF
Hmmmm, can a shoe win this category two years in a row? Last year, to refresh your memories, the adidas Rose 9 won, with it’s dead Bounce cushioning, completely off the tracks (even for adidas) sizing, and the bedsheet upper materials – it just felt dangerous. Enter the adidas Rose 10, the only shoe I started reviewing and didn’t finish. Traction was terrible – that’s it, and tha’s all it took. The cushioning was fantastic – maybe the best Bounce ever. The materials were actual real leather. Fit was good. But, I slipped. I slipped over and over, when driving, playing defense, changing directions, planting for shots – complete banana peels. It all starts at the bottom and the Rose 10 never got past the first element of a good hoop shoe.
Curry 7 was great. Jordan 34 was serious. Dame 5 was good. Zoom GP was magical. PG3 is out of this world. However, of all the shoes I played in this year, two stood head and shoulders above everything else: the Puma Clyde Hardwood and the Lebron 16 Low (the mid is great as well but a 2018 shoe). The Hardwood gripped every floor I played on, sometimes too much – it feels like it just doesn’t want to let go. The diamond pattern just grips like Spidey in every direction.
The Lebron 16 Low has the same wide spaced, thick diagonal grooves of the mid and gripped every floor on every move. The one thing it has over the Hardwood is durability. While the Puma hasn’t shown signs of wear, it is a softer rubber, so I leave it off the concrete. The Lebron 16 pattern is thick enough to hold up outside and still give you a decent indoor ride as well. For that reason, the Lebron 16 low wins.
Now this is really subjective. Some would say best cushion is based on impact protection only. Some would say the cushioning that still has court feel, allowing them to play fast. Others yet would say it is a combo of both. Me, I am in the last camp – I want some bounce and not much “moosh”, but I want a little impact protection as well. For that reason, my favorite cushioning this year went to… the adidas T-Mac Millenium. It is a thick Boost midsole but is caged in the right areas to provide a stiffer ride while still absorbing impact. Not the best court feel, but not the Lebron 17 either, the Millenium still feels quick while playing.
Runner-up: Nike KD12
Zoom strobel boards are the new wave – low ride, immediate feedback while playing, and great impact protection. Nike – PLEASE don’t leave this idea behind.
I am a sucker for raw, natural materials (sorry PETA), so I have a soft spot for leather and suede. Knowing this, it should be no surprise my pick for best materials is the Puma Clyde Hardwood. Combining the best of both worlds – a knit toe area and a leather midfoot and heel – the Hardwood is flexible out of the box in the forefoot, with no break-in time, and solid and smooth in the heel, with the leather providing a solid heel and a touch of old-school luxury.
Runner-up: Nike Zoom Heritage N7
A completely slept-on model (even by us at Weartesters), the Zoom Heritage is a Tinker Hatfield design to support and honor North American native tribes. The Heritage has a full-grain leather upper that starts off stiff but breaks in nice and quick with a woven tongue area that flexes and fits perfectly.
This one is tough. For some reason most companies got the fit right in 2019. It really isn’t hard – a functional lacing system, nice internal padding in the heel and tongue, and get close on length and width. That said, my two picks for best fit are the Curry 7 and the adidas D.O.N. Issue 1. Both feature uppers with thick internal padding, heel collars with lockdown padding, and uppers that fit the foot and learn the flex point quickly, meaning they move and fit with your foot like a second skin. The D.O.N. (that’s annoying as #&!! to write) does look extremely large in hand, and actually, on foot, but the internal padding, again takes up almost all space inside. The Curry 7 fused upper seems like a 2013 flashback but actually feels great on foot and is super-durable and locks down better than most knits.
It’s kind of a strange situation in 2019 – there wasn’t a shoe like the Jordan 33 that was a lockdown beast with a stiff ankle area that would seem to support your ankles. However, there were plenty of shoes that had every structure you need for under-foot stability and support. The best of these, in my opinion, was…
The Nike Zoom Heritage. A shoe that was WAAAAAAAY under the radar, the Zoom Heritage came into my sights late as well. Designed by Tinker Hatfield and featuring Zoom Air and Phylon cushioning (I believe it is heel Zoom only), there is also a real carbon fiber shank plate and a thick leather upper. The lacing system locks you into the heel and ankle collar for no slipping and sliding internally.
Well, that finishes our “reviewed” categories – let’s get into the top picks of 2019…
But first, the Honorable Mentions:
Peak TP9.VI – great materials, great cushioning, traction was on point. Only issue was sizing and dead space in the forefoot, and this shoe is HEAVY.
Nike Zoom GP – After picking a retro for the performer of the year in 2018 (Kobe 1 Protro), I thought it would be a little sarcastic to pick another this year, but the Zoom GP could have easily been numbers 1, 2, and 3 for me on this list. One of my all-time top 5, the Zoom GP has great cushioning (if you like low, fast, responsive shoes), great materials (in the white colorway), and serious fit and lockdown. Time to triple up now that prices are sub-$60. Buy them here.
10. adidas D.O.N. Issue 1 – good traction, good Bounce, great lcokdown, and colorways that fit everyone’s style, the Issue 1 has been a run-away hit for adidas. Buy them here.
9. Nike Zoom Kyrie 6 – Traction improved from the Kyrie 5 (although I thought the K5 was good), same Zoom Turbo cushioning, and the same wide base. Buy them here.
8. Nike PG3 – an early-in-the-year shoe, the traction is still some of the best, although not durable, and the huge forefoot Zoom and softer foam midsole make the PG3 a great fast shoe. Buy them here.
7. adidas T-Mac Millenium – great cushioning and great traction in a synthetic and leather upper, the Millenium was a surprise hit for adidas, at least on court.
6. Nike Zoom Heritage – Great indoor and outdoor traction, nice midsole cushioning, real freaking leather, and a great fit. What more could you ask for? Buy them here.
5. Nike Zoom KD12 – The Zoom strobel is a technology we have needed – and it isn’t going away – and the traction and stability is much improved. Too bad we can’t see them in them. Buy them here.
4. Nike Lebron 16 Low – same awesome cushioning as the mid, flexible midsole, but with better lockdown in the heel and forefoot. The traction is great both inside and out, so enjoy year-round. Buy them here.
3. Puma Clyde Hardwood – Again, great materials (leather in the heel for support and luxury, forefoot knit for flexibility and comfort), and with traction that sticks to anything, the one downside is the cushioning. Profoam feels nice but just that – nice. As soon as Puma comes up with the responsive, Zoom/Boost technology for cushioning, they will be hard to stop. Buy them here.
2. Under Armour Curry 7 – while I could never get a great lockdown in the 6, the 7, from day 1, has been near perfect for my feet. The materials are a little 2012-ish but once broken in and softened up they flex and form right on the foot. The cushioning isn’t super-soft or springy but provide a great base for taking off and landing. Traction has been great on four different floors. Again, too bad we haven’t gotten to see him in them, for the most part, as this could be the best Curry model yet. Buy them here.
And… drum roll (use your mind)…
1. Air Jordan 34. While the materials are still a mesh and synthetic upper, they are thinned out and paneled to make this the lightest Jordan ever. The forefoot HUGE Zoom unit is perfect – stable, responsive, springy, and working with the Eclipse plate, makes feedback and transition easy and NOW. The traction is great – wide-spaced herringbone so no dust sticks – and the fit and support are more than enough for any player. But wait – looking back through the list, it didn’t win any category? How is it Shoe of the Year? Simple – it’s a fun shoe, both for performance and nostalgia. I could actually envision Mike playing in this shoe (and the 33, and the 32, and the 31…) and hitting for 40/8/5, right now, and that makes ME feel like I can too. Buy them here.
People keep sleeping on the Jordan line because of retros, but every year the signature model just keeps performing, and in most cases, outperforming, all other models.
Well, there it is – my personal list of top performers in 2019. I am sure I missed some, as I didn’t test near as many as I have in other years (Father Time remains undefeated), but I still got my feet in way more than a normal person does. This isn’t to say these are the only shoes to play in, only that these are the favorites for my feet, and ankles, and body. Now, your assignment – find that hidden gem we missed, and let me know. Until 2020 – Happy New Year!!!