New Balance Kawhi
The New Balance Kawhi is a supportive shoe that works for many players. Trust the process of breaking it in, and it should feel good.
Release Date: 2019
After a big return to performance basketball in 2019 with the New Balance OMN1S, the New Balance Kawhi is the company’s second basketball model. Was New Balance able to recapture the magic in 2020 for its sole signature athlete, Kawhi Leonard? Let’s find out.
The data driven pattern used for the New Balance Kawhi’s traction must be pretty specific data. I noticed (after over a month) that each shoe features a unique outsole. I shouldn’t say entirely unique. Each sole has a similar style pattern, wider-spaced grooves around the lateral edges, and a heel with a more compact pattern on the medial side of the foot. The patterns themselves, however, are far from exact and presumably based on dominant foot versus non-dominant foot.
Nerdy stuff aside, the setup performs well. Dust is heavily attracted to this translucent compound but it seems the compact, more aggressive traction under the ball of the foot bristles dust and debris to the outer edges. At the edges, wide grooves hold dust away from the rubber that contacts the floor.
In the dustiest setting, where I primarily ran full-court 5-on-5, I only recall needing to wipe between games. But I still needed to wipe. I also played outdoors where the rubber seems like it should last a decent amount of time. Given the Kawhi’s higher price tag along with some noticeable wear down, use them outdoors with caution.
FuelCell foam makes up the midsole and there’s a bit more of it than in the New Balance OMN1S. Given this thicker slab and some extra support in the Kawhi, it’s not quite as smooth a ride as the OMN1S. The ride is still good, but you’ll need some break-in time.
Court feel is also not as abundant, yet this iteration of FuelCell retains stability. After playing outdoors I could feel it in my knees a little bit. Indoors, the Kawhi does the job with ample impact protection. This is especially true in the heel where the performance plate sits between the FuelCell and another thin slab of foam.
It’s not my favorite setup under foot, but I’d choose the New Balance Kawhi over plenty of other midsoles.
The construction of the New Balance Kawhi is even more elaborate than it appears from a glance. And I think that’s a good thing. The midfoot embroidery (which is also data driven) and the textile, synthetic, and raw material layered paneling all lends itself to support and durability.
At its core, the Kawhi is a one-piece bootie, but not the stretchy type you’d expect. Some may have trouble with this type of construction when combined with the many different material layers of materials. Remain patient and it’ll all break in and age nicely. Just like many of the tanks that released in the 90s. It’s a good shoe to “get that old thing back”.
Based on my experience with the OMN1S and OMN1S Low, I received a pair a half size down from my true size and I’m happy with that. I think it would run too long in my true size.
Expect a very snug fit to begin with. You’ll also have some difficulty getting your foot into the shoe unless you have a very narrow foot. However, as I mentioned already, the shoe will break in over time and improve this experience.
The New Balance Kawhi is not offered in wide sizes. I’m not sure how wide foot friendly this will be at true size, but that would be my recommendation. Definitely don’t go down a half size and beware you might have too much space up front in your true size.
By far the best attribute of the New Balance Kawhi signature, in my opinion, is the support. In fact the Kawhi is one of the best basketball shoes for ankle support in 2021. When you think about it, it makes sense. The shoe was made for a man widely viewed as the best two-way player on the planet. He’s listed at 6’7”, 225 pounds. The same shoe made for him is what you’ll get as a consumer (minus a logo swap on the heel for most non ‘4 Bounces’ colorways.
Initially, it felt like almost too much support. Really what I’m trying to say is, they felt bulky. Stiffer midsole, stiffer materials, noticeably high arch area, heavier weight, et cetera. But as the shoe began to break in and mold to my foot, it quickly became one of the, if not the most, secure pair in my rotation.
The only area of concern had I had support-wise was the heel lockdown due to what I thought was an external heel counter issue. It turns out it was more of a material issue that faded away with more wear (thankfully). Everything else in addition to that big plastic heel piece is great for support. From the enlarged plastic torsional plate, the base width, the fit, and the materials all help support your foot. The Impala references on the Kawhi are fitting. They are built like an old school classic car.
I’d recommend the New Balance Kawhi to anyone except those who don’t have the patience to trust the process of breaking in the shoe and/or view the weight as a dealbreaker. Of course, if you’re a Kawhi fan, go for it. But for any hooper, I think there are benefits no matter your playing style. I’d especially recommend the Kawhi for bigger athletes that are looking for more support.
Thanks to New Balance for sending a pair to review and everyone involved in allowing me to experience the Kawhi in this ‘4 Bounces’ colorway. New Balance has another solid performer on its hands and I look forward to what the brand does next.