16? Sixteen! That’s right, Nike took a (not so big) gamble on a high school kid from Akron, Ohio, 16 years ago. And every year since, it seems like Nike has introduced a new technology for LeBron James, from Max Zoom to Hyperposite to Battleknit. Well, the LeBron 16 isn’t new, but it’s a whole lot of goodness. Read on…
Oh my goodness, what is this? A true, gripping, thick traction that needs no wiping, no breaking in, and would work outdoors as well? Who’da thunk it?
Based on the LeBron Soldier 12’s wave-herringbone pattern, the LeBron 16 uses basically straight lines with a slight angle to provide one of the best out-of-the-box grips in recent memory. The pattern is deep and spaced wide enough to push out most of the dirt the shoe encounters (even from casual wear, which these will see a lot of once the Lakers colorway hits). In two weeks of testing I believe I wiped once. Once — not once a day, or once a game — once. After the lateral disaster in the LeBron 15, this was a serious improvement.
Again, as far as outdoors goes, you should actually be good for a few months. The rubber isn’t ’90s Nike hard but it is firmer than most on the shelf today and the pattern is deep. Just remember, once you wear it completely down, you’re skating on Max Air bubbles.
It looks the same, but it doesn’t feel the same. By now you know about the Max Zoom in the LeBron 15 and how it’s bouncy and cushioned at the same time. You probably also know about the compression around the edges and how the midsole felt a little unstable on hard lateral movements. Well, that is no more.
The LeBron 16 has a stiffer overall setup that still provides serious impact protection but feels quicker and smoother from the jump. I’m not sure if it is the actual bags that are tuned tighter or the foam is denser, but instead of sinking into the shoe you get immediate springback into your foot. What good is this?
Well, when jumping on a mattress, or large trampoline, there is a sinking feeling that takes time to get back in the air. Now, on a smaller trampoline, with a higher tuned spring ratio, your body is immediately back into the air on impact. Make sense? Yeah, didn’t think so. Just know this: the LeBron 16 is quicker underfoot than the 15.
The LeBron 16 uses nubuck and Battleknit 2.0. Sounds like the new evil cousin on Game of Thrones huh? Actually, it looks like a shoe fit for a Lannister, with a lion embossed on the heel and the glowing red eyes. We get a nubuck panel for the details on that area and the tongue. It isn’t the most premium of materials, but it’s nicer than we see on most 2018 basketball shoes. It does start off stiff in the heel, leading to some slight heel slip, but after a couple of day’s worth of games it tightened up.
As for the new version of Battleknit, the worries of last year are gone here as well. While the midsole was a lateral movement away from rolling over, the knit upper wasn’t the strongest option for keeping your foot upright. However, the Battleknit 2.0 on the LeBron 16 is backed by a nylon sleeve for some non-stretch support that still flexes easily on normal forward motions but holds tight on lateral movements. You get the best of both worlds with the upper of the Lebron 16.
Initially, I was not impressed. I felt the heel was slipping a little too much (back to the heel nubuck panel) and the forefoot was a little too roomy, especially over my toes. What a difference a few games makes; after my fourth night wearing them, the upper was flexing and softened up so I could get the shoe pulled tight on my forefoot. The heel, however, needed a little something extra. Enter the re-lacing adventure of the LeBron 16.
For those of you who have this shoe already, you may already know what I’m about to tell you. If you don’t have the shoe, pay close attention. The LeBron 16 has variable-width lacing. There are extra holes, much like the Dame 3 or Harden Vol.2, that allow for a more customized fit. After wearing the shoe for a couple of days, I decided to go with the wider set of laces for a more secure lockdown. Bad choice.
Pulling the laces from the shoe was hard enough, with the Flywire on the tongue being the main issue. Re-lacing back through the knit upper was a task for the jaws of life. The nylon backing is tight but the lace holes don’t run through it, they only run through the knit outer layer. This made getting the aglets back into the shoe a knuckle-scraping, finger-tip-almost-bleeding task that took 15 minutes per shoe. Doing this whole operation cut down on my heel slip issues completely, so I guess it was worth it.
No matter, because after my fourth wear, everything about the shoe just formed around my foot when laced tight and there is now no movement at all. I would say go true to size (I went 10.5 in the LeBron 16 and the AD Exodus) and enjoy your runs.
One thing the LeBron line has never lacked is support — the guy is 6’9″ and 270 pounds. Of course, the designers know he needs a combat boot for the court. That’s what makes Batteknit 2.0 so surprising; knit for this type of shoe seems a little risky, but the tightness of the threads and the no-stretch upper give serious lateral stability and containment. That’s good because the midsole stays in the middle and doesn’t come up the sides of the shoe at all.
Again, the variable lacing helps keep your foot over the footbed on hard slides and the double-layered heel cup and the internal padding lock your rear foot in place — as long as you get he lacing dialed in and give it a little time.
The biggest difference in the LeBron 16 is the midsole. As mentioned above, the Max Zoom combo feels like it is tuned tighter. That leads to stiffer Air bags and less compression. Along the edges, this means that when you’re leaning into a move or cutting harsh the bags won’t collapse and roll — they stay upright and springy.
Then, Nike went and did for us what it did exclusively for LeBron last year: it added small outriggers on each Max Zoom bubble. They aren’t huge outriggers, but they are just enough to keep the shoe upright when playing on your toes. The base of the shoe also feels wider while playing, something that helps on quick jumpers for a stable base.
After 16 models I can’t really say what my favorite LeBron shoe is because that’s a long time with a lot of change. I can say Nike fixed most of the issues found in the 15, and the 15 was an almost-great shoe. In the LeBron 16 we get better traction, a more stable midsole, more responsive cushioning, and a more contained upper that are all built for a King.
If you are an all-around player, or just enjoy playing, the LeBron 16 will suit any play style or move — be it slashing, cutting, shooters, defense, rebounding. The shoe simply handles everything thrown at it and is one of the most fun shoes on the market today…unless you are a Cavaliers fan.