Fresh on the scene, crispy and clean…Brandblack broke through in a HUGE way last year with not just one good shoe, but a complete line of performance monsters that looked like runway models. How did one brand get it right, and right from the jump? Rabbit’s feet, years of experience, and some killer technology. And they show NO signs of stopping now, bringing us the greatness that is the J.Crossover II.
I got my first taste of Brandblack last year with the Raptor and Phantom low models. The Raptor was my pick in Weekenders for my perfect fit – it was that good. When I met up with Brandblack at a tournament in Austin last year and we discussed the future models; I was sworn to secrecy about the woven upper, but I knew it sounded completely different (the XX9 wasn’t out yet). So after PrimeKnit, FlyKnit, and Jordan weave, it may not be much different now, but one thing is for sure – they got it (for the most part) right on the first try. Let us continue this debate over some categories…
MATERIALS – Hey, did you hear this shoe has a woven upper? Thought so. Anyway, it has a woven upper. What makes this different than the XX9 or another weave? Well, the closest I have had is last year’s adiZero PrimeKnit Boost from adidas. The toe area is very open and giving, allowing for comfort and flex for better toe-off and court feel while running and cutting (not clunky). Some toes are stiff and hard and make the shoe feel slow while trying to run – the weave is like a thick sock. There is a band, pictured above, of tighter weave that gives lateral support for slides and plants while playing defense or pushing off, and then back to the open areas in the midfoot for ventilation. This is my one problem with the whole shoe, and in the fit section I will cover it more (build up!!!!). The heel is covered in supportive leather that I LOVE (bring back leather!) where the weave probably wasn’t strong enough to hold up. Bottom load that with Jetlon for cushioning and I am on the floor for Game 1.
FIT – My one almost complaint about the J.Crossover II is fit. Normally, I am a 10.5. In this shoe, I got a 10.5. Fit is great – length-wise, width, heel is locked, all around nice. And then I played in them. Their is a little more give than in the Jordan XX9, more like the adidas Ultra Boost, and my foot was NOT contained, at all. So I pulled tighter, and it got better, but not still completely held. Then I double socked, and problem was solved. I am so smart it only took me about a week and a half to figure out. Moral? Stay true to size if you want, but you could go half size down and be golden. The heel fit is perfect for me – the additional padding around the Achilles (I wish every new shoe would use some sort of structure like this) holds tight and the leather stays solid, so no heel slipping. One area that really surprised me – the tongue. Most thin tongues don’t help lace pressure at all, but the fat foam laces don’t add pressure anyway, and the padding, while thin, is dense. The top of the tongue sits well above the top line of the shoe but is backed by a smooth Lycra liner and folds around the ankle. Overall, one of the most comfortable shoes I have ever had, regardless of activity.
CUSHIONING – I said last year that Jetlon was unbelievable for a first try, and I still say it. Along with Micro G and Boost, foam cushioning is back in a HUGE way. I love the way Jetlon feels on court – low, responsive, and protected. I did feel like the Crossover and Raptor were stiffer – they bounced back quicker while the JC.2 has a softer give to it. I really felt it along the edges of the heel – coming off screens for jumpers and on some landings, it felt a little tippy on off-center situations. But the shoe rides so low that the problem corrected as soon as it appeared. Really, the closest I can think of on the market is Boost – like the Pure Boost and Ultra Boost runners. As soft as it felt, though, I never felt any impact coming back and my knees and lower back were fresh after games. So far, it proves durable too, as my pairs from last year are still as responsive as they started. I’ll throw transition in here as well, since it is a direct result of the midsole on most shoes. Smoooooth. The Jetlon being full-length and width means their is no slap from one system to the other – the shoe glides into the next step like a Primo beat. Other than the slight compression on the edges mentioned earlier, sliding on defense and moving from offense to defense on turnovers and steals was quick and sharp. With the midsole setup and the upper materials being so pliable, it was a shoe that was easy to forget about, in a good way.
SUPPORT – Strong midfoot support comes from the mirrored torsion structure right dead under the middle of the foot. The same basic system as last year but instead of blending in the blue outsole Brandblack opted to go a little louder with the chrome. The TPU is stiff but not overbearing in coverage – it is right under the arch, where it is needed most, but doesn’t extend too far into the fore- and rearfoot to make the shoe stiff (which, again, helps in transition).
At the forefoot, there isn’t really an outrigger as much as a flared midsole. This gives a more stable platform from the start instead of relying on a slim piece of rubber to hold you up on bad landings.
The heel is where I found love. By now my love of all things leather is well-documented, and the leather heel is speaking my language. It wraps from the heel to top laces locking your ankle in and not giving an inch. The texture is the best part though – just beautiful. Sorry, getting a little carried away there. There is no heel counter – not internal, not external – but the way the shoe is structured and laces makes it all okay. The leather gives just enough to allow freedom of motion but still holds you tight.
TRACTION – For a company starting out, it would seem that a tried and true pattern for traction would be your best option. Eff that, says Brandblack. We do what we want. Last year, it was the stars pattern that looked like a sure-fire slip and slide machine. And it worked, and worked well. This year it is Blades, and it works, and works well. It could have more to do with the rubber used, which is soft and pliable and sticky and NO, I wouldn’t play outdoors very often in them. The blades work like winshield wipers, wiping back and forth as your foot causes friciton with the floor, and they just stop. Likethat. I was squeaky on clean floors and grippy but quiet on less than clean floors. I have seen some message board posters saying traction is bad, but I haven’t felt it at all. Maybe I don’t play hard enough. They do grab dust, but not as bad as the UA series of herringbone, so a quick rubdown gets you back.
OVERALL – Amazing. That a company with so little time under its “official” name can produce a shoe like this, proced like this, that performs like this, is amazing. From the cushioning to the traction to the materials, this is how the industry should go. Besides a little more give in the forefoot/lateral stability than I usually like, this shoe is top 5. For a shoe “game that’s outta control, brother’s sellin’ their soul, To go gold, going, going, gone, another”sneaker sold, Brandblack is coming so tight they could make coal. If you like a great performing shoe, you know.