Welcome to the WearTesters Weekender: Retro vs. Modern. This week the WearTesters staff discussed whether or not retro sneakers still have a place in professional basketball today (on court). Not whether athletes wear them or not, because many athletes do wear retro Jordan silhouettes. Rather, have old school silhouettes like the Jordan retros and Reebok retros, which were very popular in the 90s when Reebok was Nike’s biggest competitor, been rendered obsolete by modern performance basketball sneakers?
Basketball sneakers like the top-tier Jordan offerings (the XX9, Kobe IX, and LeBron XII), adidas’ top-tier basketball lineup, and the Under Armour basketball lineup of heavy hitters (the Anatomix Spawn, Curry One, and ClutchFit Drive) are designed specifically for on court performance with less focus on the casual wearer. Smaller brands like Anta and Brandblack have also followed this trend by creating sneakers that are more performance oriented rather than fashion oriented (although the J. Crossover II is devilishly good looking).
The question posed to the WearTesters staff was: Is there still a practical reason, other than style, to wear an old school shoe with perhaps relatively little technology in it compared to today’s performance kicks? For example, have shoes like the Curry One and Jordan XX9 completely replaced 90s ballers like the adidas Crazy 8, Reebok Kamikaze, and the And1 Tai Chi? Or is there something those old school shoes offer that the advanced performance tools of today do not? And if the old school sneakers have been phased out, what do you think will be added to basketball shoes in the coming years to make them the most technically advanced on court performers?
Jason (Shoelander23): Retros will always have a place on the feet of hoppers. Yes, there’s nostalgia and stuntin’ involved. Don’t discount the fact that many retros utilize leathers though, which hypothetically have less break in time than the plastic material on a lot of current models. For those reasons, I don’t feel that retros will get eliminated completely from basketball courts. I will say, though, that woven materials like Flyknit and the stuff on the XX9 have so much aesthetic potential that you can get them for the looks as well as the performance. That stuff is the future.
Chris (Nightwing2303): Retro models aren’t as outdated as people make them out to be. Most of the tech used back then is still used today, especially if we are talking about Nike/ Jordan brand. I hear people say far too often that Retro models are just for lifestyle, but they were originally intended for hoops. Just because you see people rocking performance footwear as a fashion piece doesn’t mean that it isn’t a hoop shoe, you just happen to have worn the performance model off court. The Air Jordan 1, back in 1985, was heavily used as a skate shoe. Is that shoe now a skate shoe instead of a hoop shoe? No, its just a hoop shoe used as a skate shoe. If you wear your Kobe 9 Elite’s off court are they now lifestyle only? Of course not…
People will continue to go one way or the other on the subject, but its clear that the masses have misconstrued the initial intention of the product to meet their own needs. There’s nothing wrong with that either… it only becomes an issue when they are adamant that the shoe is now “this or that” instead of coming to the understanding that its a product. What you do with the product is your choice.
Would I rather play in the Air Jordan XX9 over the Air Jordan 3… yes, but that doesn’t mean the Air Jordan 3 isn’t a basketball shoe. There are some shoes that I see on-court and wonder how they play in them – Foamposites for example – but the same can be said about a newer model…like the Crazy Light (pick one, doesn’t matter which). Footwear is footwear, plain and simple. Buy what you like, wear what you like, and stop treating others like sh*t because they disagree with you. I mean…you have to realize that it’s just a pair of shoes, right?
John (SoleEngineer): I think Shoelander brings up a great point about the natural materials breaking in faster or being more comfortable out of the box than some of the fuse type uppers these days, but as he said that isn’t the case in regards to Flyknit, Primeknit, Clutchfit, and the performance wovens of today. The way I see it, retros will always have their place in basketball because of the power of signature athletes, shoes, and storylines.
But take a look at other athletes performing at the highest level in their respective sports. Do you see soccer players taking the pitch in old cleats? Track & Field athletes coming out of the blocks in spikes from 1998? Marathon runners pounding the pavement in retro runners? I know this isn’t a perfect comparison but it’s the same idea for all the high level athletes. Generally, they want the lightest, best cushioned and most comfortable there is available…with exceptions for endorsement deals and affiliations of course.
I think the draw with old school shoes is the nostalgia and I know for Nightwing, myself, and definitely other people, its the leather quality and the padding. I enjoy playing in natural materials and I think that a some older models have genuinely better Zoom units and set ups. Though retro models don’t usually offer the same cushion quality as their original model, I think it applies to cases like Luke Ridnour’s noticeable loyalty to the Kobe 5.
If I’m looking to the next five years for basketball shoes, I see Flyknit applied without the fuse backing (a la Brandblack). I see Nike coming out with a new foam compound that moves above and beyond lunar. I think that there has been an uptick in inner booties for basketball shoes with the Crusader, Lillard, M10, etc. and I think the sock-like lockdown can be expanded upon and improved for a 1 to 1 fit and lockdown….almost like compression apparel, just for footwear. I can see Brandback bringing their nitrogen gas cushioning units to their basketball line and I see good things coming from adidas with Primeknit and seeking perfection with Boost foam. Give me a couple hours of thinking and I could fathom a few other wild ideas; the future is bright.
Jarron (Jahronmon): If they were good enough from him (Jordan), they are good enough for anyone right? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean that retros are the best of the best. If you took any NBA player, and that player wore retros all season, he would come out of that season just fine. Take the same player and put him in the latest and greatest from Nike, adidas, or Under Armour next season (at the end of it) his legs might feel a little fresher. Recently, I have heard that some people think retros are a negative on court, as far as performance goes. That just isn’t the case; retros won’t physically hurt you, they just don’t offer the latest and greatest in footwear technology. I know that if I was an NBA player, I would bust out a retro every once in a while for a certain occasion, such as my first game in the United Center, or even when the team brings out the retro throwback jerseys. But coming off an injury, or a 4-in-5 nights, I might just want to go with my trusty Under Armour Curry 1’s and not the dense polyurethane midsole of the Jordan IV’s. Retros hold a certain nostalgia that becomes a part of you. These guys in the NBA now grew up watching Michael Jordan play in the IV’s, V’s, VI’s etc. so now that they are in the NBA, they want to replicate what they could only dream of doing as a kid, so they bing out the retros because: “If I could be like Mike.” Retros certainly have a place on court, but they can never offer more benefits than what the current models currently provide for these world class athletes.
Noah (TheShoeRestorer): I play the least ball of anyone on the WearTesters staff so my experience level with this question is very limited. However, I see both sides of this issue a lot more clearly since discussing it with my colleagues. I had originally thought that there was no real reason to wear a retro silhouette with the modern technology available now. There are certainly reasons to wear a retro shoe, and as Chris so aptly put, some the technology used today is not so different from that used in the 90s. Many of the styles looked better back then and I’m a sucker for real leather. However, from a professional athlete’s standpoint, wouldn’t you want to be wearing the most technologically advanced piece of equipment to reduce damage to your body? It is easier to see an argument for either option now.
12 Years Ago Today
February 28, 2015 is the twelve year anniversary of the New York Knicks retiring the number 33 jersey and lifting it up into the rafters. They have not retired a jersey since Patrick Ewing’s 33. Take a look at the video below from Patrick Ewing Night 2003 and check out the full story, as well as a look at every Ewing basketball model, on SneakerHistory.com.
In Case You Missed It…
WearTesters very own Rick Teves did a performance review on the Under Armour Speedform Apollo Vent. Check it out if you want to know everything about the updated version of an already great Under Armour runner.
The news of two new size? x Nike Air Huarache Lights may have eluded your timeline(s). Take a look at that piece because they went on sale yesterday. If you like them, you might still be able to find a pair.
WearTesters Wordplay of the Week
There’s a lot of really bad music out there today, especially on the radio. If you’re look for a classic hip hop record that is thought provoking, intelligent, and a really phenomenal listen, Talib Kweli’s The Beautiful Struggle should satisfy you. It was the second solo album from Kweli and it is just one hell of a record with features that include Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Jean Grae, Common, and other heavy hitters. From the beginning to the end, each song gets better and better. The latter half of The Beautiful Struggle, from “We Got the Beat” on, is one absolutely incredible track after the next. This is an album for people who want to be inspired.
And so concludes this week’s WearTesters Weekender. The Weekender is always a pleasure to make, as the WT staff gets together and discusses a particular issue. Where do you stand in the retro vs. modern debate? Please share your thoughts and comments below and let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see in next week’s Weekender!