As time passes, many of the things we enjoyed when we were younger fall by the wayside, replaced by a combination of new favorite pastimes and newfound responsibilities. This, of course, is simply the natural order of things.
That said, so long as you don’t dwell on it too long, an occasional dose of nostalgia isn’t such a bad thing, simultaneously reminding us of good times and demonstrating to us how far we’ve come. Air Jordan retros are a perfect example: When you strap on a pair that you had as a kid, it has the ability to bring you back to a simpler time when you would swear a new pair of sneakers made you run faster and jump higher than before.
Likewise, I’ve always loved that unique excitement when you get a new pair and can’t wait to take them for a test drive. The first Vince Carter signature Shox model sticks out in my mind: Enamored by the early-2000’s Roswell Rayguns commercials, I wedged my foot into the snug VC1’s and promptly hit the courts, pleasantly surprised when after a half hour of breaking them in with solitary jump shots, they started to fit like a glove.
The dynamic of basketball sneakers has changed significantly since I was in middle school, when I’d think nothing of wearing a pair of Jordans in a touch football game. As the ever-polarizing Matt Powell of Sports One Source would tell you, the vast majority of sneakers aren’t actually used for their intended purpose, relegated instead for casual wear, Instagram flaunting and eBay price gouging.
As for me, more than a decade after college, my days of playing 3-4 times a week are long gone, replaced by my daily commute, the convenience of running and a preference for spending time at home with my family. Admittedly, the majority of my sneakers don’t come within a mile of the blacktop; at times, I have to remind myself to put certain models on my feet at all, lest I find myself curating a niche museum of sorts in my basement.
When I was invited recently to wear-test the Air Jordan XX9, which releases to retail on Sept. 6, I couldn’t wait to see if it lived up to the advance billing from its gala unveiling back in April. I also saw it as a golden opportunity to recapture that first-wear feeling. Inspired, I headed that afternoon to a court in my neighborhood to put some shots up. I was emboldened — and a little relieved — when a reasonable number of jumpers rattled home.
As always, the Jordan Brand’s attention to detail was not restricted to its sneakers. The media wear test was held a stone’s throw from Madison Square Garden at swanky Terminal 23; the court is an ornate converted ballroom which once saw Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington grace the stage, but now plays host to youth basketball programs and Jordan Brand events. Adding to the mystique, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Lance Stephenson had played pickup at Terminal 23 mere hours before the XX9 open run. (Kind of a tough act to follow.)
A fresh pair of XX9’s awaited us in the locker room, along with customized, numbered jerseys, a far cry from shirts and skins. As I laced up the sneaker, I felt like Jake Shuttlesworth as I ran my fingers over the Flight Weave upper, designed with an intricate process in Italy to have 25 million pixels working to give each wearer a unique experience. The XX9 felt light on my feet, but the layer of woven jacquard fabric — compared to a car’s air bag by designer Tinker Hatfield — felt sturdy, offering a true lockdown fit.
After a brief refresher on the fine points of the XX9 from Jordan Brand Communications Manager Brandon Cresswell, we launched into some basic warmup drills, which gave me an early opportunity to feel out the sneaker’s revamped cushioning system.
The XX9 took its predecessor’s main technological advancement — the Zoom-based Flight Plate — and added a connective tendril to the outsole to create a smoother heel-toe transition that Michael Jordan himself compared to shifting gears in a Ferrari. (He — and not many others — would know.) I had worn a pair of XX8’s to the open run for contrast, and I could immediately feel the difference: The sneaker still glided on air, but the occasional “click” was no longer evident.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the XX9 is how quickly I forgot it was there. Light as a feather and flexing with the movement of my foot, I thought it required virtually no break-in time.
In the interest of full disclosure, I wish I could say the same for my game. It took a lot longer for me to get loose at 35 than it used to in college, and I was one of the shorter guys out there. By the time I got in a bit of a groove in the fourth game and broke free for a few layups, everyone else was just about ready to call it a night and watch Johnny Manziel’s tough night on an enormous projection screen.
Overall, I had a terrific time getting in a run on one of the nicest courts I’d ever played on, even if my body ached a little more than usual the next morning. And I enjoyed comparing perspectives with other people who share my longtime passion for sneakers.
“We start on this so early. We’ve seen the shoe, we’ve been holding the shoe, touching the shoe for so long,” Cresswell told me. “So to finally be at the point where we can get people in to do what it’s designed to do, it’s just a lot of fun to watch. It’s great to see people’s reactions when they’re out here in the shoe for the first time.
“To bring everyone together and celebrate the game, get out and play, that’s what it’s all about.”
Perhaps best of all, it was great to recapture the experience of hitting the court in a fresh pair of the best sneakers on the market. It’s true what they say: Sometimes, you really can go home again.
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