Under Armour’s Lead Designer And NBA Players Take Us Behind The Design Of The HOVR Havoc

Under Armour

LAS VEGAS — Terrance Ferguson has been wearing Under Armour sneakers since he was a freshman in high school at Prime Prep Academy in Dallas, Texas six years ago, which means he’s seen the evolution of Under Armour’s hoops line like few others.

“It was my first year in the national championships when we first went to Under Armour, like out of nowhere, and I swear those shoes felt like bricks just to start off,” Ferguson said with a laugh. “It wasn’t the best-looking shoe, but over the years I swear I feel like they got better each and every year, and I have a lot of favorite Under Armour shoes, but by far, this has to be my favorite one, the HOVR Havoc. By far.”

Ferguson was among Under Armour’s NBA contingent that also included Josh Jackson, Dennis Smith Jr., and Will Barton that came through Las Vegas last month to debut the HOVR Havoc to a group of media at the Hardwood Suite inside the Palms. The HOVR Havoc is the first basketball shoe in Under Armour’s line to incorporate the HOVR cushioning system over from their running shoes, and it balances introducing new technology with following the trends that have become popular in the basketball sneaker industry.

The Havoc features the bootie design that has become the preferred structure of most every major basketball sneaker on the market, along with a knit upper to give it a snug fit while also remaining lightweight. Like most other companies, though, Under Armour is trying to figure out the best ways to stabilize the foot while not sacrificing the comfort and lighter weight the knit provides.

Nearly every sneaker on the market today is battling this in various ways, particularly with how to keep the forefoot from sliding and shifting when making sharp cuts and sudden changes of direction. There have been many different attempts in recent signature hoops shoes to fix that problem, from the strap across the forefoot of the Nike PG1 (removed on the PG2 in favor of added support in that area) to the synthetic toecap on the adidas Harden Vol. 1 (which disappeared on the Vol. 2, but will have parts of it returning for the Vol. 3).

Leon Gu served as the lead designer on the HOVR Havoc and spent hours testing sneakers with athletes and filming them in slow motion to look at where the shoes were being put under the most stress. His approach was to target the main points of pressure with reinforced support, while also limiting the amount of added synthetic material to the minimum necessary to provide support in those areas to maintain the shoe’s flexibility and lightweight. The Havoc features a very thin synthetic toecap that still allows for minor stretching but prevents the foot from shifting. The outside of the forefoot along the lacing features a support panel, along with a smaller support panel on the inside where the ball of the foot sits.

By keeping the major paneling from stretching across the entire the entire foot, the weight added is negligible while still targeting the key areas where extra pressure and tension will be added in basketball movement. The heel cup on the back provides stability in the heel, and wider lacing adds to that form fit and lateral stability.

As Gu noted, part of the challenge in designing the Havoc is that it isn’t a signature sneaker and will be one of Under Armour’s team sneakers for the grassroots and college circuit, which means it has to hold up for guards, forwards, and centers — many of whom will opt for the mid-top version for added ankle stability. With a signature sneaker, it’s about creating a sneaker that first and foremost works for that athlete and makes them happy, and then thinking about the general consumer. A team sneaker has to think of the athlete from high school to their elite NBA players, and that means lots of testing with players of all levels.

For much of the design process, it’s grassroots players that do much of the testing to avoid leaks, but the final word belongs to their NBA players. Jackson was among the NBA players that spent the most time testing the Havoc and the finished product has him thrilled — something Smith Jr. echoed as well.

“I think what’s impressed me the most is them being able to put [performance, fit, and feel] all three in one,” Jackson said. “I don’t think, since I’ve been with Under Armour, I don’t think they’ve been able to do that yet and I’m really excited because when I look at the shoe, it’s super stylish, it looks good. When I put it on, it’s super comfortable and it’s light, and when I go out there and perform on the court I’m in my comfort zone. I feel fast. I feel explosive. Just being able to have all three of those in one is really great.”

“Really the same thing that he said, just how they could put everything into one, and the HOVR technology added into this shoe,” Smith Jr. said. “Usually it’s in the running shoes, and those feel really great, so to add it into a basketball shoe is dope. I’m just a fan of the Havoc right now.”

A big reason for the improvement in comfort is, as Smith Jr. mentions, the introduction of HOVR cushioning for the first time in a basketball sneaker. Under Armour debuted HOVR in its running line, running throughout the entire midsole, but as Gu explained, with the Havoc, they had to figure out the right balance between cushioning, responsiveness, and lateral stability, which is why the Havoc only has HOVR in the back half of the sneaker.

“Running shoes are more of a linear movement, back and forth, and for basketball shoes it just depends on where we wanted to place the foam,” Gu said. “So in this one we have the HOVR from midfoot to heel so you have that vertical impact absorption and at the same time with the energy return. In the forefoot, [we left the HOVR out] to give it the responsiveness and ground feel. So the construction we have is really looking at how to provide the lateral stability.”

Considering Under Armour’s stable of young, bouncy athletes, it’s not a surprise that through the testing process they landed on that as the best design aspect. More cushioning in the front of the sneaker means more give in the forefoot and less responsiveness when leaping. With Jackson, Smith Jr., and Ferguson all as high-flyers, tailoring the sneaker to those needs required some restraint in introducing HOVR to the basketball line.

Uproxx/Robby Kalland

With the structural and performance elements figured out, the final task for Gu was the look of the shoe. The Havoc has a similar silhouette to many of the most popular low-top sneakers on the market, and like many of Under Armour’s Team sneakers, they’ll come out in standard colorways — such as the blue and red, all navy, all red, and all black.

However, being that this will be one of their top on-court sneakers for NBA stars, one of the requests from their stable of NBA players was to be able to create more “flavors,” and have more unique and flashy colorways that go beyond the Team designs that tend to be more classic. Ferguson in particular is excited about the colorways (he teases there are plenty more like the orange ones above that will be, in his words, “killing”) because he feels like this year he’ll be able to compete in the Thunder’s locker room sneaker battles with the likes of Russell Westbrook and Paul George (who he admits won last year).

“Actually, probably every day everybody show up with their new colorway, we call them flavors, so everybody up in the locker room, ‘oh I got some new flavors, I got some new flavors,'” Ferguson said. “PG definitely won it last year, but with these I already saw a couple colorways that are killing, so I can’t wait to go back, show Russ, show PG, because they’re always talking about their flavors and I feel like I got some good flavors now.”

Some of those flavors will be player exclusives, but others will hit the market. Under Armour hopes the Havoc can not just be a quality performance basketball sneaker, but one that players and the public are excited to wear as they continue to evolve as a hoops sneaker brand from the one that produced “bricks” years ago.

The Havoc hits stores August 31 in low-top ($105) and mid-top ($115) varieties and will continue releasing new colorways throughout the season.

Under Armour provided travel accommodations for Uproxx to attend the media event in Las Vegas.