If there was anyone left in the basketball world who didn’t think LeBron James had earned the nickname King James yet, game five of last year’s Eastern Conference Semi’s changed everything. After watching LBJ single-handedly take apart the Detroit Pistons with a 48-point, career-defining performance, the last few naysayers LeBron had lined up to put the crown on his head themselves.
In just his fourth season in the League last year, ’Bron carried the Cleveland Cavaliers all the way to the NBA Finals. And sure, the San Antonio Spurs ate them up in four games, but the loss did nothing to remove the mystique of LeBron’s game, or his status as the baddest young buck—er, Cavalier—to lace up a pair of his own signature kicks since MJ himself.
While the cliché-watchers and Jordan-phytes might take objection to it, I think it’s safe to say that LeBron is the fulfillment of the term that’s been unfairly and inaccurately thrown around on players who show a little athleticism, have a string of good seasons early then fade into an injury-induced obscurity (Penny Hardaway), or self-inflicted complacency (Vince Carter): LeBron is The Next One.
There’s been no one happier watching LeBron live up to the hype than Nike. The Swoosh inked the kid to a massive $90 million deal before he was even drafted by the Cavs in 2003. It may have been a gamble at the time, but it’s one that’s reaped huge dividends.
With LeBron as their biggest basketball name (sorry Kobe), Nike has been going all-out making a sneaker that keeps their man happy on the court and keeps millions of fans emulating the guy whose game is splattered all over Sportscenter in the States, and on Court Cuts (the dopeness of that show is another article unto itself) here in Canada.
So it should be no surprise that with the recently released LBJ V, Nike has found a way to up the ante on a line that has managed to evolve just as quickly as its namesake.
Last year, I reviewed the LBJ IV and said that had it been lighter, it would have been the greatest basketball shoe I’d ever worn. After opening up the box (again, another impressive job there this year) of the LBJ V, the first thing I wanted to find out was if the weight issue from last year would make a return. Thankfully, like that weird ducktale patch on the back of Drew Gooden’s head, it was a one-year thing.
The LBJ V is an entire ½ lb. lighter than the IV, bringing it back into the stratosphere of lightweight sneakers that I enjoy wearing. This fact alone had me jacked up to see what waited for me next.
The shoe itself is another step in a new direction for the LBJ line. For the first time, the initial colourway of the sneaker isn’t a black and red one, but a white leather/blue patent combo. Whereas I thought the LBJ IV resembled the Air Penny II, with its navy blue patent leather toe box, I instantly had visions of the Air Jordan XVI.
Sticking with the look of the shoe, you can’t help but feel like you’re rocking something special when you put them on. Gold-coloured eyelets for the laces are a nice touch, as are the gold touches on the lacetips. The laces themselves are the same high quality ones that are used in the Zoom BB that just about every point guard in the League is wearing this year. The combination of the blue patent with white leather gives the shoe an incredibly clean look and the gold LeBron logo on the strap holder sets the shoe off.
But these are just looks we’re talking about. My treasure may be another man’s trash. Some people might say Zydrunas Ilgauskas is an ugly dude, but someone’s gotta love him, right? Right. My point is that beyond the physical, it’s what’s inside this shoe—how it performs—that sets it apart.
From the bottom-up, the sole of the shoe is simple enough. A clear rubber outsole has optimal motion flex grooves that work to keep your traction on the court. A positive holdover from the LBJ IV is just how padded your feet are inside of the shoe. A full-length Zoom Air unit returns and is paired with double-stacked Zoom in the heel. Zoom Air has been around for a good decade now and is still my favourite of Nike’s technologies. If you play an uptempo game and like that close-to-the-court feel, any shoe with Zoom Air is up your alley.
Back for another run with the LBJ V is the carbon fibre spring plate. The plate helps with reducing impact when running and landing, distributing the impact throughout the plate and away from your feet.
One thing I love about the LBJ V is the versatility the shoe offers you. Generally, when I see an ankle strap on a shoe, I associate it with being a big man’s sneak. I can appreciate why LeBron might need an ankle strap: the guy plays a guard/forward’s type game, but plays it in a power forward’s body. The dude is 6-8 and weighs 260; he could use that strap. Seeing as how I’m a lanky 6-0 and a good hundred lbs. lighter than the King, the strap’s not a priority for me. I wore the shoe with and without the strap and didn’t find discomfort in either wearing. The straps will be relegated to the shoebox for all future wearings for me, though.
Nike uses a phyposite bucket, which I can only assume is a lighter version of Foamposite technology in the heel of the shoe, that works along with the Dynamic Fit inner sleeve, giving great comfort for the foot while it sits secured in the shoe. The inner sleeve is a can’t-miss feature on a shoe, and something Nike’s been doing since the days of the OG Huraches in the early 90s. My favourite comfort feature inside the shoe though, is the tongue. It’s a padded, spandex-feeling tongue that lets your foot breathe. I’ve never been forced to notice the tongue of a shoe before the LBJ V. Try them on in the store to get the feeling I’m talking about. The tongue alone would have me sold on this shoe.
Performance-wise, I didn’t run into any negatives with the shoe. It had zero break-in, I removed the one feature on the shoe that didn’t mesh with my tastes and when I’m on the court in the shoes, I’m 100 percent comfortable. As with any high-end Nike sneaker, the price is steep, especially considering the disparity on prices with our dollar being stronger than the Americans’ right now. That said, we’ve been dropping this kind of cash on high-end sneaks for years. $199 is the suggested retail price in Canada, which is actually about 40 bucks cheaper than the LBJ IV was last year.
From what we’ve seen of LeBron so far in the 2007/08 season, he’s managed to take his game to yet another level by improving what was already great about his game. The LBJ V has done the same, with the aesthetic of a legend’s sneaker and the best parts of its predecessor. It’s definitely worth the pickup.