Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

These New Basketball Sneakers Are Stupid

Photo: Nike

Five years ago I was in a gaggle of journalists on Nike’s campus. There must’ve been hundreds of us. It felt like overkill at the time. I struck up a conversation with a reporter from the Portland Business Journal, and he was just as mystified as I was. “Where’d they put you up?” he asked me. I told him: “The Nines.” His face showed a bit of shock. The Nines, as you might’ve guessed from the name, is a pretty nice hotel. All this for a sneaker launch?

Nike showed us quite the time that week. They flew me out from Philadelphia and put me up for a few days. The head of Nike addressed us. So did an Olympic champion. We even got to interview Tinker Hatfield, the legendary Nike designer. I got to hold a version of the original Air Jordan with a modified ankle support system. I got to shop at the Nike company store (honestly, that was disappointing). They even scheduled a dinner at a nice restaurant, something I slagged off because I wanted to go to Sizzle Pie instead.

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The sneakers being unveiled that week were the Nike Free Hyperfeel. “New Nike Free Hyperfeel Functions as an Extension of the Foot,” is how the company headlined its press release. You’ve probably never even heard of these shoes, because they flopped. The shoes were dumb and everybody knew they were going to flop.

That didn’t stop me from writing a rave review. I said it might be the most comfortable sneaker ever. I asked Tony Bignell, Nike’s VP of footwear operation, the following question: “Nike’s mantra today has been ‘nature amplified.’ What does that mean to you?” I am impressed Bignell was even able to answer it. What kind of fucking question was that? I’ve never wanted to apologize to a source more.

The entire point of those fancy junkets is to warp the minds of the reporters in attendance. Of course I loved the Nike Free Hyperfeel. It was new. I was seeing it first. I got a free trip to Portland and a stay at a fancy hotel. I drank un-fluoridated water out of one of those weird fountains. I went to Powell’s and the strip club Courtney Love used to work at. I got to skip out on my 40-hour a week permalance gig and actually write something for a change. I was in a great mood. And would the art magazine I was writing this story for actually want a pan? Of course I wrote a rave. Two, actually; one article for online and another for print.

I think of this trip, and the Nike Free Hyperfeel, every time there’s a deluge of press for a hot new sneaker. Today is one of those days: sneaker, sports, and tech blogs are all drooling over the Nike Adapt BB. The sneakers are a $350 piece of new technology: They are essentially self-lacing sneakers, a la the Air Mags in Back to the Future II, but are more directly related to the Hyperadapt, a self-lacing $720 sneaker Nike released in 2016. They connect to your iPhone via bluetooth. They are cool and new and also dumb as shit. You wouldn’t know that from reading the coverage today.

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“When it comes to their on-court basketball footwear, Nike has always pushed the limits of what’s possible in the world of performance,” says Sneaker News. “The Adapt BB isn’t just an impressive riff on a sci-fi dream—it’s a lightweight, NBA-ready kick that’s ushering in a new age of smart footwear,” reports Wired. ESPN has slobbered all over the shoes; the sneakers will conveniently debut during a game airing on ESPN tomorrow. Sports Illustrated came right out and asked Tinker Hatfield: “If you asked me to sketch a shoe right now, I would do something completely unoriginal. When you’ve designed as many shoes as you’ve had, how do you come up with something new?” I’m imagining a reporter asking, “Excuse me Tom Brady, how do you throw football good?”

Wired, SI, and ESPN all landed interviews with Tinker Hatfield at a junket similar to the one I went on in 2013. Obviously, these new sneakers are a story. New tech can be fascinating, sneakers are cool, and Nike makes plenty of dope shit. But the uniformity of the positive coverage has turned the whole of tech and sports media into shills for Nike.

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These sneakers are dumb. I already know how to tie my shoes. I don’t even know how to tie them well; I’m out here doing bunny-ears loops well after most 35-year-olds have moved on to chasing the rabbit around the tree. Wow, Nike’s new sneakers can be laced up with the push of a button or a click in a phone app. You can already do all of this manually. Self-lacing sneakers are neat, and probably inevitable, but they’re not some sort of breakthrough for society. Several sneaker-tightening solutions have been around for thousands of years. Sneaker-tightening was not a problem Nike needed to solve. If you can’t tie your sneakers, velcro exists.

The sneakers are also ugly! They look like the worst Kobe Bryant shoe. There is a little Nike swoosh inside a bigger Nike swoosh. What the hell is that? I own an absurd amount of sneakers and so my tolerance for ugly footwear styles is pretty high, but this L.A. Gear-ass light up sneaker has gone too far.

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There is something I love about these shoes, however: The potential for drama. I cannot wait for the first NBA game where a player can’t check into the game because his sneakers are dead. Maybe he forgot to charge them, maybe the battery died, maybe there was a malfunction. (The Verge’s Ashley Carman, who wrote a nuanced story about the junket, reports the Adapt BB will always keep enough of a charge to be unlaced. People won’t get stuck in them.) Today brought us one step closer to a future in which athletes have to be on their phones on the bench so they can tighten and loosen their sneakers. That could rule.

After reading all about these stupid shoes and thinking about them for a while, I did the only thing I could do: I preordered a pair. I want to try them on, too. And with hype like this, who knows how high the resale market could go?

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