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BIRD OF PREY




Designed for stealth and engineered for total court superiority, the Air Jordan XX2 is the most well rounded performance J in years
- but is it worth its weight in greenbacks?

With the sure to be mind blowing Air Jordan XX3 just a year away, should I keep my plastic on ice and take a pass on the XX2?
As with every Jordan, the question is less about dollar value and more about what you value in a pair of shoes. If it's your life's quest to cop every Air Jordan model ever released before kicking it to the giant shoe closet in the sky, why are you even reading this review? Those committed to acquiring the pinnacle in on-court performance should also take a pass, as Js stopped being about that a good while back. But the many folks in between who want a solid balling shoe that offers all-day comfort and all-night allure would be remiss to dismiss the XX2 out of hand. Yes, next year's XX3 will almost certainly ooze grace and grandeur out of every pore, but 365 days is a long time to wait and I don't see anything touching the luxe-tastic charms of the XX2 before then.

Okay, but how does the XX2 compare to some of its recent predecessors?
For the most part, favorably.

Last year's Air Jordan XXI was a good on-court performer, but it was a bit too stiff underfoot, could cause some chafing along the medial arch and was on the heavy side at 19.4 ounces in a U.S. men's size 11. The XX2, by comparison, weighs in at a full two ounces lighter per shoe, is much more flexible under the forefoot and is terrifically comfortable right out of the box. Overall court feel is also improved, thanks in large part to the construction and geometry of the XX2's tooling. The shoe's midsole can feel a bit awkward under the heel (more on this in a minute), but feel and transition at the forefoot are both excellent. Last but not least, the XX2 marks a huge improvement over its direct predecessor in the area of breathability. Your feet won't mistake it for an all-mesh running shoe, but neither will they be soaked in sweat after just an hour of play.

As for Js released since 2000, the only shoe I'd rank ahead of the XX2 is the Air Jordan XX, mostly due to the latter's superior range of motion around the ankle. If you liked the feel of the XX but wished it had a more conventional ankle collar, chances are good that you'll be a big fan of the XX2.


XX2 inspiration: F22 Raptor, photo by Richard Seaman


So it looks like the interchangeable I.P.S. heel cushioning pillar concept introduced in the Air Jordan XXI is back - can you feel more of a difference between the Encapsulated Air and Zoom Air pillars this time around?
Yes, there definitely is a more distinct difference between the two heel pillar platforms in the XX2, which is almost entirely attributable to the use of a double-stacked bag configuration in its Zoom Air-based pillar.

The use of two bags amplifies the innate responsiveness of Zoom, which is a good thing. But the placement of the heel pillar within the XX2's midsole turns what should have been a major performance benefit into a source of distraction. That's because, unlike the XXI, in which the interchangeable I.P.S. pillar sat directly beneath the heel, the XX2's rearmost pillar is situated aft of the heel's center of pressure. My guess is that that was done to make the pillar partially visible through the "window" cut out of the rear of the midsole´┐Ża nice design element, to be sure, but it gives the XX2's footbed a decidedly unnatural feel. And this sense that something strange is brewing underfoot is exacerbated when the slightly thicker Zoom Air-based pillar is in place, which is why I preferred the Encapsulated Air pillar by a wide margin (the Encap. pillar juts up a bit as well, but the sensation is more subtle).

And speaking of Air and pillars, the XX2 also includes a small Encapsulated Air bag at the forefoot, just under the first metatarsal head - a first for I.P.S. But unlike the configuration at the rear, the bag up front enhances cushioning with nary a hint of artificiality.

Sticking with the heel, the XX2's midsole looks pretty funky out back - does it feel weird?
In a word, yes.

For starters, the XX2 would feel a bit strange under the heel even without its unusual midsole geometry due to the I.P.S. pillar configuration quirk outlined above. But when combined with the shoe's angular shaping under the heel, the result is a distinct period of acclimatization that may be longer for some than others. In my case, the shape of the midsole was by-and-large a non-issue by the end of my first wearing. I did occasionally "catch" the inner side of the XX2's heel on the court when moving laterally, but it was a very minor distraction. All things considered, the XX2's smooth, stable ride overrode any issues I had with the shape of its midsole.

What's this I hear about a titanium shank?
As the XX2's marketing materials note, the shoe features a "titanium-encased" midfoot shank. This is cool because titanium is fantastically strong, very light, highly resistant to corrosion and able to withstand extremes of temperature, which explains its wide use in cutting edge aerospace applications. In fact, according to the Web site, airforce-technology.com, the recently introduced F-22 fighter, which served as a major source of inspiration for the XX2, relies on titanium for more than a third of its construction.

Titanium also has an edge over carbon fiber - the exotic composite material that any Jordan fan should already be familiar with - in that it's much more ductile (i.e. it flexes under extreme loads instead of cracking). Sounds perfect, right? Well, you may be disappointed to learn that that the XX2's shank really only features a near microscopically thin veneer of the wonder metal. The bulk of the component is actually made of an injection nylon - the equivalent of TPU. According to Richard Cawley, lead developer for the XX2, "We played with both 100-percent titanium and titanium alloy shanks, but [the material] did not provide the rebound characteristics we needed. Once it bent or folded, it was that way forever - obviously not what we want in a shoe as dynamic as the Air Jordan."

That's a bit of a bummer conceptually, but functionally the XX2's midfoot shank still manages to deliver in a big way. First, its size and geometry render flex under the midfoot a complete non-issue, but the component also delivers the added benefit of reduced weight by cutting the amount of foam necessary in the midsole. So while it may be a letdown to learn that the shank is not Ti to the core, you can take solace in the knowledge that it nonetheless performs at a very high level.

Bottom line, is the Air Jordan XX2 worth the coin?
When viewed in terms of performance, the XX2 is easily the most accessible Air Jordan model in years. It doesn't feature funky shrouds or ankle leashes, is on the light side for an all-around shoe and is much more breathable than its immediate predecessor. Flexibility at the ankle could be better and some may be less than smitten with the midsole's unusual shape under the heel, but, all told, I enjoyed playing in the XX2 and believe that most multi-position ballers who spend time in the shoe will be won over by its overall playability. Price is certainly a barrier, however' particularly when the XX2's $175 wallop on your wallet is viewed within the context of the hoops shoe market as a whole. Take, for example, the truly envelope pushing Nike Zoom LeBron IV that retails for $25 less. Or even the excellent adidas Gil Zero that sells for a whopping $85 less.

In short, there are quite a few shoes available today that equal or exceed the XX2's performance at much more accessible price points, but that's really beside the point. As noted at the outset, the XX2's value proposition is not about dollars and cents. Instead, it's built on the promise of a premium experience, and that's something Jordan Brand continually delivers on in a more meaningful way than anyone else in the athletic footwear space. Is that enough to justify 175 bones? Ultimately, that's a question only you and your bank account can answer.

 Photo by Professor K

best for: Active players at any position

colorway tested: White/Varsity Red/Black

key tech: Combo full-grain/synthetic leather upper w/ externalized TPU heel counter; partial-bootie construction w/ quilted inner lining to create a Nike Sphere-like stand-off effect; perfed, multi-density sockliner w/ raised metatarsal pad; multi-density Phylon midsole w/ cupsole construction around heel - also, I.P.S. system augmented w/ Encapsulated Air under the first metatarsal head and interchangeable cushioning pods under the heel (PU + Encapsulated Air or Phylon + double-stacked Zoom Air); oversized titanium-encased midfoot shank; segmented solid and translucent rubber outsole w/ flexible heel outriggers to boost stability

prof's take: With anticipation already building for next year's landmark Air Jordan XX3, it's not all that surprising to hear that more than a few people are looking past this year's game shoe. You may be downright flummoxed, then, to learn that instead of fighting the XX2's "under the radar" vibe, the team at Jordan has chosen to embrace it by rallying around the concept of stealth. Crazy? Maybe, but MJ & Co. have made a career of zigging when everyone else says zag, so I think they've earned the benefit of the doubt. As for the shoe, the XX2 manifests stealth in the crisp, angular lines that evoke the radar evading F-22 "air dominance fighter" that served as a design touchstone. But the XX2's "transparency" extends to the court as well: Give the shoe a wearing or two and you'll pretty much forget it's there. Out-of-box stiffness around the ankle is an issue, and the shoe may feel disconcertingly weird under the heel to start (particularly with the double-stacked Zoom Air-based I.P.S. pillar in place), but once broken in the XX2 is a very nice place to park your dogs. That's in part because overall cushioning is excellent, with a balanced blend of impact protection, court feel and stability. Those with moderate to high arches may want more support under the midfoot than the XX2's largely flat footbed provides, but I suspect most will appreciate the inner's luxe accommodations. Speaking of which, comfort is a major highlight, with the shoe's beautifully crafted, well-ventilated tongue deserving particular praise. Also praise-worthy are the XX2's light weight and wicked traction (it seems to improve with wear). My only real concern is centered on the durability of the midsole/outsole interface at the rear: By the end of my two weeks of testing the rubber on my right shoe had already begun to tear away along the medial heel - not a good thing in a $175 whip.

one-liner: Though not without its faults, the XX2 earns its slot in the pantheon of Air Jordan shoes by delivering the triple threat of primo comfort, top flight performance and still unrivaled luxury - just keep an eye out for potential outsole durability issues along the heel.

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