Words by Professor K
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
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�a 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
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
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
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.