So, when I started these Old Shoe Review posts the intention was to review shoes I've played a lot in, often a bit outdated but worth reviewing for those who also buy cheap shoes or want input on what to expect from newer models. I had no intention of reviewing the consensus best basketball shoe of 2014 only a few months after it was released…especially not with a price tag of $225. I did end up doing a bit of improvement on them with a needle and thread to keep them from wearing out prematurely, but otherwise they are almost perfect shoes. If you really want to spend the cash they are easily the best shoes I've ever played in, with a couple of minor caveats. Let me be clear, they are not worth the money, but if money is no object they are the best money can buy.

Why did I end up with a pair of shoes I can't afford? As luck would had it I bought a very nice pair of Nike Air Max Hyperposites for cheap that ended up having a popped air sole (no wonder they didn't sell). I sent them back under Nike's defect return program and got a full-price voucher for, allowing me to spend $225 on whatever shoes I wanted. While visiting San Francisco a couple weeks ago I took the time to try on most of the shoes at Niketown and decided that it was worth giving the XX9's a try. It was a toss-up with the Lebron 12's, which had a really cushy heel Zoom unit and awesome side-to-side lockdown but were hard to lace, heavy, and weirdly smushy feeling under the ball of my foot. I thought I would like the new Chris Paul's since I've had a couple pairs of them in the past but the traction seemed pretty poor and the fit was really harsh. The Hyperdunks were my next favorite of all the shoes that were out at the time. The Kobe 9's (all versions) are just like you'd expect; too narrow, perfect at what they do but just as hard to love as Kobe is himself. The KD's are nice but just don't ever feel very supportive side-to-side, they feel more like running shoes to me. I would have loved to try the new Kyrie 1's, but they weren't available yet. So, I took the plunge on the XX9's despite some reservations.

In a nutshell, I don't like shoes I have to worry about…and these shoes left me with a few nagging doubts. Number one was durability. The upper feels incredible, like a supportive sock, but it looks like it might scuff and get ratty really quickly. Also, having seen a couple examples online of the upper tearing or the lace loops coming loose I wondered how much coddling they might need. Also, the "unlocked Zoom" in the forefoot was a big problem in last years XX8's (lots of people had them pop right away). Fit-wise I was a bit leery as well. They were a bit too wide in my normal size 10's and I've had problems with my toes hitting the end of shoes when I go to 9-1/2. I was also worried that the heels wouldn't have the cushion my old knees need. Finally, I was also skeptical that the soft cloth upper would keep my feet stable on hard cuts.

Still looking sharp, only a couple minor scuffs on the plastic sole cover.
After playing a Christmas tournament and several days of intense pickup games, they have proven all of my doubts wrong. There are zero scuffs on the upper and the woven material appears to be pretty bulletproof, despite banging in the post with some football coaches with several inches and 30 pounds on me. The forefoot zoom units are really nice. It feels like trampolines under your feet, really bouncy. Even if I realize they aren't making me jump any higher, they do keep my knees and hips feeling fresh. The heels aren't as cushy as the Lebron's with their big Zoom bags, but the foam is just right for me. It's stiff but forgiving enough to feel cushioned when you end up landing hard on your heels. I ordered 9-1/2's which are a bit tight on the forefoot. I thought the upper might stretch a bit, but it doesn't stretch at all. Still, the upper flexes so well that I've not had any issues and the lockdown is so good my toes aren't hitting the front of the tow box. So far no catastrophic failures seem imminent and nobody is complaining online of popped zooms now that they have been re-engineered.

Funky heel cushions do a great job of locking in your heel.
The XX9's are supremely comfortable from the first wearing and the insole has great arch support, which is unusual for most basketball shoes. Inside the heel of the upper are two funky looking foam cushions, just like in the Wade 2 EV's I reviewed before, that do a great job of locking your heel in and keeping it from slipping. They flat out feel amazing on your feet.

Out of the box the traction was pretty awful, which was one downside. The soles (Which are kindof a smokey clear, not solid black) seemed to be coated in some sort of oil. Despite washing them hard with detergent and a sponge they stayed greasy. I tried a trick I've used in the past of scouring the bottom of the shoe with a Japanese water stone used for sharpening knives. The grit is very fine, but it usually roughens up the sole just enough to really grip. Even this didn't help and the first two possessions of the Christmas tournament I slipped while crossing over and lost the ball.
After breaking in the traction rocks.

Signs of sole wear after a few days of balling
The traction does improve markedly once they are broken in. Playing today and yesterday, on a court that is usually pretty dusty and poorly maintained, they stuck like glue on every cut. The traction is now far superior to the Wade 2 EV's which, until now, had the best traction I've worn. The traction is so good that for the first time in years I have blisters on my big toes from making super sharp cuts. This isn't because my feet are slipping, they are locked down really well, it's just that I can make harder cuts that put a lot more torque on my toes then they have been used to of late (And sitting on the couch for most of winter break has decreased my callouses too). The rubber is pretty soft though. As you can see from the pic there are already signs of wear on the inside of the toe. Hopefully they hold up and don't wear down too quickly.

Wear on inside ankle.
I've mentioned before that I tend to wear out the inside ankle of my shoes. I noticed after a couple games that the same was happening here. The woven upper was fine, but the little bead of the inner material at the top of the ankle was frayed. I decided, being handy with a needle and thread, to make them a bit more bulletproof. Adding a small piece of wide ribbon, cut to fit over the top of the inner ankle and melted on the edge to keep from fraying, was all that it needed to stop the fraying. The woven upper makes it easy to sew, although there must be a layer of sticky glue in there as the needle kept coming through the fabric with goo on it. With this addition I've seen no more wear on the upper aside from a few scuffs on the hard plastic sides of the sole, but even these are remarkably bulletproof.
Custom cut piece of ribbon

Sewing ribbon onto inside of ankle

You can hardly tell it's there, but durability is vastly improved

One thing about these shoes, and the way they are made, is that the style options are almost limitless. The patterns are actually woven into the upper, not printed on. The patterns and colors are computer controlled and it's possible to weave really high resolution images into the fabric, as you can see from this wild paisley demo pattern that Jordan brand showed at it's unveiling (and which I would love to play in). So…if you don't like the look of this colorway, take a look at something like the Riverwalk colorway (which I wanted but was sold out) or wait for what I assume will be some stunningly cool colorways in the future. I'm actually hoping that eventually these get put on Nike iD and you could upload a digital image of your own and have it woven into the upper. This will eventually happen whether Nike does it or not, the technology is too cool for some shoe company not to do it. If you thought retro's were cool now, wait until these start coming out in retro styles, it's going to be wild!

 So, overall, these shoes are incredible. They are comfortable, supportive, and grip really well. They also seem to be surprisingly durable despite being a purely cloth upper. Don't get a pair and immediately think you can play competitively in them though. The soles need to break in before you get good traction or you will embarrass yourself like I did. Are they worth $225? I dunno, I doubt it. You'd have a hard time convincing me that any shoe made by chinese laborers and intended for only a season of use is worth that much unless all the profit goes to pay those poor souls slaving away in sweatshops. Still, they are really comfortable and I hope that the performance woven uppers start trickling down to other Nike shoes, the technology really makes for a perfect shoe.