When a shoe holds the singular distinction of being banned by the NBA due to “providing an undue competitive advantage,” it’s hard not have lofty expectations. That certainly was the case when I laced up my first pair of Concept 3s. When APL first hit the scene, it was said ban that put the company on the map. Its proprietary Load ‘N Launch technology promised gains of up to 3″ in height when jumping — even more if you happen to be an elite athlete. Not knowing whether the brand’s claims were hyperbole or fact, I knew I had to give these a run.
Aesthetically, the Concept 3s certainly aren’t groundbreaking but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the overall silhouette is somewhere in the middle between sleek and chunky and several people compared it to the LeBron 8 and 9. Clearly, the focus here is on the unique propulsion system and it looks as if the shoe was designed around the maxim of “form follows function.” In this case, it means an upper dominated by microfiber mesh panels and lightweight synthetics. Thankfully, branding is kept to a minimum — giving the shoe an uncluttered, minimal look. For a player who prefers to let his game — not the shoes — do the talking, these were perfect for me, and if you fall into the same camp, you should appreciate the subtle beauty of these. If loud is more your thing, the Concept 3 is also available in a range of bold colorways.
Fit has always been the most important part of any shoe for me, particularly when it comes to performance. The best shoes I’ve played in — regardless of sport — have always been the ones that fit the best. Why? Because the less time you spend worrying about how your feet feel or how your shoes fit, the more time you can spend worrying about the game itself. Simply put, the fit of the Concept 3 was on-point. While the upper itself is quite minimal, APL has added padding where it’s needed most — namely the collar and tongue — making for an extremely comfortable shoe from the first step. The 3/4 inner bootie ensures that your foot stays firmly in place and prevents the tongue from sliding around during play. The toe box has been designed wide enough to accommodate a range of widths, and APL has even made sure that these shoes play nice with orthotics — a relative rarity in my experience. Pinching and hot spots were never an issue during play and the thick, round laces ensured even pressure distribution when lacing these up tight. Coming in at 14.7 ounces per shoe, these aren’t the lightest shoes around but they’re no clunkers either. And anyways, who said a shoe has to be ultra-light to be good? All-in-all, these have been some of the best fitting shoes I’ve played in in the last year.
In terms of cushioning, the Concept 3s definitely lean towards the responsive end of the spectrum. While not as hard or fast as the adidas Crazyquick nor as cushioned as Nike’s Hyperdunk, the Concept 3 offered a nice balance between the two. There was a perceptible ‘spring’ to my step while playing in these — I assume it has something to do with the Load ‘N Launch technology — which also translated to a more responsive forefoot transition. Despite the responsiveness-bias of the cushioning, the shoes never felt under-cushioned and hard landings barely registered. If you like your shoes more responsive than cushioned without sacrificing one for the other, the Concept 3 is a pretty good bet.
“Thankfully, the fit of the Concept 3 was on-point. While the upper itself is quite minimal, APL has added padding where it’s needed most — namely the collar and tongue — making for an extremely comfortable shoe from the first step.”
If you’re interested in APL, probably the only question you have is “do they make you jump higher?” In a word, yes. After comparing several jumps in these, the Nike KD V, the LeBron X, the adidas D Rose 4.5, and the adidas Crazyquick 2, I found that there was a slight but perceptible difference in jumping height. I wish I could say it was the full 3″ or so that APL claims but it wasn’t. I averaged roughly an extra 1-1.5″ in height in the Concept 3s compared to the rest. All four of the other shoes gave me essentially the same height so there is definitely something going on with the Load ‘N Launch tech. After doing a bit more digging, I found that APL’s proprietary tech, which is a spring-based launch system, is largely dependent on the forces you put into it. That means that an athlete who stands 6’1″ and weighs 200lbs stands to add more height to their vertical than someone like me who stands 5’10″ (on a good day) and weighs 155lbs purely because of the increased forces at play with the added weight. That explains why in APL’s testing, they’ve seen college and pro-level athletes gain up to 4.5″ of added height. If you’re someone who’s just about able to dunk, the Concept 3s should be able to provide that extra bit to get you over the rim.
Aside from the Load ‘N Launch aspect, the shoe has a lot of other great aspects and some that could do with improving. I’ll start with the good first. As mentioned earlier, the comfort and fit are great and even after my two-hour weekend sessions my feet felt fine. Not once during play did I even think about my shoes, which to me is a great sign for a shoe and one that isn’t all too common. There was rarely ever any internal slippage, even during the hardest of cuts. Likewise, the herringbone pattern outsole’s grip was superb when outdoors — I can only assume it’s even better on the hardwood. Hard lateral movements proved no problem too, thanks to the synthetic supports and the outrigger on the lateral edge of the sole. This extra bit of sole went a long way towards to keeping the shoe stable across a variety of movements — it’s certainly not a sexy feature but it goes a long way.
There were a few things that did detract from my experience slightly. The biggest issues had to do with quality. After a couple months, some of the mesh panels have started to fray and tear in places. It’s by no means a deal breaker as these shoes have experienced roughly 50 hours of play on outdoor courts but it still hurts. The outsole’s tread could do with a bit more beefing up as it’s slowly starting to degrade — it still hasn’t lost its grip though. I also found myself suffering from calf cramps at an increased rate after longer sessions of play. I’m not certain on this but my guess is that it has something to do with the set up of the spring for the Load ‘N Launch technology and the height at which it sits in the heel relative to the forefoot. It could just be me but I’d be curious to see if anyone else has experienced the same kind of thing.
“Probably the only question you have is “do they make you jump higher?” In a word, yes. After comparing several jumps in these, the Nike KD V, the LeBron X, the adidas D Rose 4.5, and the adidas Crazyquick 2, I found that there was a slight but perceptible difference in jumping height.”
To be honest, the Concept 3 far exceeded my expectations. Not only did it deliver on the promise of adding to my vertical — albeit slightly — it proved to be one of the better all-around shoes I’ve worn in the last year. This doesn’t mean it’s for everybody but if you’re looking for a great shoe that can help you get closer to the rim, the Concept 3 is your best bet. If you want to give these a go for yourself, check out APL’s online store to see the latest colorways for the Concept 3.