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Out of sheer respect for the Black Mamba, we decided to give his latest shoe, the Kobe XI Elite Low, a proper in-depth review. As the last shoe Kobe will ever lace up in his professional career, we truly hope he exits the shoe game with the same amount of praise he’s been receiving from NBA fans everywhere throughout his farewell tour. And if the roman numeral XI serves as any indication, we’re in for continued sneaker greatness. Personally having worn and battle-tested nearly every signature shoe Kobe has ever released during his 20 season tenure, across adidas and Nike – from the “space boots” to the “honeycombs” to the entire zoom series – KB24 has not disappointed. Once again designed by Eric Avar, the Kobe XI Elite Low boasts a simple, yet highly technical silhoutte. We took to the courts to get a closer look.
Off the bat, as with all of Kobe’s signature kicks, the amount of visual detail is incredible. The initial release of the black and red “Achilles Heel”, and the slated releases of the “BHM” and the black and white colorway (pictured), have exhibited a simplicity in overall aesthetic, similar to that of the host of ever-popular flyknit running shoes. The flyknit mesh material that runs along both sides of the shoe, displays a gradient-like blend seamlessly knit under the patented Nike logo. The swoosh itself is made up of 3M material in the signature Mamba snakeskin pattern, as seen throughout the Kobe VI model. As an ode to Bryant’s tragic Achilles injury, the back left heel once again features four-stitch marks, representative of the four feet of thread used in his 2013 surgery. On the corresponding back right heel is a symbol, like that of an insignia, unique to each individual silhouette. The tongue is also marked by the well-known Kobe system emblem, and the last of the symbols is a more inconspicuous visual detail, the “XI” stitch pattern in the flyknit material near the eyebrow of the laces. For me, as a whole, the Kobe XI is a clear upgrade from the Kobe X in the looks department, and for all those who want the model in their own team colors, NIKEiD is available for the sneaker as well.
As an ode to Bryant’s tragic Achilles injury, the back left heel once again features four-stitch marks, representative of the four feet of thread used in his 2013 surgery.
The most important aspect of a shoe analysis is undoubtedly the fit. While looking fresh on the court is indeed important, the fit and the on-foot feel of the shoe will make or break it for me. So listen closely, there are a few details to take note of with this shoe. To start, upon slipping on the shoe, I immediately felt the shoe fit a bit snug along the sides, and especially in the toebox. With jab steps and quick cuts an integral part of the game, I personally like my hoop shoes to lean towards the spacious side rather than tight fitting. And if you are the type to double-up on tube socks or enjoy wearing multi-colored dri-fit elite socks, as all the kids do nowadays, I would suggest half sizing up from your everyday Nikes. Aside from the fit in terms of sizing, as an athletic shoe, the in-game comfort of fit must also be considered. One of my biggest qualms with the meteoric rise of low-cut sneakers in basketball is the security of fit on foot. More specifically, I have had issues with the topline collar of sneakers being too thick and not securely fitting around the heel and lower ankle area, making it feel as though the backside of the shoe could slip off upon planting, changing direction, or going vertical. Unlike the preceding Kobe VII’s, these do not have that same problem. After performing a series of drills and tests including defensive slides, jab steps, layups, and missed dunks, I can confirm the XIs feel very secure all the way around.
“After performing a series of drills and tests including defensive slides, jab steps, layups, and missed dunks, I can confirm the XIs feel very secure all the way around.”
Airflow is not something you can gauge by just hopping around or jogging down the aisle of a shoe store. Lucky for you, we’ve tested the Kobe XI in game. While on the court, I did not notice my feet overheating or feel any excess moisture between the toes. The lightweight flyknit material around the body offers obvious breathability – if you’ve ever worn flyknit lunars or racers to go running in the winter you know that cold air gets straight through. Another important factor to the enhanced airflow is the implementation of a snake-textured mesh tongue. This tongue allows for the heat from all around the foot to easily rise up and out of the shoe. The final verdict upon taking my shoes off after a 2-hour hoop session, is that my feet felt fine and my socks did not need wringing out. The overall minimal design of the shoe proved successful in the breathability category.
Regardless of how great the traction on a shoe may be, every basketball player knows it is never good enough. The gym floor will always be too dusty, and you can always do with more grip. However, the Kobe XI offer as substantial on-court traction as I’ve experienced. The translucent rubber outsole in conjunction with the free flex grooves spread throughout underside and edges allows for quick cuts and the ability to stop on a dime. In addition, the extreme flexibility of the shoe itself compliments the quality outsole in allowing for a complete range of extreme and rapid motions. While we are all guilty of constantly wiping the bottom of our shoes, often mid-game and generally out of habit, there are times outsoles will collect substantial amounts of dust. Though I was unaffected by such during my five game run, I did notice quite a bit of dust collected along the rubber grooves of the outsole post game. This does occur with all sneakers and is really not a cause for concern except in the long run – it is nothing a simple cleaning between wears can’t fix. And if the problem persists, there’s always that D.Wade Court Grip stuff.
“The extreme flexibility of the shoe itself compliments the quality outsole in allowing for a complete range of extreme and rapid motions”
I’ll get straight into it here, the cushioning on the XIs are exceptional. The sneaker tucks your foot right in like hotel bedsheets, with a full-length drop in Lunar midsole. At the forefoot of the Lunarlon foam are highly-functional flex grooves allowing for greater multi-directional movement, i.e. when you are tasked with applying a full-court press. Within the heel is a Nike Zoom Air unit, which serves to enhance both cushioning and vertical responsiveness – very useful in rebounding situations. This exact setup of a Lunar forefoot and Zoom heel was last seen in the Kobe IV, which up until now has been my favorite Kobe sneaker of all time. For all you hoopers who play above the rim and were hoping for a full-length Zoom rather than only in the heel, you’re in luck. NIKEiD not only allows you to customize colors and materials, it also gives you the option to choose between a soft cushioned Lunarlon, a precision heel Zoom, and a responsive full-length Zoom.
The clear standout and obvious highlight of the shoe is the new and improved iteration of Flyknit. With the addition of pearlescent Thermoplastic Polyurethane Yarn (TPU) intertwined within the Flyknit thread, Nike once again pushes the boundaries of innovation even further in creating a stronger and more supportive material for high performance activity, all the while retaining its lightweight and responsive core. In my opinion, the use of this new flyknit technology is the single greatest alteration Eric Avar and Nike made from the previous stiff mesh material seen in the Kobe X. This is Flyknit with TPU yarn is the ultimate upgrade as it offers the support and reinforcement necessary for in-game high intensity movements. While often overlooked, the last piece of the puzzle, the outsole, is integral in the overall durability of the sneaker. The Kobe XI rubberized sole looks to have a sleek yet solid design, and most importantly the junction where the outsole meets the edges of the shoe is seamless – this prevents the shoe sole from busting apart after countless cuts and jab steps. Furthermore, NIKEiD gives you the option to take your pick of translucent, XDR outdoor or Ascension outsoles. Like most of Kobe’s Nike sneakers, I foresee this shoe, with a little upkeep, is built to last a full season.
“I’ll get straight into it here, the cushioning on the XIs are exceptional.”
Now I can’t be sure if my judgement is clouded by my respect for a legend on his way out, and I surely do not want to overreact having only played in the shoes once, but I must say this is by far one of my favorite basketball sneakers to date – Nike, adidas, Kobe or otherwise. Eric Avar and the team at Nike has successfully created a high performance sneaker that on one hand is extremely innovative and highly technical, but yet still manages to fit the minimal build with its aesthetics and design. Having both adored and despised Kobe throughout his career, I’m glad that I get to join the rest of the NBA fans in applauding him one last time for this shoe. Bryant has looked good so far this season donning the XIs, with multiple highlight plays, no-look passes and that one poster jam on Clint Capela. Hopefully the sneaker will help him withstand the rigors of the 82-game schedule and allow him to give us one last season. From the looks of it, he will do just fine. Priced at $200 USD, the Kobe XI Elite Low “Achilles Heel” and the “BHM” iterations are out now, and the black and white colorway pictured above, is set to be released January 30th.