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Performance footwear hasn’t quite been the same since after the “Alpha Project”. We didn’t see a whole lot of innovation and we didn’t see Nike trying to push the envelope as much anymore. Shox was great; with an exciting, high-flying Vince Carter piloting the line, Nike sat back and enjoyed the fruits of its labour. But the novelty of Shox wore off pretty quickly and so did Vince Carter’s marketing lustre. That’s why the Lebron line from Nike is so refreshing in the “retro” era of footwear. Nike’s 90 million dollar man was about to be the inspiration and the canvas for designer Ken Link to wet his appetite and let his creative juices satisfy the thirst of performance hoop shoe enthusiasts around the world. With the Zoom Lebron II, “Zoom Max” was introduced along with a more edgy styling and performance benefits like the sphere inner and the now popular lock-down ankle strap. The Zoom Lebron III let Nike’s “Team Lebron” really focus on protecting the 6’8, 240lbs phenom. All that protection did Lebron well as he led Cleveland through an epic playoff run and within a defensive rebound away from the Eastern Conference Finals. Now with the Zoom Lebron IV Nike, Ken Link and “Team Lebron” are back and ready to go even further not only in the playoffs for Lebron, but further in performance in the Zoom Lebron line.

Nike Zoom LeBron IV – definately one of the best basketball designs in years.

Over and around the foot

We haven’t seen Foamposite in a shoe since the Ultraposite in 2003. It makes its highly anticipated return in the Zoom Lebron IV. The upper is unique in the fact that it’s somewhat split up into 3 sections, the ankle collar, the vamp and the wrap. The wrap is more of a midsole element but since the Zoom Lebron IV doesn’t really have a midsole, I’ll talk about it here.

A spectacular comeback of the Foamposite technology – the most expensive material used in the whole basketball footwear industry.

The wrap up is the white portion that runs all the way around the shoe and is made of a textured and sculpted phylon. The texture of the phylon wrap is so unique. It almost looks like a brushed metallic but has the feel of one of those old holographic cards (You know, those plastic ones that made that zipping sound if you ran your fingers over it) and really needs to be appreciated in person. The midfoot wrap is especially pronounced at the midfoot and the heel. The wrapping at the midfoot coincides with the slight flare in the TPU plate under foot. The wrap on the medial side reinforces and supports the arch and the wrap on the lateral side really keeps the foot on the footbed during hard cuts. The wrap portion also features cuts or notches that expose mesh from the inner of the shoe that allows the shoe to breath a little bit better. The cuts in the wrap also run all the way under the foot to form flex grooves for the outsole.

The nubuck ankle collar uses a Velcro closure that wraps from the lateral side and attaches on the medial side and does a great job of letting you know it’s there, but stays out of the way while you pull up for that jumper or drive in for that layup. I liked the feel and fit of the strap in the Zoom Lebron IV better than the Huarache 2k5. I also found the Zoom Lebron IV to be a lot less restrictive than the Zoom Lebron III, especially at the Achilles. The vamp of the shoe is where most of the foamposite is used. The foamposite feels very smooth and it actually feels exactly like the advertisement in a recent Slam Magazine that included a DVD. It was a very nice touch on Nike’s part to have that bit of connection from the ad to the shoe.

Velco ankle strap plus the inside sockliner – great ankle support with an outstanding level of comfort.

Look into the details

The upper of the Zoom Lebron IV is not only very well put together it’s also distinct, functional and very durable. Through six wears of about 2 hours per wear, the upper still looks amazing, with the creasing kept to a minimum on the wrap portion. Scratches and scuffs rub off pretty easily and dirt can be wiped away (using a bit of muscle) with a moist towel or even baby wipes for the white areas. The upper also features three thick straps feel like nubuck but have some elasticity to them. They run over the top of the foot and almost cover the laces. I think this is a big improvement from the Flightposite 3 which featured a PU strap across the widest part of the foot which led to some fit issues for people with wider than normal feet as the strap would not stretch or give. Good news for the wide footed is that the straps will give even though the foamposite won’t. The straps are a good way to give additional support on the top of the foot and they really contribute to the fit of the shoe (think VC5) even though they make the laces hard to get to.

LRJ – LeBron Raymone James. Many people still confuse the LBJ and LRJ acronyms.

The inner bootie of the shoe is of the full-length variety and makes the shoe extremely comfortable. Nike decided to go away from the Sphere inner and decided to use a standard mesh lined. While the mesh does its job in keeping the heat and moisture to a minimum, the shoe is a bit tough to put on (thank goodness for the pull tab). The inner bootie has two deep “U” shaped notches just on either side of the ankles with a nice padding right behind the notches that help keep your ankles comfortable within the shoe. Even though the inner bootie is very cozy and comfortable, I found the full inner lining from the AZG, Zoom Lebron II and III to be more my taste.

The Zoom Lebron IV felt a bit stiff out of the box and I can report that throughout my first 2 or 3 wears I experienced discomfort in my right pinkie toe from a pressure point. The pain would not be evident at first but grew as I continued to play. I am happy to say that the pain has since subsided and the upper of the Zoom Lebron IV seems to have broken in. The Zoom Lebron IV was very supportive on the foot and seemed to really protect the foot from coming off the footbed during hard cuts. The ankle strap definitely gave the Zoom Lebron IV a better feel as compared to the overly restrictive Zoom Lebron III. The ankle didn’t feel restrictive but it was supportive at the same time and the cut at the Achilles wasn’t too high.

Under the foot

The Zoom Lebron IV features a full-length Zoom Air sockliner. The sockliner also acts as the midsole for the shoe, which is why it’s so thick. The zoom sockliner is fully articulated, which means that in different areas of the foot, sockliner has different thickness or densities. For example, under the arch, you can actually feel the built in arch support although there is no solid structure, the sockliner forms almost a bubble to keep your arch nice and supported without having a solid structure there that might chafe or cause discomfort for some wearers.

The cushioning of the Nike Zoom LeBron IV is absolutely outstanding thanks to the Full-Length Zoom Air? insole.

Something unique about this sockliner is the fact that there are flex grooves cut right into it. The flex grooves definitely add to the overall good court feel of the shoe. The zoom air felt great right out of the box although it did seem to get a bit more responsive and a tad bit softer after the first couple of wears. Although I prefer firmer cushioning in the heel, the Zoom Lebron IV’s cushioning was among the best I’ve felt. It was the perfect combination of firmness and responsiveness. One small beef with the sockliner is that the Lebron logo was screen printed on and is starting to fade on my pair. It would have been nice for Nike to continue to sew on the tags or logos on the sockliner.

The Full-Length Zoom Air? cushioning system in the Lebron IV is one of the best implementation up to date. However, a thick insole is the reason for the high profile of the ZLIV. Could be a problem for smaller guards?!

One area where I think there is improvement to be made is the full-length TPU plate (no, that’s not carbon fibre folks, it’s carbon fibre textured TPU). The TPU plate did a lot for the shoe in terms of rigidity and mid-foot support, but it seemed to make the shoe a tad bit clunky for me, although the overall court feel was good. I believe the TPU plate added a lot of weight and inhibited overall the flexibility and “natural feel” of the shoe as well. It would be a good idea for Nike to look at the TPU plate and use a lighter more responsive material (like say real carbon fibre) or cut out parts of the plate that aren’t necessary. The outsole of the Zoom Lebron IV is another amazing feature of the shoe. The outsole is split up into 6 sections and each section features a solid herringbone traction pattern with a translucent part surrounding it (except for the last section at the heel which is all translucent and features the number 23 and part of the “witness” text). There is a small pivot circle in the second section of the outsole with the Lebron “LJ23” logo in it. The traction didn’t disappoint. The outsole held its ground on cuts and let you play with confidence, although a quick wipe of the sole would be a good idea on some dustier or dirtier courts. The outsole is also very thick so if you HAVE to take this shoe outdoor, it seems like it would hold up well.

Nike Free? inspired sole allows to be extremely flexible in spite of the shoes weight.

Overall impressions

After playing in the shoe, the combination of the upper’s stability and the sockliner’s responsiveness made for a unique feel. I felt fully supported but also quick on my feet while making moves on the court. The support and stability came at a price though. The phylon wrap and TPU plate seems to have added a lot of weight to the shoe. I think guards will still be able to use this shoe, but lighter guards may find the Zoom Lebron IV’s weight to be too much. Big men will definitely like the overall support and feel of this shoe, but big heavy guys, watch out to make sure that zoom air is firm enough for you guys and doesn’t bottom out (I personally think it shouldn’t be a problem). People with wide feet should make sure there aren’t any uncomfortable pressure points around the foot, as the foamposite won’t really stretch. Although there are only 5 sets of lace loops or holes, the fit is amazing partly due to the full-length inner bootie and the straps overtop of the foot that are covering the laces. The ankle support feels great and I love the way the strap goes from the lateral side to the medial side to give the inner part of the ankle the feeling of more support.

Unique lacing system helps to get your feet locked and secure without any unnecessary restriction whatsoever.

There are other great touches like the metal tipped black and red weave laces, the metal top eyelet with “L.J” in it (the “.” Is actually in the shape of a crown), the “witness” on the heel (although I absolutely HATE the font Nike used, it looks like every letter is capitalized except the “N” and the top and bottom of the I are way too flared), the message from Phil Knight on the inner tongue, the way the lion on the tongue kinda hides behind the metal “LJ23” logo on the strap when the strap is attached and even the fact that one shoe says “KING” and the other “JAMES” under the lion on the tongue. This shoe is definitely the best of the Lebron line in terms of build quality and overall attention to detail.

WITNESS – Zoom LeBron IV was released shortly after a big success of the Nike LeBron WE ARE ALL WITNESSES campaign.

The Zoom Lebron IV picks up right where the Zoom Lebron III left off. For those who didn’t like the restrictive feel of the Zoom Lebron III but didn’t mind the weight, you should definitely give the Zoom Lebron IV a try. The Zoom Lebron IV’s foamposite upper and phylon wrap protect the foot as the Zoom Lebron III did but it takes everything to the next level. The combination of support and responsiveness is unmatched by any shoe, but so is the weight (well maybe there are some Timberlands that may come close in the weight department). If weight is your number one concern when buying a new basketball shoe, forget about the Zoom Lebron IV. After wearing the Zoom Lebron IV for two hours of full-court basketball and then putting on my 2K5 beaters after, you really notice the weight. Although weight is a major flaw of the shoe, it may be one of the only major flaws. Like the Cleveland Cavaliers have built their team around Lebron James, the Zoom Lebron IV is definitely something Nike can build on. This shoe would be a great shoe for bigger guards, forwards and centers to play in despite its weight.

by Storm Ryder.

NikeLeBron.net Breakdown

Comfort & Fit: 9.5
Cushioning: 10
Traction: 9
Stability: 9.5
Ankle support: 10
Weight: 6.5
Durability: 9
Ventilation: 8.5
Overall: 9

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