The competition to make the lightest, strongest, coolest basketball shoe on the planet feels something like the space race—only there are no booster rockets to worry about.
How does a leading footwear brand—in this case adidas—possibly make a basketball shoe that is lighter yet stronger than its predecessor, even when that first iteration was a groundbreaking design just one year ago?
In the case of adidas, the company behind the adiZero Crazy Light collection, you go back to your design team for the answer. This week adidas introduces the second generation adiZero Crazy Light 2, at 9.5 ounces still the king of the lightest basketball shoe.
The idea to create the lightest basketball shoe on the market was the first order of business in 2007 when Lawrence Norman became the company's vice president of global basketball. Hundreds of prototypes and four years later, adidas and its lead designer—Robbie Fuller—did just that with the launch of the 9.8 ounce adiZero Crazy Light in 2011.
The shoe was a hit, both on the court and the street, as adidas was able to marry technological innovation with street fashion. Rumors that former NASA scientists worked with the company on building the ideal basketball shoe are unsubstantiated.
Most new shoes take hours, days, sometimes weeks to get accustomed to. The Crazy Light 2 took all of five minutes playing pickup basketball at the L.A. Clippers practice facility in Playa Vista, California. There was an initial tightness around the top of the foot while running up and down the court, but within a few minutes and after a few buckets, the shoes conformed to my foot.
The Crazy Light 2 features some crazy components that only a true hard court freak could love or understand. Yet, what was quickly evident to a weekend warrior like myself was that this shoe is a marvel of technology in its lightweight construction.
For those hardcore players and workout enthusiasts who want to track their performance, the shoes are also equipped with a chip, known as a miCoach speed cell™.
miCoach is an advanced accelerometer that measures performance metrics during practice or in the game and is the first device to measure speed, distance, time and 360 degree motion on the court.
That's some serious stuff for a sneaker, but adidas is making this product with the top players in mind and the mindset to set themselves apart from the competition, most notably industry leader Nike. As of 2010, sources estimated that Nike had 95 percent of the $2.5 billion industry. Innovative designs, such as the Crazy Light collection, are making slow but steady headway.
The experts generally give high marks to the Crazy Light collection. According to John Horan, publisher of Sporting Goods Intelligence (the leading industry newsletter), the move to lighter weight shoes not only satisfies consumer demand but also makes economic sense for manufacturers looking to control spiraling costs.
"The whole sneaker business has changed," said Horan. "It started with the Vibram five finger running shoe but has morphed into a more traditional looking shoe made with lighter weight materials. While it started in running, it has transitioned to most other categories now.
Horan also said that adidas has finally, with the crazy light collection, made some significant inroads in the very competitive basketball market. "This has been the first shoe from adidas to get traction in basketball in years," he added.
"In the league (NBA), every game matters and you don't want anything weighing you down on the court," says Philadelphia 76ers point guard, Jrue Holiday. The former UCLA standout, who has quickly become one of the top PGs in the NBA, wears the Crazy Light 2.
Other NBA players wearing the shoes: James Anderson (Spurs), Matt Barnes (Lakers) , Deaquan Cook (Thunder), Mike Conley (Grizzlies) , Josh Smith (Hawks), Devin Harris (Jazz), Tracy McGrady (Hawks), Hedo Turkoglu (Magic), Alec Burks (Jazz), Quincy Pondexter (Grizzlies), Taj Gibson (Bulls), Ryan Gomes (Clippers) and Trey Thompkins (Clippers).
College players who wore the shoes during the NCAA tournament in March and April included Cody Zeller (Indiana), Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin), Thomas Robinson (Kansas) and Perry Jones III (Baylor).
College basketball broadcaster Gus Johnson attended the media launch of the adidas Crazy Light 2, held at the L.A. Clippers practice facility in Los Angeles. He's been commentating for 20 years and has been witness to the great athletes who have played the game and demand the best from their shoes.
"The modern day basketball player is bigger, stronger, smarter and faster than he's ever been," said Johnson, who grew up playing basketball in Detroit and remembers wearing the old school Top Tens from adidas. "So, because of their athleticism, the footwear technology has to continue to evolve. These guys are moving at light speed, they have the grace of gazelles. And they need a sneaker that can match their evolution. So what you are seeing is the evolution of the sneaker to match the athlete."
There definitely is a difference in wearing a lightweight basketball shoe. My concern was that it might not have the support needed for the pounding up and down the hardwood. I felt the shoes might be best suited for smaller guards than big power forwards and centers, though the company says they are being well received from both.
Lightweight athletic shoes are nothing new—it's been a trend for a number of years, running being an early pioneer. But to make a well constructed, supportive basketball sneaker that is just 9.5 ounces is pretty revolutionary.
It will be interesting to see just how well the shoes hold up. But early indications are that the Crazy Light 2 is a heavyweight contender.