Truth be told, the shoe that knocked me off the sneaker-holic wagon was the Kobe 9 Elite that hit the market in early 2014. Representing the first-ever application of Flyknit in hoops and featuring a sublime design penned by the legendary Eric Avar, that shoe absolutely shattered my willpower. Still, while I’ve since relaxed my ban on non-essential kicks, a decade of abstinence has shown me that I can do without. So I’ve approached new buys with a much more discerning eye, limiting pick-ups to shoes that strike me as special, perhaps due to an iconic design (e.g. the aforementioned Kobe 9), or because they mark an important milestone (e.g. the Kobe XI), or because they meaningfully advance the state of the art in on-court performance.
When I saw the Zoom KD 9 and its entirely new full-length Zoom Air platform, I thought it had the potential to fall into that last bucket, and a few weeks with the shoe confirmed that assessment. Is it worth the $195 bones I put down for a customized pair via NIKEiD? Value is a difficult thing to quantify given its innate subjectivity, but I can tell you that the KD 9 is the best performing basketball shoe I’ve played in over the past two years—a comparison that includes the significantly more expensive Kobe XI Elite. Since I’m out of the shoe review business, check out KickGenius, Schwollo.com or WearTesters.com if you’re looking for on-court assessments. And, while you’re at it, definitely give Nick DePaula’s excellent in-depth backgrounders a read to learn more about the genesis of the KD 9. His coverage of the shoe includes a terrifically candid interview with Leo Chang, the designer of every KD to date, as well as an extended conversation with Durant himself. The latter touches on a range of topics, including the pricing of the KD line, and I found Durant’s direct response on that point to be a breath of fresh air in an age when star athletes are about as forthright as politicians in an election year.
So, this isn’t a performance review, but, for the benefit of those with a keen interest in the technical aspects of contemporary kicks, I thought it worthwhile to take a closer look at the feature of the KD 9 that most sets it apart as a performance shoe. As its full name suggests, the Zoom KD 9 is built on Nike’s Zoom Air, which is a variant of the company’s iconic Nike Air cushioning platform. Many of you will already know this, but what sets a Zoom Air unit apart is that it’s reinforced by an internal matrix of very strong synthetic fibers. Those fibers are lined up in rows like soldiers in formation and, in the case of the KD 9, those rows are visible through the shoe’s clear midsole sidewalls (see figure 3 below).