By Chris O’Leary

Whenever I play basketball in a sneaker for the first time, the first few steps I take are very telling. Walking gets broken down to a toddler-esque level as I slowly scrutinize the heel-to-toe process. It’s through these steps, whether they’re in a small circle inside a store, or on top of the hardwood in my favorite gym, that I get a feel for the shoes and start to form an impression. It’s how I’ve rolled with every shoe I’ve ever owned.

With every pair that is, except for the Hyperdunk. My first impression of Nike’s latest plunge into the vortex of footwear technology came from my Dad — a non-basketball type if there ever was one.

The sight of my latest sneaker pickup usually elicits a bit of a scoff and an eye-roll from my Dad. It’s not that he looks down on it—it’s more of an I-can’t-believe-you-spend-all-of-your-money-on-this-stuff kind of scoff. The predictable comparison of said shoe to space boots follows shortly after.

The Hyperdunk was different, though. My Dad visited me shortly after I got the shoes. When he saw them on my bookshelf, the jokes — which are normally as predictable as a Brian Shaw lob to Shaq back in the day—weren’t there. Instead, my Dad bee-lined it to the bookshelf, asking what I had.

Before I could tell him, he lifted the shoe off the shelf and said the same thing I did the first time I picked them up:

“Whoa.”

At a paltry 13 ounces, the Hyperdunk is noticeably lighter than your average basketball shoe. If you haven’t picked one up yet, go to your favorite sneaker spot and just hold the shoe. Its weight alone is a massive selling point.

As cool an experience as lifting up the shoe is, once you’ve got it in your hands—once I had it in my hands, anyway—the shoe’s weight presents a lot of other questions.

How can shoes so light be durable? The uppers look paper-thin; do they offer any support around the ankles? Would it even hold up to the rigors of actual on-court basketball?

With a month’s worth of wearings under my belt with this shoe, I’ll vouch for it. This shoe, like R-Kelly and Jay-Z, is the best of both worlds. Minus the legal trouble that’ll slow your roll.

The Hyperdunk is lightweight, but rugged enough to let you pound away on it on the court without worrying about it crumpling on you. You can thank the Swoosh’s Flywire technology for that.

When you’re wrapping your head around Flywire, think of the Golden Gate Bridge, and how its suspension cables work to hold the bridge up. With the Hyperdunk, those massive cable wires that hold the bridge are replaced with strong but ultra-thin nylon. The nylon strings/cables are strong enough to hold your foot in place and with the combination of the polyurethane material it’s encased in, help to prevent ankle injury. For a more detailed explanation, check Khalid’s story on the shoe in SLAM’s Olympic issue.

It’s look is futuristic — maybe Back to the Futurisitc (zing!) — but your first look at the Hyperdunk will tell you that its height takes you back to when high-tops were actually high-tops. The shoe runs well up your foot, past your ankle and eliminated any concerns I had about ankle issues on the first wearing.

That rigid plastic on the upper feels a little weird at first, actually, when you’re running around and feeling the shoe bend and shift according to your movements. It’s not an obtrusive feel or anything, it just takes a few wearings to get used to.

Another new technology that the Swoosh incorporates into the Hyperdunk is lunarlite foam in the forefoot of the shoe. Combine that with my favorite of Nike’s technologies in Zoom Air in the heel of the shoe, and you’ve got a sneaker that’s maxed out on cushioning and still lightweight.

While the Flywire stuff is new to the basketball world, there are some Nike mainstays in the Hyperdunk as well. The shoe’s mesh tongue makes the shoe a little more breathable, while the grip is straightforward and does its job. I was able to stop and start, change direction, do whatever I wanted to without resistance from the shoe.

But that’s how it should be, isn’t it? To me, grip would the simplest part of designing a shoe. It takes a lot to mess something like that up, you know? Bear with me through this aside: a long time back, a friend of a friend was venting about a girl he just dumped. His primary reason for dumping her was that she had just lost her job. Her job was at an adult video store. I’ll never forget the guy’s face as he explained the breakup. Eyes scrunched tight, hands talking like he was on stage with a mic in his hand, he looked at me at one point of his rant and said, “How do you f*ck up a job at a porno shop?”

The same applies to grip on a sneaker. It’s the most basic of bases to cover. At this point in the game, we know what works, we know what won’t. Okay, on with the show.

My favorite feature of the Hyperdunk, and I realize that this is miniscule, is the lacing system. More specifically, it’s one point in the lacing system that I love. When I play ball in my sneaks, I like to lace them up tight (I blame a childhood spent in my local minor hockey system). The Hyperdunk’s lace system looks simple enough and for the most part it is, except for the eyelet that lines up with the point of your foot that’s in line with your ankle. That one pair of eyelets breaks from the linear pattern of the other holes on the shoe and darts out toward the ankle (see picture). Once you get to tightening that point of the shoe, you pull the laces and it’s like your foot gains a new appreciation of what it means to be locked in exactly where your foot is supposed to be. Tightening that lace is a little tough to maneuver, but it’s the highlight of the wearing for me every time I put them on.

If the endorsement of an average at best basketball player who relies too much on his outside shot and who drives to the hoop semi-annually isn’t enough to convince you that this shoe is the best thing since the Huarache 2k4 and 2k5, check the feet of the athletes at the Olympics this summer. There’s a reason they were all wearing the Hyperdunk in Beijing.

Or, you could listen to Rudy Gay. When I was in Vancouver this summer for EA’s Live 09 Summer Camp, I asked him about the Hyperdunks he was wearing.

“They’re very light and comfortable,” he told me. “I didn’t expect that at all. You hear a lot of pre-hype saying they’re the lightest shoe ever, but you do feel a difference.”

If you dig through the Getty Images database regularly, or you leave it to the hacks to do that and you check what they dig up on forums, you start to see that a lot of players take to a certain shoe every few seasons in the NBA. The first time I noticed it was with the Nike Way Up in the 1995–96 season. It’s happened since with the Huaraches, the Air Force XXV and to a lesser extent the Nike Zoom BB I and II the last few years. Growing up, my brother and I called these shoes All-NBA shoes.

The Hyperdunk will be the All-NBA shoe for 2008–09. Watch for it.