by Ben Collins

Kobe unveiled the Kobe VIII on Thursday and it better be his best shoe yet. The guy came to the event in a helicopter. Let’s not pretend like he doesn’t know some people who know some people.

It’s the lightest Kobe System shoe yet. It’s 9.6 ounces. And it’s exactly what Kobe wants in a shoe.

At his press conference, a reporter asked if Kobe’s ever shy about saying anything to Nike designers if something doesn’t work when he’s testing the shoe.

“No,” he says. “This affects my performance.”

Seriously, why would a designer cross someone with a helicopter for a main whip? But it’s also perfectionism. And that’s probably why this shoe feels so good to begin with.

We’ll get to that in a minute.

It remains low-cut. We didn’t see a high-cut version and I’m not sure it’s coming. The designers echoed Kobe’s point: Traditional ankle support systems—those clunky airplane wings around your ankles that keep you coming back to Hyperfuses—are largely placebogenic.

And if it looks sort of like a running shoe, there’s a reason for it. Someone asks what kind of kicks he’s seen around that he loves.

“When I see a shoe that I like, it’s usually a running shoe nowadays,” he says.

Don’t get it mixed up. They’re definitely not those old-school trainers that your dad wears to Home Depot. They’re striking. The initial colorway sort of looks like a concept car: Brash and bright and jarring. It is more than likely they’ll piss off your parents.

If you ask Nike designer Jeff Spanks about it, he’ll tell you in detail a bunch of stuff about snakes. It’ll be a lot like National Geographic. And, a lot like National Geographic, you’ll just listen to the larger words and move right along. But, yeah, it does look a lot like snakes. The mesh is a dead-ringer for scales, just like the body of the VIs looked like sharkskin.

It’s pretty uncanny. The shoe’s good looking. They had us play around with a web app that allows you to create your own colorway and ship it off accordingly (you’ll be able to do this from NIKEiD.com on release day, by the way) and the white-on-black ones look clean enough to wipe the floor with.

But it’s a basketball shoe, so none of this other stuff matters if it feels like hot iron rods.

Good news! These do not feel like hot iron rods! Better news! They might be the best out-of-the-box basketball shoes you can play in.

In his presser, Kobe was talking about “getting sentimental recently.” He’s opening a new box every game and saving each shoe. So he’s not breaking in anything.

Nike set us up with court time at Staples Center to mirror this. They gave us a shoe, then they gave us Kobe’s trainer (and MJ’s former trainer), Tim Grover. He was going to force us out-of-shape reporter people to do weird things to our thighs until we couldn’t feel them anymore.

This was successful.

After the third run through of a uniquely terrible and painful crab walk drill, Grover yells this:

“You should be really feeling this right now, but your feet should feel great.”

And you know what? He was right. There is no breaking-in period. I know this sounds like an infomercial. But, currently, a day later, my thighs are on fire and my feet feel like feet. Those are not National Geographic words, but that is the truth.