by Sandy Dover / @San_Dova

Even in the lightweight age we are in, concerning the culture and evolution of the performance basketball shoe, there are still few shoes that really can leave a mark in how effortless they can feel to wear. So many innovations and technologies, and yet, on the whole, the industry is still trying to find what it means to feel the floor and still ascend. One thing is for sure—AND 1 has reached a great place to leave its own mark in the mountain all other companies are climbing; they’ve reached this noteworthy place with their “Monta Ellis special,” the ME8 Empire (the signature shoe of the Golden State Warriors’ star guard).

According to AND 1, the way that the company reached what I consider to be a milestone place in performance basketball footwear, by utilizing principles and a philosophy based on what they have dubbed:

L2G – the philosophy that quicker reflexes and faster movements come from reducing the distance between the foot and the floor. Heighten your senses, get low to the ground.

The specifications of the ME8 Empire include:

- Combo mesh/synthetic upper is breathable, lightweight, and durable.
– TPU cage provides lateral stability and extra ankle support.
– Full-length airbag lessens ground impact, and increases shock absorption.
– PU midsole provides superior cushioning with lightweight materials.
– Engineered herringbone tread design provides increased traction at critical flex points.

There are a lot of things to love about the ME8 Empire. One such thing is the bounciness of the shoe. It has great midfoot cushioning underfoot, which is kind of rare to feel, even with typical state-of-the-art full-length cushioning systems; the AND 1’s airbag reminds me a lot of Nike’s Air, but almost like a bouncier version in a mini-package—it’s like “Lite Air.” The polyurethane midsole gives great balance to the spring air unit. Expounding on that bouncy feel is the L2G (or Low 2 the Ground) philosophy, which I find to be remarkable. Because of that form of engineering, the ME8 Empire is one of the best basketball shoes I’ve ever tested—its combination of ground feel and spring rival only the Nike Air Hawk Flight, a Gary Payton signature shoe from ‘97-98. Simply, Monta’s shoe achieves what few shoes have done in accessing comfort and connection with the floor from the same place (product).

Another wonderful thing about the ME8 Empire is that the traction is truly elite. It has an excellent herringbone wave grip. The forefoot flex groove is appropriately located for flex is the right place in the shoe. Best of all, the wavy herringbone is full-length! That always ensures a very reliable connection to the court, indoor or outdoor.

The upper of the ME8 Empire is exceptionally accommodating. The cuts in the leather promote very good breathability and flexibility. Speaking of which, the leather (though synthetic) is extremely soft and flexible itself and acts very much like a true full-grain leather product. The patent leather rand that lines the upper provides great stability, support, and durability; it also keeps the foot properly bound over the sole in all movements on the court, which only increased my confidence in my testing. The TPU cage of the ME8 Empire resembles what I personally referred to as “rib supports,” which itself provides sufficient lockdown on the shoe. Good stuff doesn’t stop there for the ME8 Empire—the tongue and lining of the shoe are plush. Particularly with the tongue itself, the mesh its composed of helps to drop the shoe’s weight and reduce heat, which is always a winner. The terry cloth-like brushed sockliner just adds to the comfort.

For all of the ME8 Empire’s strengths, though, it’s not perfect. I believe the rubber outsole is a little too soft, in that I feel the outsole wears just a smidgen too much—it showed just the slightest bit of wear after my initial games in the shoe, but it was just enough for me to feel that a certain way about it. A slightly tougher rubber would be perfect. Also, the ME8 Empire may not work for bigger players or players with high arches. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and while I’m somewhat bigger and more muscular than the typical American guy at my size (5-10 and 195-205 pounds, depending on my training regimen), I still play comfortably as a guard and don’t require excessive protection; also, I have low arches and that catered to the construction of the shoe itself, so I had a ball running around in Monta’s signature. These things are subjective setbacks, though, which make the ME8 even more strong as a great shoe; there are no true weaknesses in its design.

(And just as a brief addition, many basketball players train in the weight room with their basketball shoes, and I am one of those people. I took the ME8 Empire to the weight room after playing and these are excellent there. I only wish that these came in a low-cut version. They held ground in all of my exercises, just another plus among many of the ME8.)

For style, I’d say the ME8 Empire is very solid-looking in the black/black/silver version (though the bolder Warrior blue/Warrior gold colorway is much more fetching). It’s simple in design and pretty low-profile, at least in black. It has good pop. It’s not one of those shoes that you might see and convulse over—it’s sort of understated in black, but it gets the job done casually; it’s not an eye-sore at all.

All in all, the shoe feels great. It moves naturally with my feet. It’s a joy to play in. The comfort of the ME8 Empire is unique and hard to match up with anything on the market that has like comfort. It’s just a very sound shoe for basketball players—it’s a basketball shoe’s basketball shoe, and player-friendly.

It definitely was friendly to this player.

(For additional pics of the AND 1 ME8 Empire, go to Facebook.)

Sandy Dover is a published author, fitness & media professional, and SLAM web columnist & print contributor whose work has been featured and published by US News, Yahoo!, Robert Atwan’s “America Nowand ESPN. You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline and via his website at About.Me/SandyDover.