by Chris O’Leary

It’s confession time:

I haven’t played ball on an outdoor court in two full years. It’s not that I’m not playing ball. It’s just that every time I’ve hit the court, it’s been on the hardwood.

It’s times like this that make me start to think I have an actual problem when it comes to sneakers. The main thing that has kept me off of the asphalt is that I don’t want to dirty/scuff/rip/wear out my favorite sneakers. And I know (from the heavily worn but still pristine looking 11-year-old Jordan XIII’s in my room) that if I wear my sneaks indoors only that they can last forever.

I wasn’t always like this. I used to be the first kid out on the courts of my neighborhood the second some dry concrete started to poke its way through the spring thaw. Growing up in a place that allows for six months of outdoor ball if you were lucky, and where open gym was a concept only on winter Sundays at the local Y, you jumped on the outdoor game as soon as you could. The summers would claim a sneaker from me every year: Reebok Pumps in 93 and 94; Shaq Attaq II’s in 95: Air Max CW’s in 96 and Air DVST8′s in 97. Later, when my collection started to swell and I had some disposable income, I revisited a concept that my grade-school teachers invoked on us from Day 1: Indoor and outdoor shoes.

The plan seemed flawless. I’d keep my favorite shoes clean in the gym all year and every spring I could find a store with a clearance sale and buy a cheap pair of shoes for the outdoor season with the intention of running them into the ground. And for a while, this plan was flawless. I bought a pair of Nike Zoom Turbine’s on Ebay for 50 bucks; I found a discounted pair of low-cut black and red And 1 Tai-Chi’s. As Kobe fell from my graces year-by-year, I started breaking out his adidas equipment top-10 2000′s. The Kobe’s were tragically lost in a basement flood a few years later.

Then I got greedy. In the last few years, the sneakers have gotten nicer. The soles of some of my favorite shoes are like pieces of art unto themselves. Other sneakers are too light, too nice. I used to be able to look at a pair and know: I’ll use these this summer. That knowledge, the stick-to-it-iveness of my plan has gone out the window. The thought of wearing my sneaks outdoors has only conjured images of Rick James on Eddie Murphy’s couch. Somehow I’ve become, for lack of a better term…a sneaker priss.

That is, until this summer.

Believe it or not (if you live up in these parts it’s not a tough sell), we just got our first real taste of summer this past weekend. And still, despite not having set foot on an outdoor court for a game in all this time, the urge to hit the courts in the warm weather was there. While my secondary urge followed, telling myself I didn’t have the footwear to do it, I looked down in front of me and next to my gym Nike Zoom Phenombag sat the shoe that Brandon Roy wore throughout this season: Nike’s Zoom Phenom.

The Phenom is a hybrid of two classic sneakers from Nike, in the Air Max CW (Nike calls it the Air Max Sensation today) and the Ndestrukt, a shoe made for the outdoor game back in the mid-90s. The Phenom follows the now year-old Sharkley—which is a hybrid of the Ndestrukt and Charles Barkley’s CB34′s. It’s now sandwiched between the Sharkley and a new release—the terribly named Zoom Sharkalaid, which is a cross with the Ndestrukt and Nike’s Air Raid…and the Sharkley in its namesake.

Before you cast judgement on the hybrid concept or the strange naming methods, consider this: All three of these shoes have the Ndestrukt soles on them. Like I said, the Ndestrukt was built for the outdoor game (so Dennis Rodman wore them indoors) and prided itself on its longevity on the blacktop. With two of the three shoes having been on store shelves for a considerable amount of time, they’re the perfect pickup for an outdoor shoe.

I’ve worn the Phenom for almost two months now indoors and come away from it completely amped to play outdoor ball in them. Take a look at the sole of the shoe on any of the three models. It’s big, solid and durable. While I can’t speak for the Sharkley or the soon-to-be-released Sharkalaid (I can’t believe that’s its real name), I can say that the Phenom manages to take what looks to be a big, clunky sole and makes it work with a lightweight upper that doesn’t weigh you down on the court. The Zoom Air in the shoe does a nice job of keeping things light and providing comfort as well.

This is an exciting time. Spring has stumbled into town a month and a half late, everything is turning green and for the first time in a long time, I’m not worried about destroying a pair of kicks that I love on the blacktop. If I can find a court that has chain meshes I might be pulling overnighters this summer.