Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself

by April 26, 2012


by Tzvi Twersky | @ttwersky

“I really believe that we are changing the game of basketball.”

Lawrence Norman, VP of Global Basketball at adidas, isn’t given to hyperbole—especially when it comes to bball, a sport that he reveres and once played professionally.  So when the tall, slender and athletic-looking Norman makes a statement as strong as that, it means he really stands behind his words. In this case, it also means he stands behind the latest addition to adidas’ adizero line, the Crazy Light 2.

A few days ago, adidas announced the release date (May 24) of the Crazy Light 2 and a handful of beauty shots online. Simultaneously, while the WWW was getting its (resoundingly positive) judgment on, a small contingent of media was on hand at the L.A. Clippers Training Center in Playa Vista, CA, where adidas hosted a day’s worth of events showcasing the Crazy Light 2.

The general gist of adidas’ agenda for the event? Affirm the success of the original adizero Crazy Light, which, upon its unveiling last spring, was the lightest basketball shoe ever (9.8  ounces). But more than that, deliver over in vivid detail how much brighter, lighter, sturdier and more refined the 9.5-ounce Crazy Light 2 is.

The launch started off in the Training Center’s darkened gym, where a brief, exciting highlight reel set the tone. Then, before the lights flickered to life, Gus Johnson, the event’s emcee, emerged from the shadows. At some point, Norman joined the silky smooth Johnson onstage, and the two of them proceeded to introduce the Crazy Light 2. Shortly thereafter, Norman, Robbie Fuller, the sneaker’s lead designer, and Alicia Davis, biomechanist, materials expert and researcher, sat down for intensive interviews breaking down every aspect of the 2, which is slated to sell for $140, and has already been spotted on the feet of some of the best prep players at this past March’s McDonald’s All-American game, as well as in the NCAA Tournament by Baylor, Indiana, Kansas and others.

Eventually, we would get to run and play in the kicks (My diagnosis, and the ultimate co-sign: I will be balling in them again), but the chats with adidas personnel were just as revealing. With that in mind, below are some of the key points and quotes that should help you get a better understanding of what went into the build and design of the adizero Crazy Light 2.

On where they wanted to take the Crazy Light 2 after seeing the impact of the original 1:

Lawrene Norman, VP of Global Basketball at adidas: “Well, we saw the impact that the Crazy Light could have. We started in 2007 saying we wanted to create the lightest shoe ever, and it took us four years—a lot of testing (laughs). When we got to the launch last June, we saw the impact this could have on the industry. Not just because of what it meant for basketball in general, but for us, we learned how to design and construct shoes even better. It had such an impact on our overall business.

“With Crazy Light 2 we did want to get lighter, but at the same time we wanted to make it stronger. We wanted everyone from point guards to centers to wear this shoe. We wanted players to be able to cut faster. Really, we wanted it all. But on the style side, we wanted to make a statement. There’s a movement going on towards more energy colors; it’s happening a lot. When players are wearing a statement product like the Crazy Light 2, they want people to know about it. So to launch Electricity Black or some of the other colors we’re doing, we’re delivering that.”

Robbie Fuller, lead designer: “We didn’t start over. We just kept parlaying all the learnings we had from the 1s into the 2. The 1 came out, and, literally, we were on the sidelines picking it apart, pulling pieces off part by part, gathering feedback, like, What are we hearing, what are we hearing? Aside from the fact that it’s a great shoe, half a million kids all around the world balling in it, there’s still always something you can fix. So we just said, ‘you know what? How crazy would it be if we made it more stable, more secure, and lighter?!’ You think light enough would be good enough, but we wanted it lighter with more support.

“That was the challenge; that was what we did. I think if you look at the Sprint Frame, the first one was asymmetrical—just the fact that it was longer on one side and shorter on the other—this one comes up and goes inside, because it’s not just what you see, it’s what you don’t see. Another big one is how much we filled in the foam on the medial, so that you don’t get the collapse, you just get the nice ride.”

Alicia Davis, sports researcher: “We had a hangtag that said, ‘Indoor use only’ on the Crazy Light 1, and that bugged me. I understood the concept—that high-performance basketball is played on the hardwood, indoors—and appreciate the rigor we went through to make it so light. But then we said, ‘we can do it. We can make it for both.’ So the rubber is a little bit thicker around the perimeter, high abrasion zones, high traction zones, and so now you can wear it indoors and outdoors. Not only is it lighter, but it’s more versatile and better. That was a big thing.”

On making the lightest shoe in the field:

Norman: “I think that if you can make everybody 0.3 ounces lighter with this shoe, if you can make everybody 38 percent lighter with a Revolution 30 uniform, what does that do for the game? They’ll be more fastbreaks; they’ll be more dunks; they’ll be more blocks; the game will be more exciting. That’s what we truly believe as ballers, as people that have been playing since we can walk. That’s the most humbling thing about doing something like this. I really believe that we are changing the game of basketball, and if there’s ever something I wanted to do since I was 2-3 years old, [that’s it]. That’s a pretty amazing thing to say.

“Basketball is one of the few sports where it’s not just a business driver: it’s an image driver for us. The majority of basketball shoes are worn off the court, not even on the court, so when Robbie was designing the product our brief to him was, Even sleeker, the toe-down has got to be perfect. The trend to skinny jeans, even if it’s fading a little now it’s still there, is that people want to wear more stealth and more sleek outfits. So we thought it was really important that the shoe goes with that.”

Fuller: “For me, I knew we were gonna be lighter, but it wasn’t gonna be shockingly light when you hold it. So I thought—the first one you saw something light and you picked it up and it was light, you expected it—how can this be an illusion? When you get up to it you’re like ‘This is a really sturdy sneaker,’ and then you pick it up and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute. This one’s lighter than the last one.’ That was some of the things that drove us.”

Davis: “We have a pretty rigorous test battery that we put all basketball shoes through. Regardless of if they’re an innovation concept or just an iteration of a previous shoe, we have about 15 mechanical tests—anything from cushioning to torsion to flexibility. And then we take athletes to our lab in shoes and run them through agility drills, looking at how fast they are in them, comparing them to the previous model, compare it to competitors.  It’s a pretty rigorous [process].  So this opportunity to make a shoe lighter, [we were] like, It’s going to be even better on everything. Not just lightweight, but it’s going to be better on everything.”

On looking ahead, and where the Crazy Light series will go next:

Norman: “We’re already working on the next great thing. Energy colors is the perfect example—it didn’t exist. Like a couple of years ago, I’d say it was a 70/30 split, where home and away colorways would sell at least 70 percent of the total range, and then you’d pop in some limited editions and energy colors. That’s starting to flip. Right now we’re seeing the majority is switching to energy colors. Now where’s that going to be in 2013, 2014 and beyond? We work with our teams in color and trend to find this out. We’re always shopping, especially in New York. New York, to me—New York, Chicago, L.A—is where it’s really important to get out and see what’s coming next in the world of fashion, because the world of fashion is important to us and our athletes.”

Fuller: “You start from zero, right? So a zero ounce shoe, and then you add to it. The beauty is that we do athlete testing and mechanical testing. Athletes, they can tell us if it’s too light and they can give us their feedback. Then, the machine tests, they don’t know what it weighs and they don’t care. They just do pull-strength, the tear, the compression, and then it spits out whether or not it’s in the ranges we need it to be to be an elite basketball shoe. I’m confident that with material science and with the team we have—engineers, polymer experts, etc—we’ve got some room to go to make players faster on the court.”

Beauty shots and sketches courtesy of adidas. Additional photos shot on GE x500.