words // Zac Dubasik
images // Nick DePaula
I’ve said for a while that the days of the traditional big man shoe, one that is slow and overly built, are coming to an end. One reason probably comes from the fact that there are fewer traditional low-post big men in the League these days. With perimeter play becoming more and more dominant, smaller players are playing the “Center” position, and often not in a very Center-like way. On top of that, those players that still command respect in the paint are more athletic than ever, with Dwight Howard himself becoming the prototype for the modern center. When I asked the SuperBeast’s designer, Robbie Fuller, if he agreed with that theory, he echoed my thoughts. “Definitely,” he said. “Big men want to be fast and light too, not just seen as the muscle on the team.”
So where’s that leave the big man shoe? Surely there’s still a need for something with more support and protection than you’d find in a typical guard shoe. Not everyone wants a feather-light low-top to play in. But the combination of an extra-high collar, stiff leather upper, and overly cushioned ride just doesn’t cut it today like it did in shoes of old. Today’s big men demand more from their shoes. And thanks to the SuperBeast, they may have a new standard to judge future kicks based on.
From top to bottom, the adidas SuperBeast has just about everything a bigger player could want. But it’s also versatile enough that it will appeal to a much bigger audience than just the biggest of centers. Starting with the upper, the cut, materials and shape are all excellent. The collar, while lacking the precise molding of some of the best alternatives, achieves the same goal with a multi-piece construction. The heel notches provided a secure lockdown, while the shape and flexibility of the collar allowed for a full range of motion. Placing the ankle stability emphasis on the heel security, rather than collar height, is one of the many areas the SuperBeast improves upon the tired big man shoe formula of old.
The next notable feature of the upper is it’s most visually dominant: a basketball-specific iteration of SPRINTSKIN. As for what makes it basketball specific, Fuller explains that, “It’s a new, more durable execution built on the same principles as SPRINTSKIN for soccer, but engineered for basketball movements. More severe cutting forces need stronger solutions. We used a specially formulated material that has great abrasion resistance, fine molding capabilities and strength, in order to ensure ultimate control and light weight.” In other words, it’s not only strong enough to support your foot, it also offers protection from forces coming from the outside. I found it to be a highly effective upper material, which was both comfortable against the foot and laterally stable. One disappointment with it though was that it wasn’t quite as breathable as it may look. The reason for this is because there is still a fairly substantial liner behind it. Considering how protective and padded it is, breathability is very reasonable, but not as cool as in a shoe like the Rose 1.5, which also uses SPRINTSKIN, but with a much thinner backing.
My biggest complaint with the upper was that the two-hole eyelet covers created a bunching between each other when the shoe flexed. These solid eyelets line up with the upper’s large Stripes, and add excellent stability for pulling your laces tight, but prevent the glove-type fit that is ideal when the shoe bends. It’s not a major problem, and didn’t necessarily hurt the overall performance of the shoe, but there is so much to like about the SuperBeast, that these small things are what stick out as negatives. Perhaps small relief points between these covers could prevent that bunching.
As much as I liked the upper of the SuperBeast, I found the Alive cushioning to be equally impressive. When I asked Fuller why the SuperBeast moved away from the PUREMOTION-based tooling of last fall’s Beast, he explained that the new platform actually builds on it. “One of the key elements of PUREMOTION is that it’s designed for what happens when force is applied, and the same thing happens [here]. It’s designed to activate once force is applied to each of the elements.” Thanks to this design, with a lower profile and softer-density foam in key zones where cushioning is needed, the shoe is able to “provide superior cushioning comfort at the lowest, most stable heights to date,” according to Fuller. I found that to be very accurate. The injected EVA-based midsole offered an excellent court feel for the amount of impact protection it provided. For bigger players who like having the most cushioning possible, the transition is outstanding. You won’t mistake it for a nimble guard-based shoe, but it’s as good of court feel as you’ll find right now in a shoe that’s this protective.
The other notable element of the shoe’s tooling is the new, Z-shaped TWIST torsion system. The system was designed to geometrically control and protect the foot “so it literally wants to twist the right direction and oppose the wrong,” says Fuller. “This new solution really takes advantage of the powerful movements that a player like Dwight initiates. It’s a simple solution that can prevent injury and increases the body’s efficiency.” I found the system to work as designed, and offered just the right level of stability. It’s not something that’s exceptionally noticeable, nor should it be, but it does offer an additional level of protection, without sacrificing playability.
Rounding out the shoe’s tooling is the traction, which I found to be similar to other shoes using the Cilia traction surface. And that’s a fairly positive thing. It doesn’t have that perceivable and reassuring squeak, but it is solid. On a dusty court, you’ll be swiping a lot, but when swiped clean, it offers reliable footing.
I’ve played in a lot of different shoes over the past few seasons. Getting to play in so many shoes has both positives and negatives associated with it. As far as the positives, it’s great to see as much of what’s out there as possible. Playing in the latest hoops stuff, and getting to experience the new technologies is a lot of fun. The negatives? Well, one of the biggest is having to play in some not-so-good shoes. Luckily, there are a ton of great shoes out there, so those are fairly rare. But almost as bad is having to stop playing in a shoe that I really like, in order to move on to the next one. That’s exactly what happened with the SuperBeast.
While I’m a bigger player, I tend to heavily prefer more guard-oriented shoes. This new era of big man shoes could have me changing my opinion.
DETAILS & BUYING ADVICE:
designer: Robbie Fuller
best for: all players other than smaller guards
colorway tested: Black/Running White
key tech: SPRINTSKIN upper with mesh backing; Twist torsion; Alive cushioning; Cilia Traction surface
pros: cushioned and protective without sacrificing too much court feel and being too restrictive; plays light
cons: bunching between eyelets when shoe flexes
improvements: relief points between two-hole plastic eyelets, SPRINTSKIN on medial side of upper
buying advice: For a modern big man (i.e., a big that doesn’t want a slow and overly restrictive shoe), the SuperBeast is an easy and strong recommendation. It strikes an excellent balance of being protective, cushioned and an all-around performer.
Available now: adidas SuperBeast