AIR JORDAN XX3 | BEAUTIFUL PERFORMANCE words_Nick DePaula images_Steve Mullholand (As published in Issue 22 : Jordan XX3 - February, 2008) NOTE: Due to the heightened security revolving around the XX3 prior to its official calendar release date, this performance review was conducted through countless wearings of a final production sample pair aimed to hold an under-cover appearance. The shoe's tooling, upper materials, padding and build were all perfectly comparable to the model hitting retail. Since its inception, the newest annual Air Jordan has represented the most technically advanced, most sophisticated and most venerated collective works of rubber, foam, Air, and more Air that the footwear industry has ever seen. Whether it was the V introducing an asymmetrical collar to the line, a carbon fiber midfoot shank as first seen in the XI, or one-hit gems such as Tech Flex and elastic eyestay bands, the Air Jordan line has done nothing but further the most important area of need in shoes: performance. It's not only the way in which the line has reached iconoclastic dominance over its competitors either, as each model carries with it an entirely unique aesthetic new to footwear. It's also the elaborate stories behind the shoes, the memories Michael created in them on-court, and the lasting impression that only a Tinker Hatfield design can evoke. As we embark on the future of all that is Jordan Brand, what greater shoe than the XX3 to capture the moment. Like a Game 6 clinching jumper in Utah, or an elbow distance dagger on a Sunday in which the Mailman didn't deliver, to even a do-it-all, 63-point performance against one of the game's greatest teams ever, it's the memories in these shoes that Michael created, and that we now create, that only adds to the honor of playing in the latest, and indeed greatest, Air Jordan model. Jordan Brand prides itself on its rich lineage and the accomplishments of one Michael Jordan, and in this new year, together we will celebrate the footwear industry's most highly regarded statement level product: the Air Jordan XX3. A design courtesy of living-legend Tinker Hatfield, with the graphic help of Mark Smith, the XX3 takes on an aesthetic never before experienced, whilst staying true to its Considered roots. As Nike's Considered initiative places production strains never before tussled with, the result is a beautifully crafted, finely sculpted piece of footwear that performs just as graciously on court. Whereas previous Jordans have gone for clean, one-piece uppers and minimally seamed silhouettes, this multi-layered rendition puts its most intricate computerized stitch patterns more prominently on the marquee. At first glance, the shoe may seem busy, if not overly complex, but it's the way in which the cohesive patterning works together during play that's most rewarding. Simply look down over your feet and you can't help but notice how the perfectly shaped quarter panels hug and slope along the contours of your foot. For the wearers with a more "normal" foot type, you'll have never experienced a fit quite like the XX3. Conversely, if you fall under the wider, or more voluminous foot shape, this just might not be the shoe for you, as it's not, by any means, as generally accommodating to our broader brethren. While the shape is remarkably perfect at first sight, there's far more to the XX3 that will define it as another classic performer. When the initial goal to tackle this most esteemed and pressure-filled project was laid out by Hatfield and his team, they simply wanted to make sure it was the greatest basketball shoe ever, in the spirit of the greatest basketball player ever. While that sounds like a problematic and difficult journey, it's actually the simple innovations and reliable components in this shoe that make it such a joy on court. Thanks to a healthy chunk of carbon fiber sculpted along the midfoot, support and transition are top-notch. Traction is also sticky, squeaky and reliable, thanks to the stylized and modified thumbprint pattern along the outsole, with deep and raised grooves not apt to collect dust mid-game. The heel-to-toe transition is almost surprisingly effortless, as the shoe appears as though it may impart a stiff feeling. The smooth flow during play is only further enhanced by what is the perfect cushioning set-up. As the XX, XX1 and XX2 featured a progressively improving, targeted cushioning system known as Independent Podular Suspension, once again, we are treated to cylindrical columns of dual density, but this time around, the industry's greatest, most responsive cushioning unit is also placed directly atop the articulated and re-engineered IPS. The 8mm, full-length Zoom Air bag is nothing short of perfect, allowing the shoe to give a low-to-the-ground feel while also delighting the wearer with a fully reactive ride. The midsole is generously jam-packed, but the footbed still stands just millimeters from the hardwood, allowing for great court feel and control of your motions. As the cushioning, fit and upper support are all near perfect, there is certainly one shortcoming of the XX3, which can be found just along the lateral sides of the toe box. The shoe incorporates a full-length, TPU midfoot chassis, which helps with production responsibilities in keeping the shoe together and piecing its collective layers. Unfortunately, it's in the forefoot lateral wrap where many players may experience some discomfort, irritation and firmness during play. As the TPU wrap sits just above my pinky toe on the lateral side of both shoes, often during harsh cuts to the basket, I could feel the underside rubbing roughly. Be sure to wear a padded sock to allow for a buffer zone of sorts against the wrap. I like to think of this shoe at 'The Gift & The Curse,' as it's that same firmness of the TPU wrap that provides a seatbelt of sorts and tremendous support, but, if your foot is a bit on the wider side, the fit might be a bit too firm up front for your liking. For someone with an average width foot, the shoe feels sculpted for me. Truly, that's the only downside to the XX3. It doesn't cause relentless throbbing pain, nor is it a nuisance often enough to rub your toes raw, but from time to time, you may indeed notice some irritation. While this was a concern, throughout the rest of the upper lies perhaps some of the most thoughtful and straightforward design cues in a shoe yet. When lacing the XX3, you'll notice two singular tabs near the top of the tongue, aligned perfectly to secure the laces through. As I'd soon find out, it was this trouble-free innovation alone that convinced me of the XX3's validity. Seriously, I couldn't stop talking about two freaking tabs for days at a time. "That was my little paper clip," jokes Mark Smith about the simplicity behind the idea. Smith, the genius responsible for the tabs, admits it took over 20 iterations of the tab concept before he and the team of developers got it right. But it paid off, because he has found a way to keep the laces and tongue in place at all times, and also help keep the laces from loosening up during strenuous play. I've joked with several designers over this subtle element of the shoe, and it's still practically mind-boggling to everyone that throughout the history of shoe design, this naturally logical feature hasn't been seen before. Another practicality along the upper that you'll surely enjoy is the dual-density foam collar package that perfectly contours around your ankle, making for a great fit and even better heel lockdown once you're all geared up and ready to go. Though it appears as though the multi-layered and complex construction of the shoe would only weigh it down further, the XX3 is actually somehow lightweight, coming in at just 18.4 ounces in my size 13. While these details can appear to be nothing but logical when building a great sneaker, it's not often you see a shoe's upper executed with so much thought, have such a great fit and such an easy entry. Just as we thought we had seen Jordan Brand define, redefine and then improve performance even further through the years, once again, there are improvements made and innovations on hand, all under the guise of a restrictive production process. Because of the Considered approach, it is also feasibly the most durable and sturdy Jordan yet, despite its sleek and lightweight nature. The XX3 may not fit everyone perfectly, and it might not yet have grown onto those still leery of its daring appearance, but certainly, for those willing to make an investment, and for those guards and forwards who enjoy the luxuries in life, and on court, the XX3 is absolutely one of the most strikingly battle-ready basketball offerings from Jordan Brand ever. Look deeper into the shoe, and it's the simple touches that define its excellence. It's well-rounded, calculatingly technical, fundamentally tuned and polished enough to fittingly carry the name and further the legacy of Michael Jordan.