REEBOK ANSWER XI | RETURN TO PROMINENCE
words & images_Nick DePaula
(As published in Issue 20 : Rob & Big - October , 2007)
For all of Allen Iverson's decorated eleven (eleven now!) year career, we've heard nothing but stories about his troubled history, coach run-ins, and failure to follow rules. We've also heard enough about practice. We didn't hear much during that time though about his family life away from the court, the quiet time he spends at home, or even the accomplished football player he was during his youngest years. So, going on a 12th season of his lifetime endorsement deal, Reebok and up and coming designer Drew Winfield have placed a tactful amount of detail into the newest Reebok Answer XI, detailing the two sides of AI that make up our era's most relevant and pioneering hardwood icon. Hailing from Baltimore, Winfield's youth adds an extra dimension to his task at hand, as the Answer XI was his first major flagship design, having worked on the 50 Cent G6-3, Pump Unanimous and several value priced sneakers. Just 26 years-old, he's another already accomplished prodigy from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, the same school where fellow industry designer Jason Mayden graduated. A daunting task initially, Winfield grew with the project as a designer and finally could exhale when that magic phrase left Allen's mouth. "When I started working for Reebok, I always had an idea of what kind of shoe I would design for Allen Iverson. When I actually started developing the shoe, that's when the pressure surfaced," he admits. "There were a few occasions when an unsightly sample came into the office and my heart dropped down to my feet. It definitely was not easy but I would like to take the time to thank all my developers, marketers, and fellow designers who believed in my vision. While working on the project I held my breath for nine months until I heard the quote 'This is my favorite shoe since the Question' from Allen." Stemming from Allen's zodiac sign, Gemini, Winfield determined a consistent theme in which to work from. In Greek mythology, it is said that the Gemini is based on Castor and Pollux, twin brothers rooted in opposite characteristics. With Castor a mortal and Pollux immortal, the two figures served to represent the complex dichotomy said to exist in every Gemini - the brave and tranquil sides if you will. The Answer XI was then stylistically split into two halves - one representing the mortal side of Allen, the other conveying an immortal glimpse into The Answer's life. "I started thinking about what makes Allen Iverson immortal," says Winfield. "When I watch Allen play, it's almost like he's super human, he's so fast and aggressive. He puts it all on the line and plays every game like it's his last and he does this game after game. He's a mortal man because he has faults just like everybody else which makes him human; can somebody say, 'Practice?'" The themes are translated onto the shoe in quite literal terms, as the immortal side represents the fearless, aggressive, and daring side of Iverson, whereas the visually more subtle medial side signifies the relaxed and subdued stage of his life.
As you'll notice on the lateral, or immortal themed side, an aggressive and sharp design approach is taken, in hopes of sharing Allen's quick pace of play. A great detail also visible from the lateral side is the modified Gemini symbol that Winfield has created that resides around the Vector logo near the heel and extends into the forefoot. While a traditional Gemini symbol looks more or less like a Roman numeral character for the number two, Winfield recreated the symbol by adjoining two question marks together from opposite ends, a great reference to Allen's doubt-filled past and first signature shoe. This understated pattern is found all-over styled along the immortal side, and the overlays are given pronounced extra bordering as well, a sharp contrast from the medial's DNA. Along the inner side, a remarkably flat and purposefully more uninspired approach is taken. To further the contrasting theme of the two sides, the ankle collar has an asymmetrical configuration, with the lateral side's lower height meant for a less restrictive cut on more mobile movements during play, while the medial collar sits higher and provides great support against ankle rolls. "On the medial side, I used a wool material with an embroidered border," says designer Winfield. "The embroidered border was inspired by fitted caps and wool is a material often associated with casual wear. The medial side also represents the growth and evolution of Iverson; that's why the strap folds over from the medial side to the lateral side and the toe wraps over towards the lateral side as well." The "shell" like midfoot structure, a molded quarter panel that also features a strap and dominates most of the shoe's upper is directly influenced from Allen's days on the gridiron. As a junior at Bethel High School in Newport News, Virginia, AI anchored a State Title winning team as the do-it-all quarterback, safety, punt and kickoff returner, en route to winning All-State and Player of the Year honors. [Check out this awesome retrospective video!] His versatility in football makes its way over to his basketball shoe in the most directly influenced Iverson shoe yet. "I noticed how football players tape up their cleats for better support," explains Winfield. "I learned that football players call the taping up of their cleats 'spatting.' I wanted to apply this same idea and look to a basketball shoe." During play, the midfoot wrapping quarter panel perfectly locks you in, and the easy to lace ghilley set-up functions well with the midfoot strap as well. The shoe runs modestly standard in width, and yet the last should be perfectly accommodating to any variation of foot shape, with the strap allowing for even greater support per the user's liking. Among one of the best attributes and upgrades on the Iverson XI is the plush inner lining and inner fit sleeve. Engulfing your heel and Achilles upon entrance, the sleeve makes for a great tandem with the generously contoured and padded insole. "We built a DMX Foam cushioning pad into the midsole of the forefoot because players who are always moving up-down [and] left-right definitely need more forefoot cushioning," says Winfield. While the DMX Foam cushioning felt great through the first four or so wearings, the padded insole seemed to lose its high-rebound properties by the fifth session, as the continual pounding appeared to place considerable strain on the shoe. For a guy like Allen, who has the luxury of breaking out a fresh pair for each game, this isn't an issue at all of course, but for us mere mortal consumers, you may want to factor in potential longevity issues if you're intending to use the Answer XI for a full season of play. The heel cushioning is perfectly stable underfoot and has great give along with support, but the forefoot cushioning becomes fairly more stiff over time as you log more and more hours in the shoe. Another slight, but easily remedied issue is the roughly edged piping that lines the top edges of the inner ankle. Wear a sock even with the shoe's height and you're good to go, but no-show socks might cause some irritation. Though the forefoot cushioning may hinder playability just a little as you progress through a season and still are in need of top-tier cushioning, the TPU-injected midfoot support shank will hold perfectly well in stabilizing your arch. While the lining and quality materials implemented along the upper are certainly a great attribute, the best feature of the Answer XI is the outstanding traction. Traction was a huge issue in the last RBK I reviewed, the Pump Unanimous, but the stylized and widened herringbone pattern is perfectly sticky for even the dustiest of courts. "The dueling out-riggers and wavy herringbone pattern helps with maneuvering in all directions," boasts Drew. "We also used a high abrasion rubber compound for dynamic traction." Whether you're at a YMCA gym that's seen use for decades or a multi-million dollar state of the art university rec center, the Answer's traction allows you the comfort of knowing your every jab step and movement will be safe from any degree of slippage. I assume the pattern works just as effectively on each colorway, as the icy blue translucent outsole that I tested gave top-tier traction that didn't decline over time with wear. The Answer XI marks the first time in awhile that I've been realistically excited about the design, backstory, technology and most importantly - playability in the Iverson line. It's honestly not since the Answer V that I fell in love with an Iverson shoe for all of its offerings, and I was glad to see a more traditionally functional approach taken sans Pump technology, which I've long thought was somewhat gimmicky with the ranks of React Juice, IPS, Shox and adiprene+. Growing up in the first five of the Answer series, there was a definite love fest taking place that was somewhat lost for a few years there, and I'm very excited that I can return to holding a deep appreciation for the latest sneaker of one of the most important players of my time. The XI isn't perfect - showing its mortal side with some firmness and cushioning life expectancy issues - but definitely consider it if you're a guard or forward looking for a protective, comfortable and squeaky-traction delivering all around shoe. I loved the way in which the strap, inner sleeve and lacing work together for a great fit, and the heel-to-toe transition is buttery smooth with noteworthy support to top it off. Drew Winfield indeed had an intimidating task facing him, but with some outside inspiration and a continual push to succeed, the Answer XI is a great sneaker in an industry where seemingly everything has been done before, and the only way to innovate is to detail a backstory with proven design cues that can work on the basketball court. Who's Wearing It? Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers), Chris Webber (Golden State Warriors), Marvin Williams (Atlanta Hawks)