words_Zac Dubasik images_Nick DePaula In the basketball sneaker world, shoes are often full of compromise. Support at the expense of weight, improving cushioning but losing court feel, or adding technology while increasing price are all choices to be made. In a perfect world, a hoops shoe would be light enough for the fastest guards, while simultaneously being supportive enough for the biggest of centers. It would provide the most joint-friendly of cushioning, while staying low enough to the ground for even the most nimble slashers. It may be possible for that shoe to exist, but chances are it would come at a price, after all of the high tech and high quality materials, and not to mention the associated R&D that would put it out of reach for just about everyone. And even if there were a handful of consumers willing to shell out $300-$400 for the perfect hoops shoe, it's not likely to be a shoe to fly off store shelves, which would give retailers little incentive to carry it. What does all of this compromise talk have to do with the Jordan Elements? When I initially compared its performance to other shoes in the $120 price range, I was slightly underwhelmed. But, the more that I thought about it, the Jordan Elements has a lot to offer, just at a compromise and with a different set of offerings than some other comparatively priced shoes. I'll be more specific once I dig in to the shoes a little more. While the first glimpse many of us caught of the shoe was late last season on the feet of Team Jordan players Ray Allen, Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby, the Elements was designed with the outdoor game in mind. The Elements' designer, Octavio Lubrano, explains that "the outdoor game can be really aggressive. When you take a shoe that's meant for indoor use and take it outdoors, it can really get beat up. This is supposed to be your indestructible, get it in, going back to the blacktop shoe. It's really simple, easy to understand, and the upper has more of a protective element to it." That said, if the shoe was designed to hold up outdoors, the hardwood should pose little problem. SC Elements The step-in comfort of the Jordan Elements is impressive. A partial-length inner bootie makes for a snug, smooth and comforting feel through the forefoot. Aiding in the fit, the entire upper is shaped well. Fully laced, the contours of the upper hug the foot very securely. The collar, while not over-stuffed, is well padded, and employs a pair of heel notches along both sides of the Achilles. These notches help keep the heel firmly in place, adding to the overall solid fit. In the protection department, a full-length dot-welled Air bag sits atop a Phylon midsole, and feels exceptionally plush for not being my first choice in cushioning setups. A cupsole encases the perimeter of the outsole, and creates a secure cradle to keep the foot from sliding off the footbed. Lubrano explained that the "goal was to get the best of both worlds where we can use Phylon for a lighter weight and great cushioning, and then use the cupsole on the perimeter of the shoe." Combined with the supportive rand and multiple overlays along the upper, cuts felt solid and responsive. Security was one of the shoes biggest highlights for me. Moving to the outsole, a series of eight, dual-height herringbone segments make up the traction system, and offered a reassured grip on a clean court. Outdoors, I would expect the traction to perform even better, as once you wear through the top layer of herringbone, the more recessed height remains below for back-up. The segmentation also creates flex points, which made for a natural transition. You'll also notice a TPU support shank in the middle of the outsole. It was "done in an exposed way that's closer to the way that the Air Jordan XI was done," says Lubrano. "We wanted to kind of play off of that, and to make sure that you have everything that you would need so that the shoe wouldn't fall apart on you." While not as rigid as the XI's storied carbon fiber shank, the Elements still boasts a nicely supportive midfoot. SC Outsole My biggest complaint comes probably more from the colorway of my test pair than the shoe itself. The White/Metallic Silver colorway I played in utilized commendable materials - a tumbled leather Jordan fans could only dream of seeing on Retro models - but it made for a stiffer-than-ideal experience for my first few wearings. While it did improve greatly, I'd still opt for one of the black-based colorways, which utilize mesh uppers, which should reduce both weight and break-in time and increase breathability. The shoe isn't the lightest I've ever played in, but still didn't feel particularly heavy because of the nice fit - especially for how well built it is with this leather-based upper. It's probably best suited for bigger guards and forwards, as smaller guards may want a lighter shoe with better court feel, but it can still work for nearly all positions. As far as breathability, it never became a major issue, thanks in part to the mesh tongue, but wouldn't be considered one of the shoe's strong points. All that said, here is where the aforementioned compromise comes in. I can't review a $120 shoe without comparing it to other shoes in that relatively high price range. And my first thought is that the Zoom Kobe IV, also priced at $120, is in a much higher performance category than the still solid Jordan Elements. But then I started to think about it more. The Zoom Kobe IV, while an absolutely outstanding shoe, only declines in performance after roughly the second wearing. The Elements, on the other hand, maybe didn't ever wow me in the way that the Kobe IV did, but my playing experience in them improved with each and every wearing. I have no reason to think that a pair, at least used indoors, wouldn't last an entire season without deteriorating considerably. With unlimited funds at your disposal, I would have a hard time recommending the Elements over some of the comparatively priced shoes currently available. Unfortunately, few people outside of the NBA enjoy the luxury of stepping into fresh kicks every game. And in tough economic times, the longevity of a shoe is taking on an even more important role than ever. Taking that into account, the Jordan Elements is a very solid shoe, and one I feel would make a great choice for those looking for a reliable and versatile season-long option. Who's worn it? Joe Johnson (Atlanta Hawks), Mike Bibby (Atlanta Hawks), Ray Allen (Boston Celtics), Josh Howard (Dallas Mavericks), various Quai 54 ballers SC Toe