KO Classic: adidas T-Mac 3 Original
Remember McGrady in Orlando? Check out how the T-Mac 3 did!
With the original T-Mac and T-MAC 2, adidas established the first truly successful signature shoe line since Reebok's Question/Answer series rolled out in the mid-90s. Does the T-MAC 3 live up to the lofty standards set by its hugely successful predecessors? by Professor K, posted February 6, 2004 Well, yes and no, but first things first; hey T-Mac, I know you've been waiting all season to read this review. First off, my bad for taking so long to get it wrapped, but things happen, you know (you can ask Doc Rivers about that)? Second, now that I've finally done my part, how about you start stepping up and delivering some wins? Orlando finishing last in the Eastern Conference would be like Oliver Miller finishing last in a pie eating contest - that kind of thing just can't happen! Okay, okay, so maybe Tracy McGrady hasn't been waiting with bated breath to read this review, but I'll give it my all nonetheless, because that's what we're all about here at the Ko. figure 1. Here's a good look at the outsole of the adidas T-MAC 3. It features an interesting pattern, but I was a bit disappointed by its performance. Traction, even with a clean outsole, was only average. Also visible above is the silver TORSION structure that wraps under the midfoot. It helps keep the shoe torsionally rigid and does a great job of enhancing support underfoot. By now most of you have probably already seen the adidas T-MAC 3. Given the breakout success of the original T-Mac and T-MAC 2, the 3 was a highly anticipated shoe. And not just amongst hoop fiends, but also adidas, for whom the T-MAC line has become a crucial source of revenue. Based on my experience with the 3, I think the importance of the shoe has led adidas to take a conservative (overly so in my opinion) approach to its development. The T-MAC 3 is an improvement over the T-MAC 2, I can say that without equivocation, but the improvements come in small increments. If you're a fan of consistency and predictability this is a good thing because it means that if you liked the T-MAC 2, you will almost certainly like the T-MAC 3. But for folks like me, who grew up with the knowledge that each year's Air Jordan release would - whether I liked it or not - blow my mind with its originality and outright audacity, this evolutionary approach to the T-MAC 3 is a disappointment. In my book, evolution is great for lemurs and team basketball shoes, but a signature shoe - particularly one designed for a player with the dynamism of Tracy McGrady - should take great strides forward with each release, not baby steps. Alright then, enough soapboxing from me, let me get a move on with this review. Based on the number of emails I've received from T-MAC 2 owners on this topic, I think the best place to start is the one area where the T-MAC 3 really differs from its predecessor. figure 2. In this profile shot of the adidas T-MAC 3 you can see how the TORSION structure is extended up and forward into the forefoot. Like a guardrail, this helps keep the forefoot on the footbed during hard cuts. As I noted in my review of the T-MAC 2, I felt the shoe provided excellent fit up front during on-court wear. But, in subsequent emails, quite a few owners reported that it felt too narrow when worn off-court. Based on those reports, I tried wearing the T-MAC 2 over the course of a standard work day and found that it did indeed get uncomfortably tight at the forefoot when I was inactive for long stretches. I think the explanation for this involves one part design and one part physiology. To begin with, the folks behind the T-MAC 2 were clearly focused on keeping the forefoot locked in place within the shoe. It's upper was made of a synthetic material (synthetic material does not stretch) augmented with reinforcing strips that crossed over the forefoot to provide added support and to keep the forefoot on the footbed during hard cuts. That's the design part. Moving to the body, if you're inactive for a while and your heart isn't pumping very hard, fluids within your body will begin to pool in your lower extremities. This is a natural consequence of gravity, which will, in turn, cause your lower legs and feet to swell. That's the physiology part. If you put these two parts together you can understand why - for some at least - the T-MAC 2 fit perfectly while running and jumping around in a game situation, but then felt too narrow after sitting or standing still for a while. The shoe's fit tolerances were so tight that, once inactive wearers' feet began to swell up, the shoe felt uncomfortably narrow. figure 3. This shot provides a good look at the difference between the medial and lateral sides of the adidas T-MAC 3's upper. The lateral side is largely unadorned, save for a boomerang-shaped crease and a subtle faux-alligator print pattern pressed into the front-quarter panel. The medial side, on the other hand, sports a series of contrasting rubbery strips, which, I believe, are simply decorative and meant to provide a visual link to the T-MAC 2. In the case of the T-MAC 3, adidas seems to have addressed this issue with a few thoughtful tweaks to the design of the upper. Starting from the outer and working in; the T-MAC 3 still features an upper made of synthetic materials augmented with reinforcing strips, but this time the strips are limited to the medial side of the shoe (that's the arch side - see figure 3). This gives the unadorned outer side of the shoe more freedom to conform to the shape of the wearer's foot. To account for the foot support role the strips played on T-MAC 2, the hard plastic TORSION structure at the base of the T-MAC 3 is extended up and forward. There, its edge acts like a guard rail, preventing the forefoot from sliding off the footbed during hard cuts (see figure 2). Moving inward, the inner lining of the T-MAC 3 felt, to me, to be thinner and smoother than the lining in the T-MAC 2. The underlying design of the 2's partial inner-bootie was carried over largely unchanged, but material quality was kicked up a notch, providing a bit more room within the inner and improving comfort overall. These subtle changes combined to provide locked down fit at the forefoot and enough leeway within the inner to remain comfortable when worn off-court. Just to be sure, I wore the T-MAC 3 through several all too sedentary work days and my dogs were cozy and comfy for the duration. So, on the comfort front, the adidas T-MAC 3 is a clear step up from the shoe it replaces. figure 4. The adidas T-MAC 3 in its black/royal colorway. Personally, I think the faux-alligator print look works better on the black version of the shoe. On the white it gets lost. On the cushioning front, however, the T-MAC 3 continues to walk in place. It employs the same setup used since the original T-Mac; namely a compression molded EVA midsole, an adiPRENE + insert at the forefoot, and a cushy OrthoLite sockliner topping it all off (as with previous T-MACs, the sockliner is glued-in). It's hard to fault adidas for sticking with this tried-and-true configuration given how well it works, but I'd love to see the company move forward in this all important area. For one thing, while the OrthoLite sockliner provides a nice cushy feel underfoot, its open celled structure is too light to be truly responsive during on-court action. PORON inserts directly under a denser sockliner (in addition to the existing adiPRENE + insert within the midsole) might do the trick. Or perhaps something more complex - along the lines of Nike's Zoom Air system - could be developed? However it's achieved, a higher level of long-lasting responsiveness would elevate the T-MAC to the top tier of the performance hoops shoe space, allowing it to compete head-on with the Air Jordan line on the merits of its performance, rather than relying so heavily on its markedly lower price. One area where I think the T-MAC 3 actually takes a small step back as compared to its predecessor is heel fit. Hoops shoes need to be rigid at the rearfoot in order to provide adequate support and protection for the heel and ankle - and the T-MAC 3 is definitely very stiff at the rear. But, in my opinion, that stiffness is accompanied by too much bulk. There's a certain corpulence to the rearfoot of the T-MAC 3 that was not present in the more angular and trim T-MAC 2. The result during my test wearings was a clunky feel and excessive slip at the heel. The extent of both problems waned with wear, but even on my sixth and final test wearing the clunkiness and heel slip were persistent reminders of the less than stellar fit and feel at the rear of the shoe. figure 5. This photo provides a close-up look at the rearfoot of the adidas T-MAC 3. I found the rear of the shoe to be overly bulky, resulting in a clunky feel and an excess of heel slip. A high point, though, is the ankle, which is cut relatively low for comfort, but manages to provide surprisingly good support around the base of the ankle. adidas seems wedded to a completely overlasted, hidden midsole look for the T-MAC line, but performance may be better served by a move to a more traditional, exposed midsole - at least at the heel. That's because an exposed midsole can be wrapped up and around the base of the rearfoot to provide additional support for the heel. This would allow for a more efficiently designed upper (since it wouldn't have to be extended out and down to cover the midsole) and a more ergonomically designed outsole (it could be more rounded to provide a more "natural" feel). It's not impossible to design an overlasted shoe with great heel fit, but it is a lot harder and I'm not sure the benefit - in the form of a cleaner look - is really worth the challenges it introduces. The only other area where the T-MAC 3 was not quite up to snuff was traction. The T-MAC 3's solid rubber outsole wasn't bad in terms of grip, but it could have been a lot better. Even when clean, it didn't have that bite that shoes with excellent traction provide. On the upside, the outsole feels as though it will hold up very well to wear, both indoors and out. In all remaining areas the T-MAC 3 was at least on par with the T-MAC 2. The ankle features the same "almost-a-low" cut that delivers much better support than you'd expect, while still providing the comfort benefits of a lower-cut shoe. Stability is also generally excellent, thanks in large part to the aforementioned TORSION structure wrapped under the midfoot. Weight is effectively identical at 17.7 ounces per shoe in a U.S. men's size 11 vs. 17.6 ounces for the T-MAC 2. And of critical importance to many, the price of the T-MAC 3 has not been adjusted for inflation - it's still a surprisingly reasonable $100.00. figure 6. Here's one last look at the adidas T-MAC 3. It's a simple shoe that performs well and is priced to sell, but I couldn't bring myself to get excited about it. If the original T-Mac and T-MAC 2 didn't exist I'd definitely be more jazzed about the 3, but, as is, I think the changes to the shoe are too incremental. I mean, it's the signature shoe for Tracy McGrady, one of the most exciting and most talented players in the NBA. I think he merits more revolution than evolution. Alright then, to sum up, the adidas T-MAC 3 is a shoe most T-MAC 2 owners will like. The more forgiving fit at the forefoot alone is certain to make a lot of T-MAC 2 owners ecstatic. It's also a solid choice for all-around ballers at everything from the guard to the center positions, so long as you don't mind a lower-than-average cut. Fit and comfort at the forefoot are excellent, cushioning is very good with plenty of support underfoot, stability is very good, and support at the ankle is impressive given the generous range of motion afforded. The only downsides are persistent heel slip, a bit of clunkiness at the heel, and middling traction. But even with those issues, the durable T-MAC 3 is a heck of a shoe for $100. So, there it is Tracy, my review of your latest shoe. If by some freak happenstance you are reading this; first, I want my toothbrush back (just kidding - you can keep it). Second, push your team at adidas to take your next shoe further. They've all been very good, bordering on excellent, but they haven't broken through to that next level of greatness. You deserve it and adidas is capable of it - it's just going to take some blood, sweat, tears, and love to make it happen. Luckily, since it looks like your summer break will come early this season, you should have plenty of time to devote to it (ouch, low blow - hey, I'm just trying to motivate you). In all seriousness, elevating the T-MAC line from good and dependable to great will involve more than a measure of risk. And I'm sure a big chunk of the shoe buying public will be completely satisfied if adidas sticks to the existing formula. But that's a sure-fire recipe for mediocrity. To be great is to take risks, and I, for one, hope adidas has the courage to aim higher. Who's Worn It Tracy McGrady (G- Orlando Magic)