On a strictly comfort basis, the XX might be my favorite shoe in the history of the Air Jordan line. From the now-sadly missed Sphere-like lining, to the then-new I.P.S. cushioning system, the Air Jordan XX provided a luxury experience to my feet, even when just wearing them to the grocery story. And they were also admirable performers on-court. While perhaps a bit complex, the ankle leash system added a sense of security, while allowing for a much greater range of motion than a traditional high, or even mid, cut. The I.P.S. platform, as gimmicky as it seemed (and remember, this iteration came before the interchangeable heel pods were introduced), translated well to the court, giving the wearer excellent impact protection. I wasn't a fan of its looks, and looking back, lasering had just about run its course at the time of the release; I believe prints are always best left to things (meaning anything) other than shoes. But, my positive feelings on the performance and overall comfort far outweigh my negative feelings on its looks, and, to this day, make the XX my favorite Air Jordan of the 2000s.
This review isn't about the Air Jordan XX though, so why am I spending so much time talking up this recent classic? Well, if it wasn't immediately obvious, take a close look at the tooling of the Jordan Icons. You can imagine my excitement the first time that I saw that my favorite feeling and performing tooling of the modern era of Air Jordans was making a comeback. And as a bonus, it didn't take me long to notice that the liner featured a premium mesh, first seen on the XX3, which had me even more anxious to get a pair out on the court.
So, with a very specific reference point in the XX, I approached my testing of the Jordan Icons with very high expectations. But before that, it made sense for me to throw one of each on - one Air Jordan XX, and one Jordan Icons - at the same time, before I hit the court, to make an even more direct comparison. Afterall, since both shoes share the same tooling, at least the cushioning, court feel and traction should be the same, right? Errr, wrong.
Before I get into the differences, let's break down exactly what I.P.S. is. Independent Podular Suspension is the official name, which is Jordan Brand's fancy way of saying region-specific cushioning. One way to think about it would be to imagine if Shox columns were completely embedded in targeted areas of the midsole. (And for the sake of this specific explanation, you'd also have to imagine that Shox didn't suck.) But rather than actual Shox columns, I.P.S. consists of cylindrical Phylon pods, positioned in key impact protection zones, embedded within a full-length Phylon midsole. The pods have a softer density than the midsole in which they are embedded, therefore providing the cushioning you want, in the areas you want it in, while still maintaining stability. The density of these pods is where the differences in midsoles seem to be found - the Icons feel noticeably more firm in a direct comparison.
So, that's a bad thing, right? Errr, not necessarily. As soft and cushy as the XX's cushioning was, it offered about as far away from what I would call a "natural" court feel as I have ever experienced. This firmer density foam used in the Icons' pods actually contributes to a much more natural court feel, without giving up too much of the impact protection. If I was just wearing them casually, I'd have a hard time voting against the XX's cushioning, but from a court-feel perspective, I think I may actually prefer that of the Icons.
So, with its more natural court feel, does that mean that I think the Icons is on par with, or even better than the Air Jordan XX on court? Your answer will probably just depend on your personal taste. The upper of the Icons, while about 750,000-times easier to get on and off than the Air Jordan XX's, leaves some to be desired in comparison. As someone who prefers a lower-cut, all the way down to Kobe V-level shoes to hoop in, I far prefer the leash system of the XX to the more traditionally built Icons. It's not that it's overly restrictive - they're perfectly acceptable - it's just that I prefer the freedom offered in the XX. If you are someone that likes to play in standard high and mid-cut shoes, you may find this to me an improvement on the XX. The fit of the upper is solid (if unspectacular), and the XX3 mesh adds an extra level of comfort. On the other hand, one aspect of the Icons' upper that is spectacular (if you really like to sweat buckets), is its ability to heat your feet up.
The perforated side panels do little to act as a source of airflow, and this once impressively light shoe takes on water weight rapidly. My initial impression during my first game in the Icons was being very pleased with their weight - they felt very light for a shoe with such a substantial silhouette. What happened over the course of my first few games though completely negated that first highlight. It's not a deal breaker. I've said many times that I'm willing to accept sub-par breathability in exchange for the support I need in a hoops shoe, but when a shoe's weight changes so much over the course of a run, I can no longer give it points for being lightweight.
Overall, the Jordan Icons is a top-notch all-around performer. If you are fan of the Air Jordan XX, despite some of the aforementioned differences, chances are you will find a lot to like in the Icons. The tooling differences, while absolutely present, are not necessarily a bad thing. The upper is much more traditional than that of the XX, and thus offers a much more familiar feel. At $125, it's not cheep, but you are getting the key technology of the much more expensive Air Jordan XX. It's supportive enough for larger players, and still quick enough for most guards - as evidenced by the wide range of players on the Team Jordan roster that wore them this season. I'm also happy to report that Jordan Brand has continued its use of high-quality materials in their performance line with the Icons. They held up well in my many runs, and I don't have any reason to think they would have trouble making it through a season. It's great to see such an iconic element of a past Air Jordan make its way back into the line, and be implemented in such a usable way. It's a concept that worked well for me, and I'd be very interested in seeing where it could lead in the future.
Who's Worn It? Ray Allen (Boston Celtics), Gerald Wallace (Charlotte Bobcats), Joe Johnson (Atlanta Hawks), Juwan Howard (Portland Trail Blazers), Quentin Richardson (Miami Heat) and several others.
Comfort & fit: Upper is well padded and lining originally found in the Air Jordan XX3 offers a soft feel
Cushioning: Slightly firmer than that of the Air Jordan XX, but with better court feel
Ankle support: Now found in many performance shoes from Jordan Brand, a padded notch found in the collar does an excellent job of stabilizing the heel
Breathability: The biggest letdown of the shoe
Heel-toe transition: Solid for such a well-cushioned shoe
Traction: Excellent on a clean court, but lacks hold on a dirty one
Weight: Starts off awesome, but quickly takes on water weight thanks to a lack of breathability