Getting the right fit from a performance shoe is both personal and complicated. Consider basketball: Over the course of a basketball game, the foot can expand almost a half-size during play. A level of fit that feels comfortable at one point might feel constrictive just 24 minutes later. Because the needs of the foot change at any given time based on the sport, its duration and on specific movements, like a slashing cut to the basket, “perfect fit” is a floating target.
The effort to refine fit has yielded a number of innovative platforms through Nike’s history – Huarache, Flywire and Flyknit, to name a few. Perhaps none was more critical to advancing custom fit than the 2016 introduction of the Nike HyperAdapt 1.0, the first Nike multipurpose performance shoe to feature power lacing.
Now, Nike has found its most advanced fit solution to date: Nike Adapt, a platform that creates a truly custom fit by combining an advanced power-lacing system, an app and continually updated firmware, featured in the new Nike Adapt BB basketball shoe.
“We picked basketball as the first sport for Nike Adapt intentionally because of the demands that athletes put on their shoes,” says Eric Avar, Nike VP Creative Director of Innovation. “During a normal basketball game the athlete’s foot changes and the ability to quickly change your fit by loosening your shoe to increase blood flow and then tighten again for performance is a key element that we believe will improve the athlete’s experience.”
How The Shoe Works
When a player steps into the Nike Adapt BB, a custom motor and gear train senses the tension needed by the foot and adjusts accordingly to keep the foot snug. The tensile strength of the underfoot lacing is able to pull 32 pounds of force (roughly equal to that of a standard parachute cord) to secure the foot throughout a range of movement.
That’s where the brain, or FitAdapt tech, kicks in. By manual touch or by using the Nike Adapt app on a smartphone, players can input different fit settings depending on different moments of a game. For example, during a timeout, a player can loosen the shoe before tightening it up as they re-enter the game. In a forthcoming feature, they can even prescribe a different tightness setting for warm-ups. Plus, players can opt in to firmware updates for the FitAdapt technology as they become available, sharpening the precision of fit for players and providing new digital services over time.
How It Was Tested
Similar to the HyperAdapt 1.0, the Nike Adapt BB was put through a gauntlet of tests, including impact tests, intense temperatures, end-of-life tests that lasted tens of thousands of cycles long, waterproof tests to simulate the sweatiest feet and more.
Here’s how Nike researchers put a typical Adapt BB through its paces to make it the most tested shoe in Nike’s history:
The ultimate stamp of approval still needed to come from players in the highest levels of the sport.
That’s why the Nike design team invited an elite group of professional players, including Boston Celtics small forward Jayson Tatum, to Nike World Headquarters in Oregon for a run of workouts and pickup games, putting the shoe through an exhaustive trialing period.
“Bill Bowerman’s original insight was that fit is the foundation of athletic performance,” says Avar. “The Nike Adapt BB helps the athlete find their custom fit and provides uncompromising lockdown, feel and traction throughout a game, but we knew it would only be validated once the game’s best players tried it out.”
Where It’s Headed
Nike Adapt BB is the first continually updated performance product from Nike due to the near-symbiotic relationship between the shoe’s digital app and the shoe’s opt-in firmware updates. As the FitAdapt system hones the quality of fit in basketball, the next step will be to bring FitAdapt to other sports and lifestyle products, each with unique demands for fit in different environments.
These sneakers are dumb. I already know how to tie my shoes. I don’t even know how to tie them well; I’m out here doing bunny-ears loops well after most 35-year-olds have moved on to chasing the rabbit around the tree. Wow, Nike’s new sneakers can be laced up with the push of a button or a click in a phone app. You can already do all of this manually. Self-lacing sneakers are neat, and probably inevitable, but they’re not some sort of breakthrough for society. Several sneaker-tightening solutions have been around for thousands of years. Sneaker-tightening was not a problem Nike needed to solve. If you can’t tie your sneakers, velcro exists.
The sneakers are also ugly! They look like the worst Kobe Bryant shoe. There is a little Nike swoosh inside a bigger Nike swoosh. What the hell is that? I own an absurd amount of sneakers and so my tolerance for ugly footwear styles is pretty high, but this L.A. Gear-ass light up sneaker has gone too far.
There is something I love about these shoes, however: The potential for drama. I cannot wait for the first NBA game where a player can’t check into the game because his sneakers are dead. Maybe he forgot to charge them, maybe the battery died, maybe there was a malfunction. (The Verge’s Ashley Carman, who wrote a nuanced story about the junket, reports the Adapt BB will always keep enough of a charge to be unlaced. People won’t get stuck in them.) Today brought us one step closer to a future in which athletes have to be on their phones on the bench so they can tighten and loosen their sneakers. That could rule.
After reading all about these stupid shoes and thinking about them for a while, I did the only thing I could do: I preordered a pair. I want to try them on, too. And with hype like this, who knows how high the resale market could go?