How does it feel, though? That's the question, right? Thankfully, Ross Klein has a pair with him, so after he lays out the sketches and mock-ups detailing the development of the Adapt BB, he hands over a final production sample. (While the average NBA shoe size is nearly 15, I clock in at a sample-friendly size 9.) Doubly thankfully, we're already on a court. Situated on an upper floor of the Bo Jackson Fitness Center and ringed by huge windows looking out over Nike's campus, it's one of the most picturesque places imaginable to play indoor ball. Or, in my case, muddle through a series of jabless jab steps and very un-wet jumpers.
But before my demonstration of how not to play basketball, there's the matter of putting the shoes on. Which, frankly, is tougher than I expected. There's nothing to loosen by hand, so I rely on a small grip on the back of the shoe to get purchase while I wiggle my toes in. The capacitive sensor clocks the pressure of my foot and engages the motor. Back in 2016, my colleague Scott Eden described the HyperAdapt 1.0's sound as "the noise you might make if you were doing the robot"; the Adapt BB's, with its muted purr-whir that rises a half-step, is more like a baby Transformer waking up.
How tight I want it is a matter of choice. I can hold down a button in the shoe's midsole, or I can use a new Nike app called Adapt, which pairs with the lacing engine via Bluetooth and lets you adjust the left and right sneakers independently. It comes with three presets—Warm Up, Game, and Street—which you can tweak and rename yourself. The app also monitors the shoe's battery life and lets you select from 14 colors for the midsole buttons to glow. (They're not NBA-spec, but against the black and white of the shoe, the blue creates a convincing version of the Dallas Mavericks' uniform palette.)
Even the Street setting is tight. Really tight. But when I take to the court and start moving, I realize that it's a very particular kind of tightness. My toes aren't cramped; nothing's cutting into my instep or the sides of my foot. Instead, it's more like the shoe is grafted onto my foot. When I step right and then cut left in a clumsy approximation of a crossover dribble—something that, thanks to a long-ago ankle sprain, has always been a little wonky—I feel surprisingly secure. Even when, inevitably, the ball clanks off the back of the rim.
At $350, the Adapt BB isn't a YMCA rec-league shoe. And while it looks nice, it's not so eye-catching that you'll see it catch fire with sneakerheads. For now, it's likely the province of professional athletes and maybe some Nike-backed college teams. While the company hasn't announced any official deals, last year it gathered a dozen or so of the NBA's and WNBA's most promising young stars, including the Celtics' Jayson Tatum and presumptive Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic, for a scrimmage in the Adapt BB. What was planned as a 45-minute run urned into two and a half hours of hoops and good-natured trash talk—because the players just didn't want to take the shoes off.
But today's rarefied tool is tomorrow's staple. As Adapt Fit technology filters into other sports and other shoes, that price will surely come down, and how Nike is able to harness the power of the lacing engine's sensors will continue to change.
"It's definitely not going to be a static product," says Mike McCabe, Nike's VP of digital products. "Over the subsequent months, we want to release feature drop after feature drop." Adapt isn't just a shoe category—it's an OS.
Adapt isn't just a shoe category—it's an OS.
"What we're really excited about is the fact that we have this communication network," McCabe continues. "Between the shoes and the phone, or between the shoes and a wearable as well, where you have that ability to have information flowing seamlessly, dynamically around that ecosystem."
Imagine, for example, your running shoes noticing that your stride is a little off. Maybe you're sore; maybe you're getting sick. Regardless, the shoe relays that information to your app or your watch, and you can adjust as needed.
Not a runner? Maybe you use the Nike Training Club app for bodyweight workouts or high-intensity interval training. With a compatible shoe and an app that can keep tabs on what your feet are doing, you can get form corrections on the fly.
To be fair, through the use of a foot pod you strap onto your shoe, or some chest-worn heart-rate monitors, you can already collect data on your running stride. But according to McCabe, existing methods are estimates, extrapolations. The brain of Adapt Fit gets it straight from the source—the guts of the shoe itself.
There are other reasons to care even if you're not a gym rat. Tinker Hatfield sees Adapt Fit as opening up the world of sneakers for people with accessibility issues. "People don't have dexterity in their hands for a variety of reasons," he says, citing age, injury, and special needs. "But this technology can be retrofitted into older products, other designs. That means people will get this technology even if they're not high-performance basketball players—and even if they might actually not be able to tie their own shoes."
And when they do, they just might feel like De'Aaron Fox, a second-year point guard for the Sacramento Kings (and >Dragon Ball Z superfan) who was among the young stars invited to that early scrimmage in the Adapt BBs. A camera crew was watching when he put the shoes on for the first time—and when he tapped the button on the Adapt app and they cinched into place, the 21-year-old's response was the first two words you might imagine.
"Oh, shit!" he yelled with a laugh, standing up and looking down at his feet. "Y'all doin' too much. This is crazy."
Too crazy for a Fox? That's just the way Nike likes it.
A version of article appears in the February issue. Subscribe now.
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