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Here’s the Air Jordan XX8, which is not a rain shoe

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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The just-launched Air Jordan XX8 in its neon and black glory (via @solecollector).

Since Michael Jordan signed with Nike at the beginning of his illustrious career, his signature Air Jordan shoes have redefined the world of athletic footwear. Signature sneakers are now a major part of an athlete's global brand, and they also help change the course of casual fashion. Every release of a new version of the Jordans is a basketball event.

On Monday afternoon, Nike and Jordan Brand released their latest incarnation, the Jordan XX8 (aka 28, for those of you don't recognize both Roman and Arabic numerals in the same construction) at an event in New York City. As you can see in the photo above (via @solecollector), it's a bold design that's already generating controversy. From the outside, the sneaker looks something like a black rain overshoe, with a zipper that encloses the entire inside. Underneath, however, the dominant color is a distinct neon green.

The shoes, devised by legendary Nike designer Tinker Hatfield over the course of two years, retail for a cool $250 and will make their NBA debut on Tuesday night when Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder plays against the Nets in Brooklyn. After the jump, check out more photos from the scene, along with some thoughts on the look.

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Spike Lee introduces the Jordan XX8 (via @solecollector).

At a very basic level, this shoe could be the ugliest thing ever — some might say it is — and still be valuable as a great product for basketball players. By all hands-on accounts, the shoe is startlingly light,  which is good news for athletes from the heights of the NBA to random Wednesday night pickup games. If it proves to be a great performance shoe, then people will wear them. Heck, the simple fact that they're Air Jordans might even be enough for people to buy them.

[Also: LeBron James reclaims most popular NBA jersey crown]

Nevertheless, the style is a key part of this product. As Hatfield mentioned at the launch event, he conceives of the shoe as "objects of art and design that happen to be used for basketball." With that in mind, the shoe is quite puzzling. A zip-up upper is a fairly acceptable part of basketball sneaker history, but past uses — most notably with Gary Payton's iconic "The Glove" model from 1998 — have implemented the feature in a more conceptually consistent manner. In the case of the Jordan XX8, the black upper seems to be masking the most interesting parts of the shoe.

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The unzipped Air Jordan XX8 (via @geokthree).

The wearer can choose to unzip the black casing to expose some of the neon green below — indeed, some design elements seem to indicate that this is an intended method of wearing the shoe. However, that style can look particularly affected, as if the wearer is trying to announce his own casualness in the most blatant way possible. (Never mind that this effect would already be obvious by wearing basketball shoes in a non-basketball context.) The whole point of sprezzatura is that it can't look preconceived, and a shoe that demands to be worn in that manner defeats the whole point of nonchalant style.

So, there are two ways to wear the Jordan XX8: 1) on the court, where it looks like a pretty dull black basketball shoe (or this $73.99 overshoe) and 2) off the court, where it only holds interest if worn in an affected manner. If a piece of forward-thinking clothing ideally mixes form and function so that the two are virtually indistinguishable, then this sneaker seems like a misstep. Perhaps new versions of shoe, teased by Hatfield at the launch event, will improve it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to put on a pair of Zubaz pants. They're back in style!

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