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adidas Harden Vol. 1 Performance Review



Right after James Harden signed a 13-year, $200-million endorsement contract with adidas last year, people immediately started talking about a Harden signature shoe. The leaked photos had people reacting negatively initially, but so far this shoe has turned out to be the Ugly Duckling of the basketball sneaker world, people going from "what are those?!" to "I gotta have 'em!"

I first laid eyes on the Harden Vol. 1 during its grand launch at Titan Conrad in November. They released the first colorway then, the "Imma Be a Star," which had a Primeknit upper and a suede toe cap. I opted instead to wait for the December release of the "Pioneer" colorway, which uses buttery premium leather on the toe cap, since I planned to use them on court.

After roughly 3 weeks of testing, I'm ready to share my thoughts on The Beard's adidas signature shoe.

Fit and Stability

The toe area is pretty roomy, with the shoe tapering down to the midfoot and the heel. I like the space in the toe box since I prefer my on-court shoes with some wiggle room for comfort, especially during longer hoop sessions. 

The upper requires some break-in time as I initially felt some pinching at the forefoot flex point. It took roughly three to four hours of wear before they broke in enough for the pinching to disappear. Use them casually prior to playing in them to help speed up the break-in period if that's an option, since aesthetically they have off-court appeal too.

The off-center, asymmetrical lacing allows for better lockdown and alleviated lace pressure and the tongue construction ensures that the tongue stays in place. I was able to cinch up real tight in these but I still felt lace pressure where the knot is after an hour and a half or so of playing. A couple of friends complained about the laces getting undone pretty quickly and often but I didn't experience those issues at all.

I encountered some heel slippage during my first few runs with the shoe as I normally play with thinner, lighter socks. The sockliner material was very smooth and didn't provide much friction, and I really felt the slipping as I ran and moved around the court. Using thicker socks helped a lot with the heel slippage and lace pressure though, so they aren't major issues for me, just a minor annoyance that I can disregard.

One thing that I really like about adidas basketball shoes throughout the years has been stability, and the Harden Vol. 1 continues that trend for me. That independent leather toe cap doesn't only make this shoe look good—it serves a pretty good purpose as well. It makes for a good counter during hard stops, cuts, and changes in direction, making the motions feel smoother. The midfoot plastic plate adds to the stability and also makes heel-to-toe transitions smoother when running.

Wearing the right socks, I felt that the shoe was one with my foot and there were no unexpected nor unwanted slips inside the shoe. I felt in control and secure even though they were low-tops. The overall feel of the shoe reminds me of another adidas favorite, the TMac 6, in terms of protection and stability (not to mention colorway).

Go a half size down from your usual if your feet aren't that wide to get the best fit. I went with my true size because my feet are wide in the midfoot and forefoot, though now I think I should have gotten a smaller size since they got roomier after the break-in period.

Cushioning

The Harden Vol. 1 uses a full-length Boost midsole that's encased for the most part except for a section on the medial side. People have been asking why they couldn't just completely wrap the Boost (mostly to prevent yellowing), and the answer is air flow. Boost is made up of thousands of steam-expanded TPU pellets, which makes the material very porous, and the air has to be expelled from the inside of the midsole to get the Boost cushioning we all know and love. Without that vent, it would feel like any ordinary cushioning system.

Boost performed as expected, offering excellent impact protection, but court feel wasn't sacrificed at all. The shoe still felt very low to the ground. Cushioning was there where you expected it, a bit plush at the heel and firmer in the midfoot. The toe felt solid, which is a necessity for takeoffs, quick cuts, and changes in direction. The firmness in that part works well with the toe cap.

Don't expect Ultraboost-like cushioning with the Harden Vol. 1 since those are two separate applications. The Hardens, however, still provided me with good impact protection that my old-man knees didn't feel Father Time as much during the past couple of weeks.

Traction

This category is often the make-or-break factor when it comes to basketball shoes. adidas used what they call a fractal traction pattern on the outsole that was inspired by a geometric Fibonacci sequence and specifically engineered to match The Bearded One's movements on court.

I wasn't wowed by the traction initially as there were times when I'd feel the forefoot slipping and the heel catching instead, but the more I used the shoe, the better the traction became. After the second week, however, grip greatly improved as the top layer of the outsole was worn away. It was squeaky-sticky even on a mildly dusty, painted cement surface.

The traction pattern does collect a lot of dust and dirt, but this didn't affect grip in any way for me. One thing I don't like about the rubber compound though is how hard they are to clean, but that's minor and in no way affects performance.

Overall

I love the '90s feel merged with the latest technology that the Harden Vol. 1 brings. The shoe offers superb cushioning, good traction, excellent foot protection, and the PhP 7,995 price tag I feel is justified.

If you're looking for plush cushioning, these may not be for you since they're guard shoes and those normally trade off cushioning for court feel. If your style of play has you on your toes a lot, the Harden Vol. 1 would be the perfect on-court kicks.

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