It made some ripples early last year when LeBron James would at times opt for sneakers that weren’t his newest signature model, the Nike LeBron 11. He sometimes showed up for games wearing the LeBron 10, and even when he began games in the 11, he would occasionally change his kicks at halftime.
The fact was, the LeBron 11 was not a conventional offering for the King. Literally all the Zoom and Lunarlon cushioning was in the substantial insole/midsole, meaning that the sneaker didn’t mesh too well with drop-in orthotics, which LeBron tends to favor. And the rugged shell of Hyperposite that envelops the sneaker factors into a somewhat narrow toebox.
That said, it definitely seems all of that was much ado about not a whole lot. It’s not that LeBron never wore the 11 on the court, and he clearly favors the look of the sneaker. If you have the time to break it in, the sneaker gets more and more comfortable. Not to mention, the 11 sold well, so it clearly has many fans, both on and off court. (I happen to be one of them.) At this point, LeBron’s early-season issues seem to have been relegated to a footnote in the strong sneaker legacy that he is constructing for himself.
If anything, the whole episode calls attention to something hardcore LeBron fans have known for some time: The relatively unheralded Zoom Soldier line is totally underrated. Rugged enough for outdoor courts but suitable for the hardwood, Soldiers have long been a crunch-time staple for LBJ, and the VIIs — with the trademark midfoot strap and Zoom cushioning in both the heel and forefoot — were a consistent go-to this past season.
Even with no slick commercials or abundance of hype, it’s clear LeBron has always played really well in Soldiers — and everything else, for that matter. But it very well may not be a coincidence that many of LeBron’s absolute finest performances have taken place while wearing Soldiers.
To celebrate this weekend’s release of the traditional pink Kay Yow Zoom Soldier VIII at Champs Sports, honoring the late N.C. State coach’s courageous fight against cancer, here is a look at LeBron James’ Best Moments in the Nike Zoom Soldier Series.
Follow Bryan on Twitter at @SportsAngle