LeBron James plays with a deft balance of power and precision. Now at eleven Nike signature models (plus a few Elite, PS, or V2 versions of those), James' shoes have been designed to match both his immediate needs and his evolution as a player. Of course, not every player is LeBron James. But, many can benefit from the distinct performance benefits of each shoe.
Zac Dubasik and Nick DePaula, both of
No. 16 - LeBron 7
Key Technology: Air Max 360 / Flywire
The Air Max LeBron VII signaled the beginning of a new era in LeBron’s signature line. A new designer (Jason Petrie), new technology (Air Max), and new aesthetic were exciting, but the shoe’s performance was not. The shoe’s playability was hampered by sloppy fit and an Air Bag that’s best attribute was how it looked rather than how it played.
No. 15 - LeBron 11
Key Technology: Armour Posite / Flywire / Full-length Zoom / Lunarlon / Hyperfuse
The LeBron 11 may look cool, but is plagued by playability issues. Poor transition, a lack of court feel, and an extended break-in period are just some of the shoe’s issues. Absence on LeBron’s feet says we aren’t the only ones who’ve had issues.
No. 14 - LeBron IV
Key Technology: Foamposite / Glass-fiber shank / Full-length Zoom
The anticipation leading up to the launch of the IV was unparalleled. There was an awesome batch of commercials promoting the shoe and the introduction of Foamposite to an amazing looking upper. Unfortunately, they were about 5 ounces too heavy, making for a bulky, clunky and rough time on the court. The full-length Zoom was a bright spot, but as great as they may have looked, every other facet of the IV was a letdown on the court.
No. 13 - LeBron 8
Key Technology: Air Max 360 / Flywire
Much like the LeBron VII, the 8's Air Max 360 unit was a huge downgrade in the line's performance. The 8 featured a beefed up insole to help with the cushioning, and a much improved collar lockdown and midfoot fit, but there are still many, many shoes that are better on court, regardless of how cool the "South Beach" colorway might be.
No. 12 - LeBron 8 v2
Key Technology: Air Max 360 / Flywire
The most memorable colorways of the LeBron 8 came in the standard edition of the shoe, but the V2 offered a slight improvement in playability. While still plagued with the issues inherent to the full-length Max Air bag, it offered a lighter and more minimal upper than the original.
No. 11 - LeBron VI
Key Technology: Full-length Zoom / double-stacked heel Zoom
To be fair, the LeBron VI was designed in basically three months, after the first version of the VI was scrapped at the last minute during the early spring of 2008. While it had a much more sturdy and casual-friendly silhouette, the shoe's cushioning and traction were still pretty solid. Thanks probably to the short timeline, the fit and lockdown were both below average.
No. 10 - LeBron 9 Elite
Key Technology: Carbon Fiber / Heel Max Air / Forefoot Zoom Air / Flywire
The Elite edition of the LeBron 9 added a large carbon fiber midfoot counter to a shoe that wasn’t lacking in midfoot support to begin with. The addition resulted in a slight decrease to comfort and flexibility, rather than true improvement. The traction, however, was notably upgraded.
No. 9 - LeBron 9
Key Technology: Heel Max Air / Forefoot Zoom Air / Flywire / TPU Shank
The LeBron VII and 8 both featured a full Air Max 360 unit, which left a lot to be desired in terms of court feel and nimbleness. For the 9, Nike mirrored over the setup seen in the 8 PS, added Pro Combat padding all through the collar, making for a definite improvement to the Air Max era, but still falling short of the performance seen early on in the series.
No. 8 - LeBron 8 PS
Key Technology: Heel Max Air / Forefoot Zoom Air / TPU Shank / Flywire
For the second straight year, the PS edition of the LeBron was not only a cheaper option than the standard model, but a better on-court performer. The cushioning setup wasn’t as ideal as that found in the VII PS, but offered a better court feel than the standard or V2 versions of the 8.
No. 7 - LeBron III
Key Technology: Heel & Forefoot Max Zoom / Carbon Fiber / Sphere Liner
While the III carried over the cushioning setup and Sphere Liner seen a year before on the II, it also added a bit more bulk to overall silhouette, along with more molded details and heavy-duty lace gromets. The shoe was certainly well liked off-court, but the added weight made for a blockier playing shoe that only bigger players could truly appreciate.
No. 6 - LeBron VII PS
Key Technology: Heel & Forefoot Zoom / Flywire / TPU Shank
After playing in team-based models during the Playoffs in seasons prior, the VII PS introduced the concept of a signature-based post-season shoe to the LeBron line. The fit of the upper on this stripped down VII was a bit sloppy, but court feel, cushioning, traction, and transition were exponentially better than the original edition of the VII.
No. 5 - LeBron X
Key Technology: 360 Zoom / Hyperfuse / Dynamic Flywire
While three straight years of Air Max helped take the LeBron series off-court to a new growing fanbase, the new cushioning setup wasn't as beloved on-court by people who actually played in their shoes. Luckily, Nike found the perfect balance of retail-friendly visible cushioning and maximium performance when they introduced 360 Zoom for the first time. The cushioning was simply insane, and the shoe's upper also hugged exceptionally well, making for a beast of a performer.
No. 4 - LeBron X Elite
Key Technology: 360 Zoom / Carbon Fiber / Flywire
Building on the already fantastic platform debuted with the standard LeBron X, the X Elite offered increased stability thanks to its carbon fiber counters. It also offered better range of motion, replacing the asymmetrical cut of the X with a symmetrical medial collar.
No. 3 - LeBron V
Key Technology: Phyposite Footbucket / Heel & Forefoot Zoom / Carbon Fiber
A year later, the introduction of the Hyperdunk made the LeBron V feel rather weighty, but within the context of the rest of the line, and certainly the era it released in, it is one of the most complete playing shoes we've seen. The shoe's engulfing footbucket locked you right in at all times, and the outsole's traction pattern works infinitely better than you might ever guess from just looking at it. Add to that mix a beefy carbon fiber midfoot shank, expertly balanced platform and both heel and forefoot Zoom, and you have the makings of a forward's dream shoe.
No. 2 - Zoom Generation
Key Technology: Heel Max Air / Forefoot Zoom Air / Carbon Fiber / Sphere Liner
The Air Zoom Generation may have lacked the wow-factor that was expected for the debut signature shoe of the player of his generation, but what it lacked in aesthetics, the AZG made up for in performance value. Its no-frills performance stands as one of the top models even 11 years later.
No. 1 - LeBron II
Key Technology: Heel & Forefoot Max Zoom / Carbon Fiber / Sphere Liner / Removable Strap
When you consider that this shoe retailed for "just" $125, it makes things that much more impressive. Before things like modularity, overemphasized visible technology, and cute color accenting Flywire strands began to dominate Nike Basketball's top tier models, the LeBron II delivered the very best performance you could hope for on-court with great leather, a plush Sphere liner, huge and responsive Max Zoom bags and stellar traction. While the line might eventually span a full two decades when it's all said and done, it's the very first two years that can be championed for their leading playability.
Zac Dubasik and Nick DePaula, both of Sole Collector Magazine, have chronicled LBJ's signature sneakers since day 1. They obsessed over colorways, debated aesthetics, and, most important, gave every model a run on the court. For Sneaker Report, Nick and Zac take each to task (all sixteen) and rank the shoes based purely on playability.