Sneaker Review: Nike LeBron 18

Nike LeBron 18 | $200 | Nike

I talk a lot of shit on the Lakers for someone who has gone out of his way to check out the latest of LeBron James’ signature shoes every year. His latest, the Nike LeBron 18, proved no exception. Can you blame me? I’m a sneaker enthusiast first and a LeBron skeptic (not hater, key differentiation here) second. Every year, the new LeBron is the centerpiece of Nike’s basketball performance line. The brand spares no expense on the shoe, incorporating top-tier materials and regularly incorporating new technology into the silhouette. The most famous, dominant basketball player in the world subsequently gets a shoe every year that caters to his every need; needs few human beings on the planet share, as it turns out.

That’s the rub that comes with reviewing LeBron’s sneakers. More than any other signature athlete on the planet, Bron’s shoes cater to his specific on-court needs. And because he’s something of a once-in-a-generation physical specimen, the result can be a shoe that takes some getting used to for us mere mortals.

To call LeBron big wouldn’t do his unique physical form justice. He isn’t JUST big, and more specifically he isn’t even the biggest player in the league (that honor goes to Boban Marjanovic, who dwarfs LeBron’s 6’9 frame by nearly half a foot). But his body is a notoriously well-tuned machine. Seriously, look up a picture of the guy. Who looks like that? The dude has muscles in places I didn’t know you could have!

Illustration for article titled The Nike LeBron 18 Is Worth Every Penny

Image: Nike

As a result, reviewing a pair of LeBrons isn’t as easy as reviewing a pair of Kyries or Dames. There’s admitted bias here: I’m a humble 5’10 and maybe 170 pounds. I’m on the slim side and the muscle I do have is on the leaner side. While it’d be ludicrous to say that I’m of the same physical caliber as those guys, their needs are a bit more in line with mine: light shoes that accentuate an athlete’s speed and assist in footwork above almost all else (I’m also a guy that generally needs some solid ankle support, which is why both of their shoes tend to work best for me). LeBron’s needs are substantially different. So what’s it like to hoop in his shoes as a normal-sized dude?

Well, first things first, the LeBron 18 ain’t light. The latest installment of the King’s signature sneaker line, like many before it, can’t claim to be the lightest yet. It makes sense. An athlete of James’ size and strength is going to be far more prone to a Zion Williamson-esque sneaker blowout mid-game than someone like Paul George or Kyrie Irving. As a result, the 18s are on the bulkier side, with a thick, heavy Battleknit making up the shoe’s upper with a reinforced heel and a massive Air Max unit in the heel.

Illustration for article titled The Nike LeBron 18 Is Worth Every Penny

Image: Nike

There’s also some added bulk inside the shoe, albeit in a way that I take zero real issue with. It comes backed with extra padding and arch support for your feet, plus extra padding and support running up the heel, cushioning your Achilles perfectly. If there’s a downside to all this protection it’s that a mild blister had sprung up on one of my feet from the padding when I got home. It’s minor and doesn’t seem like something that’ll happen regularly but the potential for it is there.

There’s also a weird dynamic between the shoe’s upper and its tongue, which is incredibly thin and contains multiple Air Max bubbles, ostensibly for the sake of aesthetics. It doesn’t have quite the same support as the rest of the shoe, which feels a bit odd, plus the way the tongue’s material conforms to your ankle doesn’t feel like it lends itself well to the movement (it’s on the stiffer side despite its thinness).

I won’t lie, I wasn’t ready to love the shoe when I hit the court in it this morning. I felt more weighed down after months of hooping in slimmer, lighter-weight sneakers. It took a minute for my jumper to come back, my ankles and calves having to adjust to the shoes a bit. But pretty soon I noticed how much more smoothly I was landing from those jump shots, from those layups, from my feeble attempts at getting one inch closer to being able to dunk. The shoe worked, and as my feet adjusted to the extra weight I found them more and more helpful as I made my way around the court and through my workout.

If there’s a downside it’s that all of the extra cushioning on the sole left my feet feeling slightly raw after I wrapped up. I had a small blister on the side of one of my feet as well. However, that’s very specific to me, my feet, and the socks I was wearing (on the thicker side, probably didn’t help the matter).

Illustration for article titled The Nike LeBron 18 Is Worth Every Penny

Image: Nike

The other big draw for the LeBron 18 is that it’s a shoe you should be able to get your money’s worth from even off-court. With some killer colorways already available and the sort of ankle and foot support just as great for a day spent on your feet as it is a game, it’s that special breed of hoop shoe that, well, isn’t just a hoop shoe. After a session on the court, I’m usually the kind to kick off my shoes and put on a pair of slides. In this case, I just kept the 18s on all day.

At $200 the LeBron 18 is one of the most expensive basketball sneakers on the market today. For smaller players, it might take some getting used to on the court. But for anyone looking for a great everyday shoe or those willing to break a pair in and get used to the extra weight, they’re worth every penny.

Disclosure: Nike provided The Inventory with a sample unit for review.

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