James Harden’s Latest Adidas Sneaker Is the Year’s Most Divisive Basketball Shoe

Photographs: Getty Images, Adidas; Collage: Gabe Conte

When images of the Harden Vol. 8—James Harden’s latest signature sneaker, as part of his 15-year, $200 million deal with Adidas—first leaked online last spring, things were very different for the future Hall of Famer. He was wrapping up his second season with the Philadelphia 76ers, who had fired head coach Doc Rivers after a painful elimination at the hands of the Boston Celtics, and was looking ahead to the great unknown of an offseason as a free agent.

Since then, he’s opted in to the final year of his contract with the Sixers; forced a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers; declared that he doesn’t need to fit into a system because he is the system; weathered a rocky start with his new teammates in California; missed selection for a seceond consecutive All-Star Game; gotten into a rhythm and helped drive the Clippers up the standings with a monthlong winning streak; and, most recently, missed multiple games with a shoulder strain during which his team lost two crucial back-to-back games.

It has, in short, been a turbulent season for Harden—and not exactly the ideal time for an NBA superstar to launch a hot new sneaker.

<h1 class="title">Los Angeles Clippers v Minnesota Timberwolves</h1><cite class="credit">David Sherman/Getty Images</cite>

Los Angeles Clippers v Minnesota Timberwolves

David Sherman/Getty Images

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It should come as little surprise, then, that the launch of the Adidas Harden Vol. 8 last month came and went relatively quietly, with little fanfare or high-profile media appearances. Nonetheless, the Harden Vol. 8 has managed to become one of the most divisive basketball sneakers on the market, igniting debate in the sneaker community and basketball world about the shoe’s design merits—or lack thereof. Is it the future of performance shoe engineering with a futuristic vision? Or are they all-caps hideous, no question?

In keeping with several recent Adidas basketball releases—including the revived Crazy 1 (Kobe Bryant's OG shoe) and Anthony Edwards’s signature AE1—the Harden Vol. 8 has a sleek and almost otherworldly aesthetic. The sculpted rubber outsole, with loopy, rounded edges that extend up the sides of the shoe, looks more like a prop from Dune than anything else on the performance hoops market. You can see the influence of Adidas's erstwhile Yeezy line, particularly the Cronenberg-esque Foam Runners. It seems made to provoke bewilderment.

<h1 class="title">Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets</h1><cite class="credit">Tim Warner/Getty Images</cite>

Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets

Tim Warner/Getty Images

The in-your-face design has proved off-putting to many sneaker fans. Across social media, posts about the Harden Vol 8 are rife with comments bordering on repulsion. (“As a professional designer, this shoe is abysmally bad,” wrote one irate Redditor with a strong opinion on an unboxing video post.)

On the other hand, those who have worn the shoe seem to be in almost unanimous agreement that it excels on the court. Raves are coming in all over about its comfort and versatility, and like the AE 1, people are impressed with how the boundary-pushing style is actually of a piece with its state-of-the-art performance build. It has a conforming internal cuff for added stability, a teardrop EVA cage for lateral support, and a full-length Jet Boost sole designed to increase energy return and tracition. Pretty much across the board, aesthetics aside, hoopers love this shoe.

Which is actually not so surprising when you look past the drama and remember that Harden is still one of the most elite players in the league on a technical level. Why wouldn’t his signature shoe be an elite technical achievement? Of course, it’s also completely in keeping with his character for the design to provoke intense reactions, positive and negative—that divisiveness may have been the point from the get-go, and like usual, it got people talking. Harden himself, in the press release for the launch, said that he “wants people to recognize my shoes from a mile away.” For better or worse, mission most definitely accomplished.

Originally Appeared on GQ

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