As you may have heard, last Thursday was something of a big deal, a national event that comes around just once per year. I’m talking, of course, about the release of the latest iteration of Kyrie Irving’s signature sneaker line, the Kyrie 5.
Being an irresponsibly massive sneaker nerd, I picked up a pair this weekend at my first opportunity, with the intent to spend some time testing them in the gym alongside my existing pairs of Kyrie 3s and Kyrie 4s. That’s exactly what I did, even though, as it turns out, you look like a complete maniac when you walk into a public gym with three pairs of sneakers. In the words of a fellow gym-goer: “$%*#, how many Kyries you got??”
As a note, I’ve only spent a couple days with these sneakers so far, and as with any sneaker, they do require a bit of breaking in. Considering that my other pairs of Kyries have seen quite a bit of use, I wouldn’t say I can make a direct comparison just yet. As such, consider this more of a “first impression” of the sneakers, rather than a definitive review.
Now, with that in mind, let’s talk about how these sneakers perform.
First and foremost, we have to discuss the most prominent new feature introduced on the Kyrie 5: the Venus Flytrap-inspired containment system (which we’re going to just call the “flytrap,” for simplicity’s sake). The flytrap is a little overlay that folds over the midfoot of the shoe, under the laces, intended to help with the shoe’s lockdown.
And lock you down, it certainly does — this shoe clamps hard. The flytrap might honestly be my favorite containment on a recent basketball sneaker; it really feels like your foot isn’t going anywhere. If you like your sneakers extra tight, these are going to make you quite happy; though, on the flip side, I could certainly see it leaning on the side of too tight for others. Try them on, and if you find they feel too stifling, going up half a size from what you usually wear might not be a bad idea.
However, the flytrap introduced a couple complications I wasn’t expecting. For starters, if you’re one of those people who considers “ease of access” a crucial feature in a sneaker, you might want to take a pass on this one — it is not easy to put on. It might be the most difficult non-high-top to get into that I’ve ever worn. The laces run through a small loop of wire, which themselves are threaded through the flytrap (seen above). This makes loosening them an overly complicated ordeal, as there’s just entirely too much fiddling around with the wire required to loosen the laces enough for you to get into them. It usually ends with me getting impatient and crudely shoving my foot in there. It’s a small annoyance that I personally don’t mind, but others might understandably consider it a deal-breaker.
Secondly, the Kyrie 5 has some ventilation issues. They’re a little bit suffocating; after just a few minutes on the court, my feet were sweating like crazy. While I suspect there are a few factors behind this, it seems like the flytrap overlay might be the principal offender. Look at the tongues of the three sneakers here:
You can see that both the 3’s and 4’s had a loose, free-floating tongue, but 5 does not. This is a change pretty much mandated by the flytrap system, and the unintentional consequence may be that it removed essentially any way for air to get out of the sneaker while you wear it. When I switched back to the other two pairs, I was surprised at how much more noticeably breathable they were. For me, this was something I didn’t particularly like, but not to the extent that it ruined the sneaker for me. However, I could see it becoming an annoyance in the future; considering how difficult it is to get into the sneakers to begin with, taking them off to get some air will be a little more involved of a process. Frankly, be prepared for these sneakers to stink.
Without a doubt, my favorite aspect of this shoe is its other new feature: forefoot “Air Zoom Turbo” cushioning. This is a big departure from the previous two models, which featured no forefoot cushioning at all (though they both did include a Zoom Air unit in the heel, which you would basically never notice), and it was the feature I was most looking forward to when the Kyrie 5 was announced.
It didn’t disappoint — the cushion just feels great. The Kyrie 5 uses a custom-designed, flexible Zoom Air unit — and a surprisingly big one, too, at eight millimeters — and it’s very much noticeable. It provides just the right amount of extra bounce on the move, and I found myself missing it a lot when I switched to the other two pairs, despite my familiarity with them. If you play a lot on your forefoot, like I do, I suspect you’re going to like the way this feels as well.
I alluded to another reason behind the lack of ventilation in the sneaker, and the cushioning might be it. With the Zoom unit added in, plus perhaps a little more padding, here’s just a lot more inside this sneaker, so there’s a bit less space for your foot than there used to be. Despite being the same size, my 3’s and 4’s definitely felt more spacious, and the Kyrie 5 feels sort of claustrophobic in comparison. This is something I’ll be paying attention to as I use them further — as they break in, will it become less of an issue?
Unfortunately, my biggest personal gripe with the Kyrie 5 is one that I sort of expected based on the announcement photos: it uses practically the exact same materials as the Kyrie 3. Both sneakers use a sort of mesh for most of the upper, and while it’s pretty light and easy enough to get used to, I find it feels a little too rigid — even on my 3s, which have seen a whole lot of use. I simply don’t like this material very much; it feels a little cheap. Each time I put them on, I could even feel the notch of the heel digging into my ankle a little bit, causing some discomfort (though it would dissipate after a few minutes). Hopefully, this is something that will be solved by simply spending more time in the sneaker. If it doesn’t, it could resign them to the shelf before long.
This material wouldn’t bother me as much as it does, considering this isn’t one of Nike’s more expensive lines, except that the Kyrie 4 had already done it so much better. On that sneaker, the forefoot was the same mesh material, but the heel paneling was a suede-like material that felt much, much nicer. It was one of my favorite aspects of the sneaker, and I’m disappointed it didn’t make the transition into the new model. Even the similarly priced Paul George series offers better material than this does, in my opinion.
Your feelings on the 3’s and 4’s will likely inform what you think of these materials. If you swear by the Kyrie 3, this is going to feel very much familiar. If you’re more into the 4’s, you’re likely going to consider it a step back. It’s a matter of personal preference, but for my part, I wish they’d stuck with the materials from the Kyrie 4.
Elsewhere, the traction feels as good as it always does in the Kyrie line (though I do miss the herringbone pattern from the Kyrie 4, as a matter of visual preference). Like the Kyrie 4, the outsole here is rounded and wraps around the sneaker a little bit, which helps it keep hold of the floor when changing directions — which, as you can imagine, would be important for a player like Irving. This is a feature I’m glad to see carried over, and it feels just as nice now, if not a little better.
Visually, even the relatively basic “BLK MGC” colorway looks pretty nice on-foot — though, I still would have liked something perhaps a bit more exciting to start out with. The “all-seeing eyes” dotted throughout the sneaker’s design are fun, and very much on-brand for Kyrie himself.
Ultimately, this is still a Kyrie Irving sneaker, and as a big fan of the line, I feel it performs much like you’d expect it to. The Venus Flytrap containment system and the forefoot Zoom Air unit are interesting new wrinkles, and though they both contribute to some issues, I think they’re mostly positive changes overall. I think it’s unlikely that the Kyrie 5 will become my favorite Kyrie sneaker overall — the Kyrie 4 is one of my favorite sneakers, period — but it still seems to be a worthy addition to the line, and worth checking out if you’re looking for a unique experience from a basketball shoe.