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28/09/2018

Converse Weapon EVO Performance Review

In life, first impressions can often be dead wrong. I'll be honest -- I was 100% certain that the Converse Weapon EVO was going to absolutely suck the first time I saw it. It's clunky as hell, right? I figured there was no way this heritage-based model could actually feel modern on a basketball court today. While the Weapon might have been worn by the league's best over twenty years ago, there's no way anyone was ever going to confuse it as a sleek and ahead-of-it's-time silhouette. It debuted in 1986. And ever since, it's felt exactly like a shoe....from 1986. But that's what makes the Weapon EVO so great. Converse and Converse Basketball's Design Director Mike Ditullo pulled a fast one on us. The intent was to create a shoe that emphasized the brand's heritage, offer it at a nicely affordable price and debut the brand's new visible technology. And they've done just that. After initially being very skeptical, it took all of about five minutes on the court to realize that the Weapon EVO is a damn good basketball sneaker. Not without its faults, but for everyday hoopability and for being accessibly priced, it gets the job done. As Ditullo (seen below) explains by phone, remastering the Weapon has been a task he's been trying to get after for over two years now. "I had been toying with doing a Weapon-based shoe ever since I got to Converse," he says. "The thing is, the Weapon is pretty hard to draw. It doesn't really flow...and it doesn't really have many organic parts. When we really decided to do a new Weapon...I just drew it. My [first] sketch actually looks just like the original."

As he'd come to find, evolving the shoe into its more modern state over the course of the development process would be the right move, as he wanted the EVO to be equal parts heritage and yet a marker for the future of the brand, all at the same time. "I think because the Weapon had kicked my ass for two years, I was really determined to do it," he laughs. "When you put this Weapon next to the original now, it really doesn't look like it. That's one of the things I'm most psyched about this shoe...when you work on these projects...you want to do something that pays tribute to the shoe but you don't want it to be a slave to it." As we've (with grinding teeth at times) come to find out in recent years with "tribute" shoes, there's something to be said for a designer who takes simple inspiration from classic models of the past, like the Nike Refresh program, as compared to simply slapping together parts and pieces and calling it a shoe, as the Jordan approach of late has proven to a fault. The "design" feels it. Sometimes harshly. What that means in terms of a performance feel, in this case, is that the Weapon EVO is surprisingly smooth. Surprisingly, I say, because of the original's slap-like and dated feel. While I normally tackle a review from an upper-midsole-tooling standpoint in bullet-point-like fashion, it's probably better to start off with the tooling this time around. There's BALLS Technology afterall, as Converse White has so boldly proclaimed it. While it might not look like something from 1986 or something from the future, and more likely somewhere in between, if you walk into any sporting goods store and try these on, you'll notice that unlike Shox, which take a few break-in wears before softening up, the Balls platform feels nicely cushioned and yet supportive right from the start. "We wanted to make sure we made a shoe that was for every type of player, get the technology right, and get it right for the consumer and contain the technology in a understandable way," outlines Ditullo. In my size 13, the TPU-encased cushioning unit is made of eleven, well, balls, that circle the perimeter of the heel, with more polyurethane balls filling in the inner chamber of the unit. The result is a low-to-the-ground, more bouncy than expected heel cushioning unit. "The more you compress the sphere, the more it wants to return to the shape of the sphere," Ditullo explains. "Just getting the technology right was tough...it's a combination of chemistry and geometry and you're playing with chemicals and urethane compounds. ...We wanted to make sure that that energy was constrained in a vertical XY axis." When you immediately lace the EVO up and hit the court, there's a nice softness in the heel that lies somewhere between a heel Air-Sole unit and the uber-responsive bar-setter that is Zoom Air. At just $80, the unit delivers great cushioning that we're all used to seeing for $10-$20 more.

Above: A look at Ditullo's sketch of how the Balls could react, and a look at the unit on a final production model. Note the sipes through the TPU encasement, which took inspiration from the headlights of a Porsche. Historically, the Balls Technology set-up isn't the most ground-breaking advancement yet, and looks like a mysteriously similar re-working of the forgotten Sox Spotlight's heel unit (which Nike Basketball has coincidentally stopped using).

The one thing that you'd expect the TPU window to provide is some firmness underfoot or maybe some pressure points in the heel because of the stiff plastic that it's made of. Luckily that was never the case. "It had to have the visual clearness that we were looking for, but also it had to keep the support and rigidity," Ditullo says. What I liked most about the Balls Technology is its reliability and longevity after several weeks of use. It won't ever deflate or lose pressure like Air. It provides far more lateral support and stability than Shox. It won't go from harshly rigid to only less firm like Formotion. There's a consistency to the feel of Balls that never wavers from the first wearing on. It's not the most responsive in the world, but it's not particularly heavy or anchor-like either and is consistently cushioned. For the everyday baller looking for durable cushioning, that's a huge positive.

For $80, you're hard-pressed to find great forefoot cushioning outside of foam and insole padding from any company, and it's no different with the EVO. During your first week of wearings, the forefoot is still nicely padded, and never over the course of my wearings did it feel firm or stiff. However, I wouldn't be doing the "Cushioning" category justice if I ranked the shoe too highly, as the forefoot cushioning is nothing that'll win anybody over. Despite the lack of forefoot responsiveness, one thing the EVO does do wonderfully well is excel in both transition and feel. You'll notice "FEEL" scribed into the heel cushioning unit, but it's at the forefoot where the shoe does a nice job of providing great court feel and smoothness. Along the outsole, there lies a sculpted forefoot flex groove, and it's perfectly executed. When running on the break and out in transition, the shoe moves flowingly to the next step. The smoothness is a great, and greatly needed, improvement over the original Weapon. "The simple thing of removing rubber for a flex groove...it's a simple groove but it moves with the foot all of a sudden," confirms Ditullo. While other shoes that rely on larger rubber allowances can feel stiff for a few wearings, the broken up tooling, that also benefits from the large midfoot cutaway, feels natural and ready to go from the first wearing. It had Kirk Hinrich immediately upon his first wearing telling Off White x Converse reps, "This shoe feels like it was broken in before I put it on." Or so the reps tell me. (Not that they'd have a personal interest in the matter, of course!!)

Above: The EVO boasts a sculpted outsole with nice flex grooves and a heel window glance at the shoe's Balls Technology. While the shoe's tooling and midsole offer a solid blend of cushioning at the heel and flexibility and transition during play, a bright spot of the EVO is its biting traction and great support. The leather upper of the shoe is a bit stiff to start, but after a game or two it breaks in nicely, and offers a firmly supportive feel on all cuts. Part of the great support is also the squeaky traction, which even on a dusty court does a great job. "The herringbone on the bottom is the original herringbone from the original 86," says Ditullo. "By breaking that herringbone it actually helps you move a little better." Unlike traditional herringbone patterns, the EVO's configuration keeps with the original and is split by Chevron, adding some flexibility but also working great in terms of just raw traction. Another great factor in support is the shoe's use of an outrigger, seen on the forefoot lateral side and ever-so-slightly on the medial side as well. There's a nice balance to the shoe's stance, and never during play will you worry about tipping over or losing your footing, as you might in other visible heel cushioning shoes. Along the upper, the support overlay that wraps the toe, seen here in red patent, coupled with the added foam above the outrigger, does a nice job of keeping the foot over the footbed on lateral moves. [Though, it's worth mentioning, the toe rand does scuff quite easily.

THIS was on just my first wearing.] If you lace the EVO up securely, your ankle, heel and forefoot are all locked in accordingly. An absolute must design cue when remastering the Weapon is the original's Y-Bar, which we've seen carried over to the EVO. The underside of the Y-Bar collar is stitched through as well, providing a nice notch to comfort your ankles. A three-way tie for best attribute can easily be handed to the support, traction and heel cushioning departments. While I've only seemingly covered the shoe's bright spots up to now, surely the EVO isn't without its faults. The forefoot cushioning wasn't great by any means, but at $80, it's hard to recommend an improvement. The shoe's breathability was tremendously poor, as the full leather upper and multi-layered construction did its best to keep all airflow entirely trapped. My socks were soaked at the end of every night's games. Perhaps the tongue doesn't need to be entirely leather-based, but either way, if heat build-up is a category you're not high on, that might be an issue. The other problem I noticed during several of my wearings was the lack of hold from the top two eyelets. The original punched holes work a ton better, while the EVO's rounded shape didn't secure the flat laces quite enough, and during play and after sudden movements, you might notice the laces can loosen up a bit. Double knot them for the most security.

The Weapon EVO isn't a perfect shoe, but for $80, it offers a ton of positives and is also a great team option. It doesn't feel position-specific, and has needed attributes of affordability, great traction, support and durability that make it a worthy contender for teams. Everyone from points looking for support to big men who enjoy a sturdy build should like the EVO. The shoe weighed in at a flat 19 ounces, which is a bit on the heavy side for most, but because of the forefoot flex groove and the shoe's smooth transition, it actually plays lighter than you'd think. For Ditullo, accomplishing his goal of creating a shoe for today's game inspired by a classic from two decades ago made it all worth it. "When Kobe was in between contracts and wore the Weapon '86 on-court, he proved that a modern player could still wear the original shoe," he says. "It was really important that we kept the shoe flexible enough that somebody now could wear it." He and the team of developers, led by Alex Alpert, did just that, crafting a well made re-interpretation of the Weapon for today's level of technology and styling. There's cool details to be found throughout the shoe as well, like the Star pivot point along the outsole, and the shoe's tech specs just under the lateral outrigger, which read "Patent Pending >>> Patent Number 6568102." Only the truest of sneaker nerds like myself will take to those finer details, but when celebrating heritage, those are the small touches that count most. [See for yourself -- the patent number is a real thing.] "That patent number was actually the idea of [Developer] Chris Edington," reveals Ditullo. "That's a pretty sweet design detail. When Apple says, 'Designed in California,' that's a pretty cool thing that they celebrate that." While proudly showing off the shoe's technical merits, the EVO also serves as a great stepping point for the brand's new Wade-less direction, touching back on the brand's most iconic model. The Star Chevron logo is prominently displayed along the midfoot of the upper, and the heel Balls Technology offers a look at the future of Converse Basketball. It's a technology I'm excited to see evolve, and maybe even make its way to the forefoot, despite the brand's reluctance to hover much higher in retail price. Regardless, the first installment of Balls is well done, and the EVO's great price, traction, support and durability earn it a commendable B+.