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Reviewing the Air Jordan XX9, after testing the shoes at Michael Jordan’s house

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Jordan Brand touted ground-breaking performance and innovative design when the company unveiled the latest version of its flagship basketball shoe back in April, and now that we’re less than a month away from the release of the Air Jordan XX9, it was time to see if the company kept its promise.

A group of media members were invited to Chicago recently to get a first look at the shoes in person and test them on the court — but this was no ordinary wear test experience.

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THE EXPERIENCE

We were told to dress for basketball in the base layers that were provided the night before, even though we would be outfitted in additional gear once we arrived to the court. After breakfast at Wishbone, a spot in Chicago’s West Loop frequented by Michael Jordan in his playing days and one which came personally recommended by the brand’s namesake, we were loaded onto a minibus to be transported to what turned out to be a very special location.

The ride of more than 40 minutes out of town didn’t seem suspicious, considering that Jordan Brand’s open run they hosted in New Orleans during All-Star weekend was a similar distance from the town’s center. Once we exited the freeway and took a couple of turns into a residential area, however, things began to fall into place — especially once we came to our stop.

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We had arrived at Michael Jordan’s house.

Jordan no longer lives here, and his former home is currently on the market; he spends his time these days in Charlotte in an ownership role with the Hornets. But the sprawling estate still has many of his personalized touches — including a regulation-sized indoor basketball gym where the day’s festivities would take place.

As we walked down the long and winding pathway, we passed the main home and were ushered into a guest house. Once inside, two quick right turns landed us into a locker room space that was specifically created for our special event.

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Once everyone was in uniform, it was time to head into Jordan’s personal gym, where he spent so many hours perfecting his game. It was left untouched by the folks handling the event, because as one staffer quipped, “you don’t paint the Sistine Chapel.”

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THE SHOE 

The Jordan XX9 had big shoes to fill, so to speak, because it was going to be extremely difficult to improve upon the performance provided by the Jordan XX8. The company introduced its Flight Plate technology into the sole of the shoe, and by almost all accounts, the XX8 and XX8 SE were routinely reviewed as some of the best basketball shoes to play in over the past 18 months.

The Flight Plate returned for the XX9, but was rotated and adjusted slightly in hopes of providing even better overall cushioning in the forefoot of the shoe. And, a “tendril” was added to bridge the front and the back of the sole to provide what the company hoped would be a smoother heel-to-toe transition. You can see the differences here, with the XX8 on the left and the XX9 on the right.

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The adjustments to the Flight Plate gave the shoe a different feel than its predecessor, but that was only a minor tweak from the previous iteration. The real change in the XX9 is the woven upper, which feels more like a snug slipper than it does a traditional sneaker.

“The performance-woven upper delivers superior abrasion resistance, along with an entirely new look on the outside of the shoe,” the company described at April’s unveiling. “The structure and fit of the shoe are engineered through Flight Web tunnels, and strategic panels of stiffer and softer flex to enhance natural motion. The absence of numerous layers and adhesion technologies creates an incredibly comfortable, sock-like interior lining with superior breathability.”

Michael Jordan and the shoe’s designer, Tinker Hatfield, discussed the woven upper at April’s event, while explaining its significance and the way it affects performance.

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THE REVIEW

My initial impressions of the Jordan XX9 haven’t changed much since the first couple of games I played in them, even though I’ve tested them out many times since.

I originally thought my normal size might have been too small when I first put them on, and actually checked to see if a half-size up was available. It wasn’t, and that was fine, because it didn’t take more than a few minutes for the upper to stretch a bit, to the point where it was extremely comfortable and didn’t feel like there was anything there at all.

The word “sock” was thrown around a lot that day to describe the feel of the upper, but after discussing it with others at the event, we agreed that term simply doesn’t do it justice. The fabric is firm enough to provide support when you need it, but doesn’t feel too tight or constricting, and it’s undoubtedly the shoe’s key feature.

As previously mentioned, the Flight Plate has changed a bit in the XX9, and for those who enjoyed the feel of the extreme level of forefoot bounce in the XX8, it’s worth noting that in the newest model, that has been downgraded a bit, and is much more subtle. There isn’t a greatly noticeable difference once you begin playing in them from a performance standpoint, but you will notice it when first putting the shoes on, which may be viewed as a negative by some.

While the Flight Plate was the game-changer in the previous version, the fact that it’s now combined with this woven upper is what will keep players reaching for this shoe time and again when heading to the court. There are obviously tons of factors that go into declaring which shoe is the best to play in, and ultimately, it comes down to a player’s individual game, body type, and personal preference. But it’s tough to envision anyone playing in the Jordan XX9 and coming away with anything other than positive overall thoughts.

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Kyrie Irving sticks water-bottle challenge before Cavaliers-Knicks buzzer (video)

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The Cavaliers were trying the water-bottle challenge on the bench late in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but the national telecast showed Cleveland players only failing to flip a water bottle and have it land upright on the floor – including an erratic attempt from LeBron James that bounced onto the court.

Thankfully, the local post-game show had an angle of Kyrie Irving nailing the bottle flip just before the game ended, his toss just leaving his hands before the final buzzer. Count it!

Nicolas Batum zips pass between Tobias Harris’ legs to assist Frank Kaminsky (video)

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Listen up, defenses: Nicolas Batum will throw passes between your legs.

Three things we learned Wednesday: Warriors, Cavaliers try to make statements in December

Golden State Warriors forward Kevon Looney, left, and Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford reach for a rebound during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Warriors won 115-98. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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ESPN thought they had a great double header on Wednesday, but those games were decided by a combined 49 points, you should have flipped over to Hairspray Live. Anyway, here are the big takeaways from Wednesday.

1) You can’t have a statement game in December. But if you could Cleveland, Golden State made them. Can we just skip ahead to Christmas when these two teams finally play each other? Plus by then my shopping will be done, and I’m dreading doing it. We’ve said before the Cavaliers and Warriors have established themselves as the best in their conferences and they made that point with authority on Wednesday.

Cleveland did it thrashing the Knicks 126-94. To be fair, the Knicks were on the second night of a back-to-back and were without Derrick Rose. But that is a small part of the disparity here. First, Phil Jackson may want to not try to piss off the best player on the planet. Just a suggestion. Beyond that, the Knicks have had a good season (12-10), but they match up poorly with Cleveland. They don’t have a good defender for Kyrie Irving. Nobody has a good one for LeBron (well, maybe the Spurs). Kristaps Porzingis struggles to defend in space, and Kevin Love can exploit that. I can go on, but you get the picture. Between beating Toronto Monday and this, the Cavs are back to exploiting their advantages out East.

Golden State made its statement by blowing out a Clippers team that had been the second-best team in the West to this point. The Warriors did it with defense first — Los Angeles shot 39.6 percent as a team. Stephen Curry did a respectable job on Chris Paul (15 points on 14 shots), Klay Thompson blanketed J.J. Redick (just four shots), and Draymond was built to guard Blake Griffin (12 points on 20 shots, with seven turnovers). The Warriors anticipated the Clippers skip passes and turned those into transition chances (Golden State won the fast break points battle 27-11). The Warriors didn’t even have a great night on offense — Curry was 0-of-8 from three — and won 115-98 (and it wasn’t that close). Still, the Warriors ball movement was there.

Marreese Speights is in a unique position — the Clippers backup big was with the Warriors the past few seasons, and he was honest and harsh in his assessment of the differences between these teams.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo got a triple-double on an off night. He’s that good. Portland is not a good defensive team. Improved with Al-Farouq Aminu healthy and back on the court, but still not good. However, their defensive strategy of having their bigs play back and not press high off picks works against Giannis Antetokounmpo because you want to make him a jump shooter anyway — and the Greek Freak was notably frustrated at times Wednesday night.

And he still had a triple double of 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. He’s playing that well. Look at it this way, in a Westbrook/Harden world Antetokounmpo is the only NBA player averaging more than 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals a game this season.

The real story for the Bucks was the 27 from Jabari Parker, that’s the reason Milwaukee beat Portland 115-107.

3) Kemba Walker needs to be an All-Star, he got Hornets a win over Pistons. Charlotte shot 34.1 percent Wednesday night, no way they should get a win in that situation. But alas, there was Kemba Walker, who had 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter sparking a Charlotte win, 87-77. Walker is averaging 23.6 shots per game, is shooting a career-best 41.4 percent from three, has a true shooting percentage of 58.2 percent (well above the league average), and is the everything for the Hornet’s offense.

The man deserves to be playing in New Orleans in the All-Star Game this year. I know the East is loaded with quality point guards — Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall — but Kemba has earned the recognition this year.

Warriors rout Clippers 115-98 for 7th straight win over LA

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, left, tries to go up for a shot as Los Angeles Clippers guard Alan Anderson defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Warriors won 115-98. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Klay Thompson scored 24 points, Draymond Green added 22 points and the Golden State Warriors routed the Clippers 115-98 on Wednesday night for their seventh straight win over Los Angeles.

Stephen Curry had 19 points for Golden State, and Kevin Durant, who came averaging a team-best 27.0 points, was held to 16 on 5-of-17 shooting.

Curry failed to make a 3-pointer for just the second time this season, going 0 of 8. The Warriors were 7 of 30 from long range.

Jamal Crawford scored 21 points for the Clippers, who have lost five of seven. Four of their seven overall losses have come at home.