Nike is taking the basketball shoe back to the future.
On February 17 Nike released the much anticipated Adapt BB sneaker. The shoe is the first-ever widely produced basketball shoe that incorporates the self-lacing technology originally imagined in the “Back to the Future” movie franchise. Instead of Marty McFly.
A two-inch motor encased in the middle of the shoe sole winds the laces at the touch of one of two lights on the side of the Adapt BB — one to tighten and one to loosen the laces. But Nike wants users to download a new smartphone app that connects to the shoe via Bluetooth, which will allow them to save preferences for tightness and change the color of the lights on-demand.
Nike says the “Adapt” platform will allow the company to push updates and added capabilities to the shoe well after it has already been purchased. The company also included a 3D accelerometer and a gyroscope inside the shoe, hinting that at some point the app will allow users to measure data on their game performances. Nike hopes to scale this technology into other shoe silhouettes and, possibly, other wearables.
“As you think about the future of the powered athlete, you can imagine two intelligent products on your body that will, in the future, give us more understanding of the body and motion,” Nike global head of digital products Michael Martin told Yahoo Finance.
The new tech is a big bet for Nike, which vastly outperformed the broader market in 2018. The company reported solid earnings in late December, fueled by what Nike CEO Mark Parker described as a strategy built around “ambitious digital transformation.”
But are the shoes subject to a mid-dunk hack? Martin said nobody can “intercept” the encrypted connection between the shoe and a smartphone, adding that if users are uncomfortable with linking the shoe to a phone, they are still free to use the self-lacing technology without a phone connection.
Nike says the Adapt BB has a battery life of two weeks — but if your feet are in the shoes when they die, you can still manually loosen the laces. When the shoes need more power, users drop them on a wireless charging mat.
The new shoes retails for $350, a hefty premium above existing high-end basketball shoes like the $185 Nike LeBron 16 or the $160 Adidas Harden Vol. 3.
The Adapt BB is not Nike’s first self-lacing silhouette; in 2016 the company released 89 “Nike Mag” units that were replicas of the kicks that Marty McFly himself wore in the 1989 film. The same year, the company released the “HyperAdapt” low-top shoe which retailed at an eye-popping $720.
But the Adapt BB will be the first commercially available self-lacing shoe at a slightly more accessible price point.
A shoe that feels like a trip to the future
The Nike Adapt BB is a great concept but sometimes concepts don't translate to real life. This is not the case for the Adapt BB. The FitAdapt tech really does what it was designed to do — lock you down.
"This is a new technology that we have packaged on your foot — the focus from an engineering standpoint was durability and reliability,” said Nike Senior Mechanical Engineer Narissa Chang.
When you first put on the shoe you can feel the support. The Adapt BB fits snugly around the foot without being uncomfortable. FitAdapt tech senses the tension that the particular person needs and adjusts accordingly. When the custom motor and gear train begins to self-lace using the Nike Adapt app, that’s when you feel all that tech go to work. Jordan Rice, Senior Director of Smart Systems Engineering at Nike, told Yahoo Finance that the shoe provides “up to 40% better containment around the foot...which means better control on the court.”
The Adapt BB is also waterproof and impact-resistant which helps when playing an aggressive sport like basketball. And when it came to testing, Nike put the Adapt BB through its paces — literally. The Adapt BB was put through 300 miles of running during testing and the self-lacing system can pull up to 32 pounds of force according to Nike. The shoe can also withstand 30,000 impact pulses at 780 pounds of pressure, reflecting the intensive rounds of testing that went into the shoe’s design.
Nike claims the Adapt BB is durable enough to use on-court, and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtic unveiled the shoe during a game back in January.
Once you take a few steps in the Adapt BB you can see that all of the aggressive testing paid off. You feel like you are ready for battle when you put on the Adapt BB — your foot is locked in and it’s not going anywhere, which means it is a durable and robust shoe to play basketball in.
The Nike Adapt BB looks and feels like a trip to the future.
Brian Cheung is a reporter covering the banking industry and the intersection of finance and policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter @bcheungz.
Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.