Li-Ning Hero (Year of the Dragon) YOTD

The Li-Ning Hero (Year of the Dragon)

Introduction

The influx of Chinese sneaker brands attempting to infiltrate the United States basketball industry has taken off within the past two years.  As one of the giants in China, Li-Ning made a splash with signing of Baron Davis and Evan Turner as the faces of their brand.  Last year, the Defend and Conquer showed off a themed concept for their two basketball performers of the season.  Following in a similar path, the company has quietly released the 2011-2012 versions of another themed concept – this time dubbed Hero and Villain.  With the Li-Ning on the outskirts of the basketball world in the US, a strong second year is of paramount importance.  Our latest Performance Review takes the an in-depth look a one of the more interesting performers of the year – the Li-Ning Hero.

One half of the Hero and Villain theme, the Hero is one of the signature performers in the Li-Ning 2011-2012 line up.  The features include the following:

  • Synthetic leather and 3M upper
  • Cushioning provided by CushioN™ technology and BounSe™midsole
  • Velcro strap placed at the midfoot
  • Internal stretch bootie
  • Rubber outsole with herringbone traction pattern and mid foot stability plate

Aesthetics and Styling

Regardless of the popularity of Li-Ning in the US, the designs and concepts of their released models have been bold, to say the least.  Just like the Defend and Conquer last season, the Hero is aesthetically not for those looking to stay discreet on the court.  A thick foundation extending past the heel, a high mid foot strap, as well as a slightly detached collar find their place on a shoe that has dynamic lines.  Combine this with an upper consisting of synthetic leather & 3M materials an you have a very unique look which also holds color well.  For technology, the introduction of the BounSe™ and CushioN™ for comfort is just an indication that the company knows what is necessary to market their shoes in the competitive industry.  One of the more stylish performers on the market today, the limited edition orange and blue Year of the Dragon version of the Hero was the choice for this Performance Review.

Li-Ning Hero (Year of the Dragon) YOTD

A special orange and blue color scheme is used for the Limited Year of the Dragon Edition

A side profile of the Hero reveals a sensory overload.  The rounded heel takes the spotlight as the foundation sticks out like a car bumper, while the different materials used for the upper are clearly separated.  The bright orange color scheme is given life with splatters of blue throughout the lower half.  Not to be outdone by the upper, a look below shows off a contoured rubber outsole, designed with bold aesthetics in mind.  At the forefoot, a large and deep Y-shaped flex groove separates the medial, lateral, and middle.  Flaring out on lateral side, an outrigger is nearly formed.  Molded into the rubber on the both sides is a herringbone pattern, with a large Li-Ning logo on the lateral and a small logo placed close to the toe cap on the medial.  The openings created from the flex groove have the midsole creeping through, creating a separation down the center of the toe cap.  Moving towards the mid foot, a diamond shape pattern runs down through the heel.  Here, a lighting bolt traction pattern is nicely molded in, and at the center of the outsole sits a diamond shaped inset.  The inset is marked with a plastic lightning bolt, showing off the sculpted mid foot stability plate.  Rounding out the outsole is the heel area, which is design in line with the forefoot.  Two vertical and parallel flex grooves separate each side, with the orange midsole clearly seen within the grooves.  Herringbone makes up the sides, which extend up the side walls, with the the lightning bolt traction pattern finishing off the center.  A small “LN” logo sits at the back end of the heel.  The shapely BounSe™midsole sits atop the outsole, designed with corrugations and a speckle scheme for bold aesthetics.  At the lateral forefoot the “BounSe” logo is found, and at the rear, the midsole and outsole extend out like a car bumper.

The bold design continues on the upper where the toe box is made with the reflective 3M material.  Four rows of perforation holes line the center of the box, which is slight.  A synthetic leather overlay is stitched as the foundation of support, moving up the sides all the way to the collar.  On the medial,  the leather panel has a small mesh opening towards the top, where a Li-Ning logo sits right next to it.  Below the leather panel is a smooth, matte finished like material, which is marked with blue blotches.  The lateral side is done in the same manner as the medial, but without a mesh opening, and marked with a larger rubber Li-Ning logo.  Capping off the upper is the mid foot strap.  The strap is done in two pieces and is engaged through velcro.  A blue Li-Ning logo is centered on top of the strap.

At the rear, a plastic, matte finished heel counter adds solid support.  The counter has the Li-Ning check mark in the center and a synthetic leather hang tag right above.  3M material makes another appearance, visible on the small dots cut into the hang tag.  Moving up, the collar rises at a sharp incline, and is noticeably thin.  There is very little padding for the collar, and weight is further conserved with cut out portions on each side.  A diamond pattern synthetic lines the collar through the Achilles.

Lacing comes in the form of thick flat laces, matching the orange and blue color scheme.  A combination of eyelets and loop holes are used, with the loop holes placed underneath the mid foot strap.  Along the collar, the final three eyelets are reinforced with a plastic portion.  The internal stretch bootie extends from the forefoot, to the tongue and to the back end, providing Achilles support.  Mesh material makes up the bootie, which has a synthetic leather support backing the rear heel area.  The internal bootie is finished off with a leather patch on the tongue, where a Li-Ning logo sit above a splotch designed cut out.  The final aspect of the Hero is found on the footbed, where an orange EVA insole provides a base above the foam cushioning.  Continuing the theme, a splotch pattern runs throughout, and on the heel, a graphic depicts Chinese characters alongside the year “2012.”

Comfort and Fit

Stitched on the inside and held up by synthetic leather panels on the rear (Achilles support) and on the top of the tongue, the inner sleeve houses the foot nice and snug.  Fit is true to size with good comfort and minimal lace pressure down the center of the foot.  The adjustability of the mid foot strap is slight, simply adding a bit more pressure for those who need it.  Up front, the toes have some wiggle room, but for the most part, the toe box is just right – not too much room length or height wise.  Ankle protection and support is satisfactory, as the detached collar combines with the tongue to merely cover the ankles.  The collar materials are thin, with little padding, relying on the rigidness of the leather for strength and support.  On the other hand, heel lock down is the best aspect of fit.  The heels fit right in place and seem to get sucked in once laced tight.  Below, cushioning is on the stiff and responsive side, but not uncomfortable.  Arch support is slight, but overall, the lower half of the shoe feels extremely solid.  For comfort and fit, the Li-Ning Hero is snug, with excellent heel lock down and a solid foundation.

Li-Ning Hero (Year of the Dragon) YOTD

Heel lock down is one of the best aspects in terms of fit and comfort

Performance

In a static position on the hardwood, the Hero brings a very low profile.  Court feel is excellent, and without even moving, the shoe has a feeling that it will be very responsive.  Breaking into a sprint, the shoe is very fluid.  Heel to toe transitions have the player gliding on the court.  The upper is a bit rigid around the leather areas, especially along the tongue and back end, but flexibility is not a problem.  A disparity in weight distribution is evident as the sole has a much heavier feel than the thin upper, so far performance, the Hero does not fit in the light weight movement.  That established, performance is built from the ground up.  Responsiveness and movement all around are excellent.  The shape and contours of the sole allow for easy lateral movements, as well as changing directions.  For the swingman that is an active defender, or likes to get a bit physical on offense, the responsiveness of the shoe is favorable.  Because of the bulkiness of the shoe, extreme nimbleness is not an aspect that will be found, but the slight detached collar allows for agility within movements for sliding laterally and making deep bends and cuts.  At times, it almost feels as though the shoe is low cut.  In essence, for players that use their quickness in bursts, the Hero can provide good performance advantages.  For jumping, the shoe is not the most explosive, but again, the responsiveness comes into play.  The CushioN™ and BounSe™set up is perfect for pushing off the ground comfortably, and impact upon landing has a smooth feel.  Furthermore, the thickness of the heel is very supportive for those who may spend time fighting for rebounds, taking awkward landings comfortably.  In all, the Hero is a responsive and fluid performer, applicable for the swingman or large guard that loves to play defense.

For the guard and swingman, stability performance favors fluid play over brutality.  Although the shoe is a mid cut, ankle support and protection is on the light side, as the materials are thin and rely on the rigidness of the synthetic leather for hold.  Stability is best observed with the foundation of the shoe, from the outsole & midsole, and through the leather panel.  As mentioned in the first section of performance, the outsole and midsole is solid.  Stop and start players will find that the foundation can take good abuse.  Whether cutting hard, or simply planting a foot hold, the sole is rock solid.  The inner sleeve holds the foot with little sliding, while the stability plate provides the great support.  Up top, although the shoe does not exhibit the most stable upper, the thin leather and synthetic materials do have a slight rigidity to them.  This holds up well in a less aggressive context, perfect for a swingman who plays on the perimeter that likes to pick their spots.  At the end of the day, stability is not the strongest aspect of the Hero, but does not make the shoe unplayable.

Fluid and responsive, the Hero shines in the area of traction.  With targeted herringbone sections on the edges of the forefoot and heel, grip is excellent moving laterally.  Shifty players will find no problems getting the shoe to hold, and because of the large flex grooves that separate the outsole areas, making a transition is fluid.  Furthermore, the herringbone sections do creep up the sidewalls to add more traction all around, for moments when the player is off balance.  Ventilation performance is surprisingly good.  With few perforation holes, there are little areas for air to flow through freely.  Heat and sweat control comes from the inner sleeve lining as well as the openings created from the collar sides and detachment.

Conclusion

As Baron Davis has made a quiet departure from the company (he has been sporting the Nike Zoom Kobe series in the past couple of weeks), coupled with the lack of promotion and marketing of the Li-Ning brand as a whole, one has to wonder what direction the company is headed for in the United States.  The basketball shoe industry is entrenched with the established giants having unquestioned loyalty among their fans.  Nonetheless, in their second full season in the US Market, the two-themed concept shows both creativity and enthusiasm on their end.  What the Hero brings to the court is a solid performer that has excellent responsiveness, in a boldly designed package.  The shoe showcases the proprietary CushioN™ and BounSe™ technologies well, and for those who can look past the Li-Ning brand name may find a basketball shoe that can be used everyday.  The Year of the Dragon version of the Hero is available in extremely limited quantities now at the Official Shop Li-Ning site.

This shoe is comparable to:

Li-Ning Conquer
Li-Ning Defend