For the past three years, a team inside Nike has been working on a shoe that could change the trajectory of the company. It’s the most-tested piece of footwear Nike has ever released. Athletes, ranging from high schoolers to pros, wore it for more than 27,000 miles on the court. Laces were snapped. Circuits were crushed underfoot. In the end, Nike developed a final product it calls Nike Adapt BB (the “BB” stands for “basketball”).
At a glance, it’s a high-tech, low-top basketball shoe with self-tightening Power Laces. It’s the first time the legendary shoe designer Tinker Hatfield’s 30-year-old vision from Back to the Future II has come to life–at least in the form of a shoe that Nike is willing to deem a performance-level product (the company released a pair of self-lacing shoes back in 2016).
But more importantly, it’s the first digitally connected shoe that doesn’t just measure your activity the way Nike+ technologies have for years. Instead, the Adapt BB can actively alter its shape, adapting in ways that fixed foams and Flyknits never could, whether that’s locking on tight to your foot during a drive to the hoop, or just loosening your kicks into slipper mode after a long day at the office.
“We’re moving from a fixed state of performance to something more fluid and dynamic,” says Eric Avar, creative director of innovation at Nike, who was the 15th designer Nike hired 27 years ago. “As long as I’ve been here at Nike, this has been a conversation, and I think we’re just starting to see it come to fruition.”
The Nike Adapt BB debuts technology that Nike executives readily put on the same pedestal as Nike Air. But for Nike, the Adapt BB is just the first step on a long journey toward making shoes that can literally feel your pain and react to it–the sort of shapeshifting apparel teased by researchers for years. It’s just the sort of radical product that proves that Nike, despite being the number-one shoe manufacturer in the world, sitting on a few years of solid growth and a strong appetite from China, doesn’t want to leave room for competitors to catch up.
The Adapt BB will be available on February 17 for $350, but the public can expect countless additional updates to the Nike Adapt platform–mix of sensors, processors, and digital software–which will eventually be applied to other products to tackle problems beyond just fit. In fact, Adapt technology is expected to come to other Nike shoes and clothing in the months and years to come. The company’s apparel will soon tailor itself to you, at a moment’s notice.