The Nike Zoom LeBron IV is actually LeBron James's fifth signature shoe from Nike (the 20.5.5 doesn't seem to be an official part of the chain) and only the third to actually be called the Zoom LeBron (the first was the Zoom Generation, next came the Zoom LeBron II, and so on). In some way, I suppose it all makes sense.The shoe's been out for almost a month already—there was even a downtown NYC space dedicated solely to it—but I still figure it's worth going into in depth. Later this week I'll complete the '03 triumvirate with the new Jordan Brand Melo. And I have every intention of breaking down the T-Mac, as well as any other significant new shoe I can get my greedy little hands on.

With the new LeBrons, you have to start with the box. It's drawer-style, like the box that came with the IIs and IIIs. Which is nice, because you can get your shoes out even if the boxes are stacked. I'm pretty sure Nike/Jordan was the first to use this style box with sneakers, with the Jordan XVIII (18). The wave pattern on the top of the box mirrors the midsole line of the IVs. A nice touch.

The general lines of the LeBron IVs are beautiful. Swooping, streamlined—very car-like. The contrast between the white midsole and black upper makes for a very distinctive look. You won't mistake the LeBron IV for anything else.

But the sports car look hides 4x4 strength and power. Ken Link designed these shoes FOR LeBron James, who combines power and speed like no one before or since. I'd use the Hummer comparison, seeing that Nike used it as inspiration for the first shoe, but the LeBron IV is sleeker and faster than that. More like the Lamborghini LM. Lots of power, but still rugged and raw. The Foamposite upper (thinner and more trimmed-down than it has been in past shoes like the Foamposite Pro and Foamposite Max), super-thick sockliner (more to come on that) and monster carbon spring plate combines to make a singular shoe for a singular player.
And there are plenty of references back to earlier Nike designs. The extended midsole is like that of the Penny II, the strap is like that of the Huarache 2K4 and 5. Then there are plenty more little details specific to LeBron. Right down to the paper wrapping the shoes.

The four dots at the end of the strap, for example. They each feature a letter of the alphabet—NLHY—which apparently stands for something known only to LeBron and those closest to him. Not to me, at least. Anyone?

This shot reveals several neat little details—the subtle red layer in the shoelaces, the ventilation slits in the Foamposite molding (otherwise a Foamposite shoe tends to heat up fast) and the top eyelet, the only one exposed, that features an "LJ" with a crown separating them. Even the smallest piece of the shoe is specific to it and it alone—which is the way it should be on a $150 product. Like the 'buckle' on the tongue, with the familiar 'L23J' logo.

From up top. The elastic lace covers help keep the top of the shoe pulled together, protect the laces, and give the shoe an overall cleaner look. Relacing probably wouldn't be much fun, though. Elastic bands similar to these were also used on other Nike product, including the Air Max Webber. They were underneath the laces, however.

If you look closely at the tongue, you can see the lion logo (based on his tattoo) on the tag. Underneath, it says 'KING' on the right shoe, 'JAMES' on the left. Detail.

The midsole 'wings' look huge, especially in white, but they're a lot lighter and more flexible than they look. You can see how the 'vents' are continued from the uppers, revealing further mesh ventilation as well as the massive full-length carbon spring plate. Also note the midsole heel counter. Essentially the midsole cups the entire foot, providing an incredibly stable base.

You seriously can't go wrong with a red, black and white colorway. The segmented outsole is a lot like the Air Jordan XIs, right down to the clear red rubber with black inserts. The lines on the heel form a '23.' Visible between the outsole segments is the carbon plate. Pretty much every high-end Nike basketball shoe now features a stiff plate to prevent turf toe and provide some extra 'spring.' The first production Nike shoe to include that feature? The Air Jordan XI.

The inside of the tongue features a quote from Nike founder Phil Knight: 'Never Forget To Hear The Voice Of The Athlete." Once more of an abstract concept, Nike designer Tinker Hatfield made it literal, speaking with Michael Jordan at length before designing the Air Jordan III. This led to an overall shift in sneaker design that means athletes now have MUCH more say in the designs of their signature shoes than they did in the mid '80s.

The insole or sockliner or whatever you want to call it is as thick as any I've ever seen. Through those holes in the bottom, you can see the full-length Zoom Air bag. So you have Zoom right under your foot, and the insole sits almost directly on the carbon fiber spring plate. Comfort and speed. And toughness. This really isn't the kind of shoe for 150-pound point guards.

The front of the toebox. LeBron Raymone James.

The heel. A better look at the counter, and 'WITNESS' down and under the heel. LeBron was so entranced by the ad campaign, he actually got 'WITNESS' tatooed down the outside of one calf. Good job, Wieden & Kennedy.

In short, the LeBron line is leading the way for Nike Basketball right now. He's easily their most prominent—and unique—player, combining elements of both Flight and Force, their two biggest basketball segments. In the LeBron IV, Ken Link managed to develop a shoe that can handle both blinding speed and brute strength, and made it look terrific in the process. It's derived from pure function, but took a distinctive form. The closest comparisons I can make are with some of the Penny Hardaway product from the late '90s, specifically the II and III. The LeBron IV is far sleeker than the power shoes of the past, like the Barkley line, but also more bulletproof. I'd imagine that LeBron could get a few games out of one pair of these—yours could last for years.