If you listened to today’s show, then you know I’ve been gone the past couple of days because I was in New York for the Air Jordan XX8 launch. And if you’ve been on the basketblogosphnet in the past 24 hours, you know the new Jordans caused quite a bit of commotion, what with their zip-up outer layer and complete departure from what a basketball shoe usually looks like.

And yeah, the shoes do look crazy, even to the point that the Jordan Brand promo video we saw before the shoe was unveiled included the phrase, “Yeah it looks crazy.” When your marketing team things your product is bizarre and then admits it, you have a bizarre product.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The first Air Jordans were such a change from normal basketball shoes that Michael Jordan was fined every time he wore them in a game and now they’re a legendary shoe. I’m not saying that’ll happen with the XX8, but first impressions don’t always stick.

Anyways, let’s talk about some things regarding the Air Jordan XX8.

That Zip-Up Shroud

Shrouds aren’t anything new for the Air Jordan line. A covering of some sort first showed up on the XVI, then kept popping up on the XVII, XVIII and XIX. Hate it or love it, Jordan Brand has a history of putting things over their shoes.

But this is pretty extreme. That outer layer makes the XX8 in to an 8-inch tall shoe, which is the tallest basketball shoe on the market. They’re partly inspired by military boots and Gary Payton’s “The Glove” (which was designed by Josh Heard, who also worked on the XX8), but it’s like they figured people liked the height and coverage of those two shoes, so they combined them and exaggerated the result. It is, to say the least, an interesting look.

When the first pictures from the event popped up, the reaction wasn’t great. A wall full of 8-inch tall, plain black shoes is strange, especially coming from a signature line famous for being the coolest shoes in the game. Zipped all the way up, the XX8 kind of looks like a spatted football cleat, which is odd for a basketball shoe.

But the look will change. Jordan Brand has said they will have more colorways of this shoe than any Air Jordan before it. Lead designer Tinker Hatfield has teased the idea of sublimating graphics on that plain upper, and I’ve heard rumors from bamboo to custom graphics to printed versions of old Jordans. Who knows what will actually come to pass, but the possibilities are there.

(Also, and I admit this is weird, but these look pretty slick with a pair of slim, black pants. You will just have to trust me on this one.)

The XX8 Looks Wicked Unzipped

Unzip the shroud and the XX8 becomes a different shoe. Seriously. Pictures kind of show it, but when you’re holding it in your hand unzipped, it’s very cool looking. It’s kind of like a combination of the Jordan XIV, a pair of untied Timberlands and those fold-down Chuck Taylors. I very much like this version of the shoe.

They look good with pants, styled on mannequins and even just sitting there. I don’t know how having a floppy shroud will work on a basketball court, but if Rasheed Wallace can play every game of his NBA career with Air Force I straps drooping all over the place, then I guess this can work.

These Are Performance Shoes

The Air Jordan line is in a weird place where each year’s shoes have to be the best performance shoe on the market while also being the coolest shoes of the year. Because everyone remembers Air Jordans and still talks about their favorites and can still buy their favorites, the new shoes are at a bit of a disadvantage because people will always compare them to the past.

The XX8 is pretty obviously a performance shoe. On your feet, they feel amazing. The Zoom Air is super springy, the uppers are extremely supportive, they feel like you’ve been wearing them for months as soon as you put them on, and they’re the lightest Jordans ever made. I have a feeling these are going to be great to play in. We’ll find out tonight (kind of) when Russell Westbrook debuts them against the Nets.

Everyone I talked to at the event had pretty much the same reaction:  “I actually kind of like them,” or something along those lines. These shoes can photograph terribly, especially with the upper zipped up. so it’s understandable that they wouldn’t get a great reaction on Twitter. Once you see them in person though, it’s a different story.

I felt the same way about the Air Jordan 2012 — didn’t like them at first, saw some different colors and now I’ve been playing in them for the past nine months. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a similar thing happened with the XX8.

The shoes release at the All-Star break, first available in Houston on February 15 and then everywhere else the next day. They’re rumored to retail for $250. Enjoy a bunch of pictures from the event and let’s hear what you think in the comments.