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NIKE UNVEILED its self-lacing Adapt BB basketball shoe in January, but the concept dates back three decades. Tinker Hatfield, the brand's legendary sneaker designer, helped dream up the idea for Back to the future part II. Nike first used a "power-lacing" engine in 2016 with the HyperAdapt 1.0, but the Adapt BB—which, at $350, costs nearly $400 less—is the first mass-market shoe to feature the technology. Says Hatfield, "There's nothing like it."


Nike really wants you to believe you're stepping into the future, and the first thing you'll notice about the shoe is the lack of laces. The company says its power-lacing technology can offer comfort to an athlete by strategically tightening and loosening during a workout. Unfortunately it isn't capable of improving your jump shot.


When you slip into the shoe, it starts whizzing and whirring. Don't be alarmed. That's the tiny motor that adjusts tension and fit. The lacing engine, equipped with a Bluetooth sensor and a battery that charges wirelessly, is under the insole.


Instead of lacing up, users push a button—on the shoe itself or on an app—to tighten or loosen the fit. If that sounds alarmingly close to a sentient sneaker, don't worry: The lesson of every sci-fi movie is that self-aware technology never causes humans any problems.


The Adapt BB isn't just a cool toy: It's also designed to maximize comfort and performance on the court. The shoe's inner shell is made of QuadFit, a Nike-created mesh material used in soccer cleats. The mesh is designed to conform to the foot without choking it, offering support for sudden changes in direction.


The Adapt BB is equipped with "FitAdapt" technology—essentially the shoe's brain. The system allows wearers to adjust the shoe's fit for different scenarios. During game action, for instance, a player might want a more snug fit to maximize stability, but during warmups a looser fit might be more comfortable.


It seems irresponsible to write off laces after all these years. But the Nike Adapt BB isn't the only sneaker on the market foregoing strings. Other brands are likewise going laceless.


Unlike the Adapt BB, this Adidas product—the company's first laceless basketball shoe—doesn't require chargers, phones or buttons, which the company was all too happy to point out after Nike's unveiling.


Another shoe in the Nike family, this Air Jordan uses a system of loops and cables instead of laces. Forget bunny ears—wearers of these Jordans simply pull on a forefoot strap to tighten their kicks.