It have been devastating news for probably everyone loving the game of basketball. One of the greatest competitors of the game is dead. Kobe Bryant, the legendary shooting guard of the Los Angeles Lakers died in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, last Sunday together with his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others. He was a true hero, a role model, husband and a father of four daughters. He didn’t only fascinate people on the basketball court but also with a lot of things he did off the court after his active career. We could start by telling you that he won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2018 as the executive producer of “Dear Basketball” and continue with him opening the Mamba Academy, a multisport training center young athletes… but it’s just too much to name everything.
What touched people the most besides Kobe’s basketball career was probably his shoe game. It was strong. He had endorsement deals with the two biggest players in the game – adidas and Nike. And he had multiple signature shoes with both companies. Something that is quite unusual. At this point we would like to present the nine most influental sneakers of Kobe’s career.
Title image via Nike
adidas EQT Elevation
In 1996, Kobe Bryant was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets at the age of 17. He made clear that the only team he ever wanted to play for were the Los Angeles Lakers. So shortly after draft night, Kobe was traded to the Lakers for Vlade Divac, who wasn’t happy with this trade. In his first NBA season, Kobe was already provided with a $48 Million adidas shoe deal, but didn’t get his own signature model in his Rookie season. His shoe during that time was the adidas EQT Elevation. Wearing the EQT Elevation in Lakers colors, he won the Slam Dunk Contest during NBA All Star Weekend in 1997.
adidas KB8 (aka Crazy 8)
For his second NBA season in ‘97-‘98 Kobe got his first own shoe, the adidas KB8, which was part of the adidas “Feet You Wear” line-up. It was a true performance sneaker and one of the lightest basketball shoes at the time. Bryant wore the KB8 in his first NBA All Star Game appearance in 1998, where he became the leading scorer for the West team in a loss against Michael Jordan’s East team. In 2007, the adidas KB8 was retroed and due to the fact that Kobe was no longer with adidas, they renamed the shoe to adidas Crazy 8. Since then, the KB8 has been re-relased several times in various colorways.
adidas The Kobe aka Kobe 1
After adidas decided not to continue “Feet You Wear”, something else was needed for Kobe Bryant’s next signature model. The brand from Herzogenaurach joined forces with Audi, a renowned car manufacturer also located in Bavaria. The output was the polarizing “The Kobe”, also known as the “Kobe 1”. The shoe looked completely different to what was known as basketball shoes before. Either you hated it or you loved it. The shoe looked like as if the designers at Audi tried to transform their bestselling car, the Audi TT, into a basketball shoe. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work out because the shoe’s look was too futuristic, ahead of its time. It looked bulky, chunky and strange at the same time. Nevertheless, Kobe Bryant won his first NBA championship in theses shoes.
adidas The Kobe 2
The partnership between adidas and Kobe came to an end with Kobe’s next signature model, the “Kobe 2”. adidas took it too far with this one. People who saw the shoe for the first time often asked themselves what this was. They weren’t even sure if it was a shoe or a spaceship. The “Kobe 2” was even more than futuristic, it looked like it was made for an upcoming moon landing. The public reactions were devastating. The silver-metallic shoe didn’t look like it could be played on a basketball court. Kobe himself felt the same about this model. He didn’t like it, hardly ever played in it and went straight back to the “Kobe 1”. It was just too hard, too stiff to ball in. And it exactly looked like that. Maybe as a result of this, Kobe didn’t want to extend the expiring six-year contract with “Three Stripes”. He reportedly had to pay §8 million to get out of that contract situation. A sneaker free-agency followed, before he signed with Nike in 2003.
Nike Zoom Kobe 1 (2006)
It took quite a while before Kobe’s first Nike signature model came to life. Due to some legal issues, the Nike Zoom Kobe 1 didn’t make it onto the court until 2006. With his new nickname “Black Mamba”, Kobe played a fantastic season in the Zoom Kobe 1, averaging over 35 point per game. The highlight was the game against the San Antonio Spurs on January 22nd, 2006, in which he scored his career high of 81 points, the second most points ever made by a player in the NBA.
The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing brought Kobe Bryant his first Olympic Gold medal and the shoes he wore in that tournament wasn’t one of his signature models but the Nike Hyperdunk. The Hyperdunk was a tremendous basketball performance shoe that built a legacy for Nike. As the captain of the so called “Redeem Team”, Kobe took the US basketball team on his shoulders and carried it through the final against Spain with 20 points, ending up with the gold medal hanging around his neck.
Nike Zoom Kobe 4
In late 2008, the Nike Zoom Kobe 4 debuted on the scene. This model is often regarded as Kobe’s best looking silhouette. But it wasn’t only a very nice shoe, it was also a great performer. From that point on, Kobe’s signature models turned into lower cut shoes which made them lighter, too. In the Nike Zoom Kobe 4, the “Black Mamba” won his fourth title with the Los Angeles Lakers. In February of the 2008/2009 season, Kobe scored 61 points in an away game against the New York Knicks at the Madison Square Garden, wearing the Zoom Kobe 4.
Nike Kobe 6 Grinch
The Nike Zoom Kobe 6 was the model Kobe wore in the 20010/2011 season which followed Kobe’s 5th NBA title with the Lakers. It was designed by Eric Avar, who is responsible for such staples as the Nike Air Flight Huarache, the Nike Air Max Penny, the Nike Air Foamposite and many other legendary Nike basketball shoes. On NBA Christmas Day 2010, which is the most important day of the NBA season besides the NBA playoffs, in a game at Staples Center against the Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, Kobe pulled out a Christmas Lime Green Zoom Kobe 6 in reminiscence of “Dr. Seuss” childhood storybook character “The Grinch”. The Lakers lost the game though but those shoes will last forever.
Nike Zoom Kobe 9 Elite
Something needed to be different for Kobe’s comeback in late 2013, after a torn Achilles tendon earlier that same year sidelined him for quite a while. It was again Eric Avar who came up with a totally different looking shoe, the Nike Zoom Kobe 9 Elite, an extremely high cut silhouette to protect his Achilles tendon better in the future. It was the Nike’s first basketball shoe that used lightweight Flyknit and it shows a small parallels to the adidas Kobe 1, because the design of the Nike Zoom Kobe 9 Elite also polarized heavily. A lot of fans were very unhappy about how it turned out, it was just too high to wear it on the streets. Unfortunately, the shoe couldn’t prevent Kobe from a knee injury which ended his season early.
Kobe has already been missed the last couple of years on the court, he will also be missed off the court now.
We will never see any Kobe sneaker highlights again, unless Nike decides to continue the range of Kobe models after his death.
Rest in power, Black Mamba. We will always remember you as one of the greatest.