I don’t need to see you to know that his name alone has you pulling faces. Before a single verb or adjective has been attached to them, the words “Kobe Bryant” are sufficient to incite an emotion deep in your guts. As the advert says, you can love him or hate him, and few are capable of finding a middle ground.
So, what does that have to do with this piece? Thankfully, nothing. Rather than subject you to the article on the duality of Kobe Bryant that you’ve read a thousand times before, I’ll be taking a look at his career in shoes.
Let’s get right into it.
EQT Elevation (Adidas)
At its release, the EQT Elevation was, to borrow a phrase from the young Will Smith, “deeply, deeply dope.” It’s nearly ten years later, and the shoe looks as fresh as ever, with the oversized ankle emblem, reflective stripes and an outsole which creeps halfway up the side of the sneaker combining to form a piece of footwear that wouldn’t look out of place in a cartoon. The Elevation was the ride of choice for Kobe, then a bald-headed teenager, in his dunk contest victory, ensuring that it would forever be a small part of basketball history. Even without that competition, it would have gone down as one of the illest shoes of its generation.
As Mr. Bryant’s first signature shoe, the KB8 had to be as bold, brash and brilliant as its namesake, and it was just that. Although it retained the wrap-around outsole of the Elevation, little was carried over from the design concept of Kobe’s previous kicks, with the KB8 looking unlike any shoe seen before or since. Recognising the number of sneaker freaks scouring the web for a pair years following their release, Adidas dropped a retro version which they named, interestingly, the “Crazy 8”, which you may have seen on the feet of several of the UCLA Bruins during their 2006 tournament run.
KB8 II (Adidas)
I have nothing nice to say about this shoe, and neither does anyone I know who was foolish enough to part with their cheddar for it. Rigid, clumpy and with a design that makes Tyrone Hill look like Tyra Banks,the KB8 II is an utter abomination before the footwear gods. Still, there are those who seemed to love it, and there may even be a time far from now when we look on the shoe and appreciate what the designers were trying to do when they created it. Until then, however, I’m going to have to assume that they were on drugs.
KB8 III (Adidas)
Though the third sneaker to bear Kobe’s name may have lacked the visual character of its predecessors, those who wore it claimed it was one of the better shoes of its time in terms of performance. With an understated appearance, you could be forgiven for forgetting the KB8 III ever existed, yet the platinum colourway pictured is known to have fetched upwards of several hundred dollars in online auctions. If you find one of the 333 numbered pairs released at the turn of the millennium for less than three hundred bucks, you’ll have come across a real bargain.
THE KOBE (Adidas)
Designed in tandem with German car manufacturers Audi and based on their iconic TT Roadster, THE KOBE is a true work of art. Simple but stunning, its release marked a new stage in the evolution of sneaker design, showing that function could follow form without impairing performance. While some still can’t stomach THE KOBE’s looks, it remains, for me, one of the most striking kicks to ever hit the hardwood. As if the outrageous silver colourway wasn’t enough, Adidas released a special mesh edition which Kobe showed off in ’00-’01 playoffs, which the Lakers dominated on the way to their second consecutive championship.
If THE KOBE was an Audi TT Roadster, the KOBETWO was a Lamborghini with the brains blown out. Even more minimalist than its predecessor, it was met with a mixed reaction, which, historically, is a good thing. However, there’s no denying that it looks better on the rack than the feet, perhaps due to the unusual collar which gave the KOBETWO its unique profile. Also noteworthy is the commercial spot which preceded its release, featuring a possibly toasted Snoop and Warren G discussing Kobe and the shoe in the studio. (If you don’t remember it, you can check that out here.)
THE KOBE III (Adidas) [name never confirmed]
Since Kobe’s contract with Adidas expired before it went into mass production, the model commonly termed “THE KOBE III” is now known as the shoe that never was. Given that our knowledge of it is limited to what we can see in a few snaps leaked by Adidas insiders, nothing is known of how the sneaker holds up under pressure. Still, with the zipped front, clean colourways and wacky toecap, it certainly looked to have great potential, and many still hold out hope that it will see the light of day under a different name at some point in the future.
Following the end of his official relationship with Adidas, Kobe took advantage of his freedom from contractual obligations to test the products of numerous companies, rarely sticking with a single shoe for more than a few games at a time. While the various models he tried out are too many to mention, he seemed fondest of Jordans, Air Forces and the original Reebok Question, leading many to conclude that the battle to sign him was down to Nike and Reebok.
Air Zoom Huarache 2K4 (Nike)
He eventually inked a contract with Nike, and, although the company refrained from giving him his own shoe due to The Colorado Incident, the Huarache 2K4 soon came to be associated with Kobe. His image may have suffered irreparable damage during the early days with Nike, but his feet were as comfortable as they had ever been, going to work every night in the super-light sneaker that made up for its awkward looks with excellent support and responsiveness.
Air Zoom Huarache 2K5 (Nike)
Within five minutes of hooping in the 2K5, I’d proclaimed it the best basketball shoe ever made. Two years later, I’m no closer to retracting that statement. Weighing in at a mere 14.4 ounces (in a size eleven U.S.), the 2K5 boasts Zoom Air units in the heel and forefoot, a wedge in the sole to prevent rolled ankles, and a full-length carbon fibre spring plate that makes you feel as if you’re walking on a trampoline. Throw in some top-notch traction and a bold design that’ll stand the test of time, and you have a classic sneaker.
Air Zoom Kobe I (Nike)
With the media pressure gradually lessening, a new member of the Uptempo line was announced: the Air Zoom Kobe I, Mamba’s first signature shoe with Nike. Sporting the stylised dagger emblem, the Zoom Kobe was the sneaker on his feet on January 22nd, 2006, the date on which the Raptors were the victims of the infamous eighty-one-point outburst.
Air Zoom Kobe II (Nike)
With a new number but the same dedication to the game, the Heir Apparent hit the ground running in his second signature shoe from Nike, the Air Zoom Kobe II. However, it seems as if the sneaker couldn’t keep up with him as KB24 took to the court rocking the Huarache 2K4 for a game against Seattle in late November and has been hooping in them ever since. Despite Kobe’s apparent lack of confidence in the shoe, Nike designed no fewer than three models of the ZKII: the original (top-left), the AZKII ST (top-right), the AZKII Lite (bottom-right and bottom-left) or "Finisher" as it is sometimes called.
Air Zoom Kobe III (Nike)
To paraphrase Dave Chappelle, “What can I say about that [sneaker] that hasn’t already been said about Afghanistan?” While Kobe’s next shoe is yet to be released, early images suggest that not only will it be the ugliest kick he’s ever worn, but the ugliest thing to hit the NBA hardwood since Sam Cassell last dived for a loose ball. Hopefully for the sake of Mr. Bryant and the millions who’ll have to see those monstrosities whenever he plays, Nike will rethink their ambitious, net-inspired design and hook Kobe up with something a little less likely to make me see my lunch twice.