For more than a decade, Kobe Bryant has been one of Nike's most prolific signature athletes. But the Black Mamba didn't always rep the Swoosh. At the start of his NBA career, Kobe devoted himself to the Three Stripes, donning a selection of memorable adidas models en route to the Lakers' 2000-2002 three-peat — as well as a few we wish we could forget!
Read on for our breakdown of Kobe Bryant's most iconic sneaker moments from 1997 to 2001.
ADIDAS EQT ELEVATION (1997)
Fresh out of high school, a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant is assigned to the Lakers care of some shady backdoor dealings in the ’96 NBA draft (shout outs to the Hornets!). The senior MVP from adidas’ 1995 ABCD camp, the Three Stripes saw Bryant’s star-potential and were quick to sign him to a six-year endorsement deal worth a staggering USD $48 million before the season even began. Kobe wouldn’t see a signature sneak in his rookie year, instead adopting the EQT Elevation as his kick of choice.
As the youngest player in the league, Bryant was fighting for court-time in his first year, but once the ’97 Slam Dunk Contest rolled around, Kobe’s profile received a nitrous shot of superstardom, edging out Ray Allen to claim top spot with a double-pump two-handed reverse and through-the-legs slamdunk. On his feet? The EQT Elevation in regal Lakers’ purple. At that very moment adidas knew their investment was about to pay off in a big way.
ADIDAS KB8 (1998)
Off the back of his rookie year, Kobe kicked off the ‘97-‘98 NBA Season with his first true signature shoe: the KB8. Part of the Feet You Wear line-up, like the EQT Elevation before it, the KB8 was one of the lightest basketball shoes at the time — a still-respectable 12 ounces! The KB8 is notable as being the model worn by Kobe in his very first All-Star Game, pitting the best of the West against the unstoppable might of ’98 Michael Jordan. It was an un-winnable battle of David versus Goliath, but Bryant managed to come away as the West’s lead scorer. This first instalment in one of the longest-running signature sneaker careers of all-time, the KB8 would later be rebranded as the Crazy 8 for subsequent retro releases once Kobe jumped ship.
ADIDAS KB8 III (2000)
Taking the bulbous midsole of the OG KB8 to the extreme, the KB8 III would be the last Kobe model to be part of the Feet You Wear campaign, following a fallout between adidas and the support system’s creator Frampton Ellis. The KB8 III is notoriously remembered as the pair on Bryant’s feet when he copped a mean right hook from Knicks guard Chris Childs late in the 2000 season. Kobe responded with fire in his eyes, requiring two refs to restrain the 6’6” Bryant from unleashing an onslaught of his own. The KB8 IIIs were Kobe’s go-to kicks in the ’99-’00 NBA season, though were dropped in favour of Bryant’s next signature model, The KOBE, by the time the ’00 playoffs rolled around.
ADIDAS THE KOBE (2000)
With Feet You Wear laid to rest, in 2000 adidas took a wild departure from the aesthetics of the KB8 line for Kobe’s next signature shoe. Collaborating with none other than car manufacturer Audi, The KOBE drew inspiration from the streamlined design of the Audi TT Roadster, right down to the shoe’s front ‘grill’. The KOBE was the pair worn by Kobe when he snagged his first championship ring, but not before Jalen Rose attempted to dethrone King Kobe by stepping under Bryant’s feet mid-jumper in Game Two of the Finals.
ADIDAS THE KOBE TWO (2001)
2001 marked the final year of Kobe’s six-year contract with the Three Stripes. Returning to the design of The KOBE, its successor, The KOBE TWO, took the automobile aesthetics to the next level, with a lower profile, stripe-less upper and a look that was more akin to a moon boot than anything that had ever set foot on the hardwood before it — a likeness made worse by its trademark metallic grey colourway. The public response was harsh, but it wasn’t just the public opinion that adidas had to worry about, as Kobe himself didn’t even like the shoe!
His dislike for the shoe was so great that he elected to wear The KOBE from the previous season by the time Finals came around, snagging his third ring in the process. Needless to say, Kobe didn’t renew his contract with adidas following this certified shoe disaster, and the HUG-System-based KOBE THREE was quickly scrapped (but not before a few samples could slip out!). We have to give Kobe props on his Stars and Stripes colourway made only for Kobe (as well as a still-in-high-school LeBron James), which served as a tribute to the victims of 9/11 through an obvious celebration of Americana.
Also be sure to check out Kobe Bryant's most iconic sneaker moments from 2002-2008.