In 2002, Kobe Bryant would lead the Los Angeles to an unforgettable Championship win, clinching an illustrious three-peat victory for the Lakers. Kobe had well and truly secured his place in NBA history, but not everything was going so great for the Black Mamba. His most recent signature sneaker, The KOBE TWO, was a laughing stock — derided by collectors and players alike. Even Kobe himself wasn't a fan.
With his original six-year adidas contract coming to an end, Kobe elected not to extend his endorsement deal — reportedly paying $8 million to do so. What followed was a period of flux, before Kobe finally made himself at home with the Swoosh.
Read on for our breakdown of Kobe Bryant's most iconic sneaker moments from 2002 to 2008.
AIR JORDAN PLAYER EXCLUSIVES (2002)
Following his departure from adidas, Kobe took a break from endorsement deals to wash away the catastrophe that was The KOBE TWO and begin a period of ‘sneaker free-agency’. No longer contracted to wear any brand of kicks, Kobe wore everything from Air Force 1s to Converse Weapons to the oft-forgotten AND1 Game Time during the ’02-’03 season — all in Lakers colours of course!
Out of all the shoes worn during this transitional period, there are none more fondly remembered and fiendishly coveted than Kobe’s retro Air Jordan PEs. For his last game against Jordan at the Staples Center, Bryant donned a pair of white, purple and yellow Air Jordan 8s in tribute. The Air Jordan 3 and Air Jordan 7 also received the Lakers treatment and were (sadly) never publicly available. In celebration of All-Star Weekend 2016, JB unveiled an all-white set and all-black set of Air Jordans from the AJ1 to the AJXXX, with the 3s and 8s both hit with the OG Lakers pops. The black set was auctioned off for charity for a mind-blowing $240k and the white set given to Kobe himself.
AIR JORDAN 3 ‘TRUE BLUE’ (2003)
Speaking of the Air Jordan 3, one of Kobe’s most memorable wears in his free-agent season wasn’t a PE at all. For the 2003 All-Star Game, facing-off against the GOAT, Kobe laced up in a pair of off-the-shelf ‘True Blue’ Air Jordan 3s — a fitting tribute to honour the great man himself.
REEBOK QUESTION (2003)
Out of all the non-Nike-branded shoes Kobe wore due to his free-agency, one pair stands out above the rest. On January 7, 2003, the Lakers faced off against the Sonics (RIP!). Laced up in a pair of purple-toed Reebok Questions, Kobe caught fire, pocketing nine consecutive three-pointers. By the end of the game, Kobe would finish up 12 for 18, setting the NBA record for most threes in a single game — a record that even the Golden Child, Steph Curry, is yet to top. Packer Shoes paid homage to this momentous feat with the ‘For Player Use Only’ pack in 2013, which would finally give fans a chance to cop this record-setting pair.
Kobe’s love for the ‘Bok was strong, so much so that he toyed with the idea of signing with the brand. A prototype was presented to Kobe and a pitch created, nicknaming Bryant as ‘The Assassin’. Ultimately, Kobe chose to sign with Nike — and the rest is history — but his decision was not one based on Reebok’s designs. Instead, it purely came down to business, and Kobe had more confidence in Nike’s marketing and infrastructure.
NIKE ZOOM KOBE 1 (2006)
After officially signing with Nike in 2003, Kobe ran into some ‘legal complications’. Once the dust had settled, Kobe was back in 2005 with a new nickname, the Black Mamba, and his first signature shoe with the Swoosh — the Zoom Kobe 1. The ZK1 would see Kobe through one of the most successful seasons of his entire career. The Lakers didn’t take out the championship that year, knocked out by the Suns in the playoffs, but Kobe excelled, making it into the record books twice that season.
Kobe landed his first scoring title that season, with an average of 35.4 points per game, making him the fourth player in NBA history to break the 35-point milestone. The most memorable game of the season — and the one that may have helped to boost that average just a little — came on January 22, 2006, when the Lakers faced off against the Raptors at home. With white and purple ZK1s on feet, Kobe absolutely dominated the game, racking up an insane 81 points on his lonesome, a record that stands in NBA history as second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game.
NIKE ZOOM KOBE 2 (2006)
The Zoom Kobe 2 stands as an important shoe in Kobe history, but not for their role in any one particular game. The Zoom Kobe 2 marked the first sneaker where Kobe got truly involved in the design process with designer Eric Avar. Kobe’s pursuit for a lighter, faster and more versatile sneaker would see the Kobe line undergo massive change and innovation as the years progressed, producing some of the most game-changing designs on the market.
NIKE HYPERDUNK (2008)
Despite not being an official Kobe-branded shoe, the Hyperdunk will remain as one of the most significant in his footwear career. Worn by Bryant in his first Olympic games — which, naturally, saw Team USA scoop gold — the Hyperdunk proved itself as a powerhouse of performance, but it was the commercials and special releases that will forever be remembered. From the Back to the Future-themed McFly Hyperdunks that had Kobe rocking up to Undefeated in a DeLorean, to the bright orange ‘Snake Pool’ colourway named after Kobe’s stunt with the Jackass crew that saw him dunk over a pool filled with feisty serpents, the Hyperdunk was backed by some of the memorable releases of 2008.
However, there is no Hyperdunk moment more well-known in Kobe’s career than his infamous jump over an Aston Martin. Sure, it may have just been a bit of visual trickery, but we were all willing to believe Kobe had the skill to pull the stunt off for real. Nike commemorated the occasion with a one-off collaboration with Aston Martin that would treat both the Hyperdunk and Zoom Kobe 4 to some better-refined Euro automotive-styling.
Also be sure to check out Kobe Bryant's most iconic sneaker moments from 1997-2001.