Looking Back at Kobe Bryant's 2002-2003 Sneaker Free Agency
After kickstarting his career wearing the Three Stripes, Kobe Bryant later joined Team Swoosh to forge one of the most influential partnerships ever seen in performance basketball. The Black Mamba certainly left his mark on both franchises, headlining adidas’ ‘Feet You Wear’ lineup and quickly elevating himself to super stardom, before releasing a comprehensive signature lineup with Nike — reintroducing low-tops to the court with the Kobe 4 and 5.
His sneaker legacy is undeniable, but there was a time where Kobe’s feet had no allegiance. After reportedly paying $8 million to opt out of his adidas contract in 2002, the star guard was barred — due to contractual obligations — from signing with another brand until 2003. Thus began the famed 2002-03 season, which was arguably the most fascinating sneaker season of Kobe’s entire career.
Free to wear whatever he wanted, Kobe hit the court in a wide range of heat — and it wasn’t all Swooshed or Three-Striped either. Here’s a look back at some of the most memorable on-foot moments of that significant, yet often overlooked, stanza in sneaker folklore.
Air Jordan 3 PE
Nike Air Force 1 Mid
Converse Weapon 'Lakers'
Nike Air Flight Huarache PE
Footwear free agency meant Kobe was able to dig back into the archives to rock some classic hardcourt silhouettes. Matching Lakers-themed highlights against clean white uppers, the vintage on-court steez also brought out plenty of vintage performances, with Kobe averaging over 30 PPG.
This season also gave birth to his Air Jordan 3 PE — widely considered the ultimate KB grail. A pair sold at auction last year for $30,400 USD, so you'd probably need a Kobe-sized wallet to even consider copping.
Reebok Question PE 'Yellow Toe'
Reebok Question PE
Reebok Question PE 'Purple Toe'
Reebok Answer IV 'Purple'
Kobe laced up Reeboks so many times during season 2002-03 that they could've called him the 'Bok Mamba'. In fact, he wore the brand more than any other during the season.
Reebok were so keen to secure Kobe's signature they rolled out the PE colourways at his request, with purple and yellow accented versions of Allen Iverson's Question and Answer IV models hitting the court most often.
AND1 Desire Mid
AND1 Game Time
There was a time where AND1's influence on the streetball court extended to the NBA hardwood, so much so that Kobe tested out the Game Time and Desire Mid models in a few games. Who knows what heights the brand could've reached if they'd managed to secure Kobe's signature? Perhaps we'd remember them for more than just the mixtapes.
Air Jordan 11 'Concord'
Air Jordan 12 'French Blue'
Air Jordan 7 'Away' PE
Air Jordan 8 'Lakers' PE
MJ has been quoted as saying he'd struggle against Kobe one-on-one — the ultimate compliment from the GOAT himself. The two share similar attributes: legendary mid-range prowess, spin-moves, fall-away jumpers, pump fakes and slick footwork just to name a few. However, they also shared the same footwear on numerous occasions during 02-03.
Aside from the aforementioned Air Jordan 3 PE, an array of Jumpman joints found their way into Kobe's rotation, including the AJ 6, 7, 8, 11, 17, and 17+.