Celebrating Kobe Bryant's 16 Most Iconic Sneaker Moments
This is it, after 20 years in the game, Kobe Bryant‘s NBA career is now over. One of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood, Kobe’s super stardom has made him a coveted icon in the sneaker world. Although best remembered for his long-standing relationship with Nike, the Swoosh wasn’t the only brand to make it on the Black Mamba’s feet. With everything from Reebok Questions to AND1 Game Times, we look back on the most iconic sneaker moments in Kobe’s career.
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 Bryant 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. It was at that 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 would kick 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 the Knicks guard Chris Childs late in the 2000 season. Kobe responded with fire in his eye, 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, 2000 would see adidas take 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 would draw inspiration from the streamlined design of the Audi TT Roadster, right down to the shoes 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 – 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 this Stars & 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 obnoxious celebration of Americana.
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. On the eve of Kobe’s retirement, Jordan Brand looks to finally be giving sneakerheads the chance to cop this fusion of the greats. 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, but in the weeks following we have heard rumours of an AJ3/8 pack hitting stores, with the likes of Marcus Jordan and DJ Khaled flaunting their pairs on social media. Fingers crossed.
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 7th, 2003, the Lakers faced off against the Sonics (RIP!). Laced up in a pair of purple-toed Reebok Questions, Kobe caught fire, pocketing 9 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, has 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 creating, 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 22nd, 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 saw Team USA scoop gold, naturally – 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.
NIKE ZOOM KOBE 4 (2009)
Often regarded as the best shoe in Kobe’s entire sneaker history, the Zoom Kobe 4 won praise for both its looks and performance. It will be forever regarded as a turning point for the Kobe line that would see it adopt a more diverse range of colourways outside the usual spectrum. Light and lower than any basketball shoe before it, a huge departure from the high-top Zoom Kobe 3, the ZK4 redefined the essential components of b-ball footwear. The ZK4 helped Kobe on his way to the Lakers fourth title and the team’s first championship ring since Shaq emptied his locker. Kobe scored 61 points against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden rocking a pair of yellow-laced blacked out ZK4s on February 2nd, 2009.
NIKE ZOOM KOBE 5 (2010)
The Zoom Kobe 5 managed to drop even more weight than its predecessor and ramp up the eccentric range of colourways. The ZK5 would prove to be Kobe’s last championship winning shoe, narrowly claiming victory over the Celtics 4-3. For the final game of the Finals, Kobe donned a gold-trimmed pair of pure white ZK5s for that extra bit of winner’s luck.
NIKE ZOOM KOBE 7 (2012)
For the 2012 London Olympic Games, Kobe would wear the Zoom Kobe 7 in patriotic red, white and blue. Team USA would continue their 2008 dominance once again, securing Kobe his second, and also last, Olympic gold medal.
NIKE ZOOM KOBE 8 (2013)
The Zoom Kobe 8 holds its place in Kobe footwear history out of infamy. On April 12, 2013, the Lakers would face off against the Warriors in an absolute nail-biter at the end of the regular season. With just 3:08 left on the clock and the Lakers down 109-107, Kobe took the ball and drove against Harrison Barnes at the top of the key. Suddenly, Kobe collapsed, clutching his left ankle in agony. The unstoppable had been stopped – his Achilles’ tendon was torn and the Black Mamba sidelined for months in recovery. The Lakers would go on to secure the win that night, 118-116, and make it into the playoffs, but with Kobe out of action, would be stopped by the Spurs with four consecutive loses.
NIKE ZOOM KOBE 9 ELITE (2014)
Returning to the game after his season-ending injury, Kobe would return to the league in a shoe unlike anything he had rocked on court before it. Preceded by the Prelude Pack, which would see the every model in the Zoom Kobe series before it retroed for the very time, the ZK9 would emerge as a super-high cut silhouette, to compensate for his 2013 injury – a drastic change from Kobe’s usual low profile sneaks. The Zoom Kobe 9 would also set a first in basketball footwear, as the first to incorporate lightweight Flyknit into its design.