Kobe Bryant passed away suddenly on January 26, 2020. No one expected this. After 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe was firmly esconced in American popular culture. Now, we all know that I’m about footwear, not sports. But even I knew about those Lakers teams featuring Shaq and Kobe. I remember when Kobe took Brandy to prom, because I was a teen back then, too, if just a little younger than they are. Kobe’s passing has been a jolt in a big way. A reminder of my own mortality, and even more terribly sad because of the news that his daughter Gigi passed, too.
As a towering figure in popular culture, Kobe had his ups and his downs with the press. In this column today, I’d like to celebrate the Black Mamba. Kobe wasn’t just a great athlete, he was a big force in the world of athletic footwear, too. Let’s take a look at some of Kobe’s shoes over the years today, including the vintage ones and some that are still very current.
Kobe had signature shoes with more than one brand over the year. When he signed that first endorsement deal with Adidas, he was only a teenager. He hadn’t even been drafted yet. Adidas did some very interesting things with Kobe’s signature shoes. However, after the bulbous, almost moon-boot looking Kobe 2 dropped, Kobe himself had had enough. He defected to Nike in 2003 and never looked back. Now, for my part, I got a kick out of the Kobe 2. But I understand why an athlete might side-eye a shoe this unusual. If you clicked and saw that picture with no name attached, it could just as easily be from a Lady Gaga or Katy Perry project. It doesn’t look like a functional basketball shoe in the same way his later Nike signature shoes did.
Now, the other thing we need to talk about is the fact that Kobe went some time without a contract. Not on the court, but in terms of his sneakers. There was a time when Kobe was playing in Reeboks, even though he wasn’t signed with the brand. Reebok tried hard to land him as a representative for the brand, but it just didn’t work out. During his Reebok phase he wore shoes including the Answer. I have to say, I love that grey swooshy stripe on the Answer. It may not be my favorite color, but it just seems to signal movement in a way that something like the Kobe 2 just didn’t. The Kobe 2 looks almost like a cloud or a weather balloon. It’s like a big, soft marshmallow. Basketball players don’t want to be soft and fluffy. They want to fly. That Reebok Answer has the same kind of dynamism built in as the player who was wearing it.
Over the years, Kobe’s shoes could be very adventurous or very sedate and wearable. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Kobe 8+ All Star Area 72. This shoe truly looks like it came from another planet. Or maybe it survived a Chernobyl-type disaster. That colorway is wild and I love it. For me, a shoe like this transcends simple footwear and ends up in the art world. If the Kobe 2 was an out of this world, Gaga-esque shoe, this is something more wearable but still very fun. It shows a ton of personality, and still resonates with sneakerheads. This shoe is still a big hit on eBay and other resale sites.
Finally, let’s take a look at some of Kobe’s most recent signature shoes that are still on sale. Bryant famously gave himself the nickname “Black Mamba” after seeing the Kill Bill movies. He was, indeed, a deadly offensive weapon. His Mamba shoes include the Mamba Focus. I love the low-set swish on this. It’s kind of off-center and it really draws your eye. There’s something sleek and deceptively simple about this. When you contrast this with the chunkier shoes from early in Bryant’s career, you get a sense of design evolution in general. Whereas the 90s and early aughts were all about being big and flashy, this shoe is more mature and sedate. It still performs, but it looks more in line with mainstream, non-athletic shoes. There are probably plenty of creative professionals who wear this shoe to the office with their skinny jeans.
Finally, I love the Kobe V Protro. This is a great-looking shoe, and you can tell that it’s a basketball shoe. Once again, I love the adventurous colorways. The contrast between the bold safety yellow and the maroon laces is very striking. I also have plenty of time for that unique tread pattern on the sole. That’s what is truly the takeaway for me when I see all the Kobe signature shoes. These are all unique and striking. They’re originals, just like the man they were named for. Thank you for everything, Kobe, and blessings to Vanessa and your surviving daughters. You will be very much missed, and 41 is too young.
Are you a fan of Kolbe’s signature shoes? Which are your favorite? Share with us in the comments below, and as always let’s keep it civil and positive, friends.