Was he the best to ever do it? Or will his sneakers and gameplay always be second fiddle to Jordan?
This past year we saw Kobe finish up his retirement tour. It was obvious that we may not witness another Kobe Bryant again. He was arguably one of the greatest players of all time with many unforgettable moments over his 19 year career. He had been a champion, an MVP, and an Olympic gold medalist amongst many other things. He is also considered the best in his position after His Airness. But we aren’t here to speak on Kobe’s prowess on the court, but actually his sneaker history and where his signature sits amongst the greats.
Before he was the Mamba, Kobe was a 17 year old rookie going through a bit of growing pains as he adjusted to the NBA. He was touted to be the face of Lakers going forward along with NJ Legend Shaq. They were seen to be as one of the greatest duos of all time. He was also set to be the face of Adidas basketball at that point in time. Kobe was given the Elevation EQT as his first signature shoe. It was a solid silhouette, clearly inspired by the times, with its best rendition being sported by Bryant during his 1997 dunk contest performance. Kobe’s second signature shoe with Adidas was arguably his greatest. Initially called the KB8, later known as the “Crazy 8” was the only Adidas Kobe to consistently release after its initial release in the late 90s. The KB8 II & III were forgettable amongst many of the shoes of that era, having much less attractive designs than its two predecessors.
This lead to the 2000 “The Kobe” inspired by the Audi TT Roadster. A much better successor which has released as a retro recently in solid colorways. 2001 was a second championship season for Bryant, but was also the year of arguably his worst shoe release and his final shoe with Adidas. The infamous Adidas Kobe Two lost all of the sleekness of the One and was an unattractive bulky shoe that Kobe himself couldn’t even play in. After he left Adidas the Mamba sported some dope Jordan and Nike PE’s on court as a sneaker free agent. He would later ink a deal with Nike and dawn the Nike 2K4 and 2K5 before receiving his first signature shoe with the brand. The Nike Kobe I-III and Hyperdunk were all mids and showed much similarity in style and performance to the 2K4 and 2K5. It wasn’t until The Kobe IV that Bryant would find his niche, as well as change the complexion of basketball sneakers going forward. The IV introduced the first low model in his signature line and the beginning of Bryant releasing many themed colorways which was a common reoccurrence going forward. The IV-VIII would all be lows, with an array of releases and these, that would solidified him as a sneaker great. The IX was the first high he would ever wear, due to greater support after a major Achilles injury. The shoe was an instant sell out amongst its initial color way run. The X would release as a low again but also offering a high alternative as an elite option.
Now that we have the historical information generally ran down we can get into specifics. Where do his shoes sit amongst other signatures? For time purposes we will stick to the lines that had 5 or sneakers with major impact. The elites in this category would be Jordan, Lebron, KD, Kobe, Andre Agassi, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley, Penny Hardaway, Scottie Pippen, Shaq, Shawn Kemp, and the only non athlete – Kanye. This is mainly because more than one of their signatures have easily withstood the test of time, and have been sought after since their debuts. With that said Kobe’s are towards the upper end of the signatures. Benefitting from current hype, Nike’s obsession with theme releases, as well as Bryant’s consistent success , lead to the creation of models for specific occasions. We will all agree that number one is MJ (though my personal favorite signature is Agassi’s). Kobe isn’t actually after Jordan in this case. The second best line is Lebron, possibly due to the overall variety in shoes as well as initial and innovative colorways, variety in shoe design and technology, as well as having a Nike signature before Kobe. He also set those ground roots earlier. Kobe is third but with an asterisk. If we were to speak off of the models themselves, just as it applies to design, there are better shoes. But when you start to talk about the colorways, inspirations, rarity, themes, etc the Kobe signature moves its way up. To boot his prelude pack is arguably the best pack to release. The only two packs that immediately come to mind that are better is the Legend of Summer pack, and the Pantone 284 collection. These things give the Mamba an extra boost with his line, they make them a bit more prestigious and impactful.
So with his last game behind us and his era ended, as mentioned before there may never be another Kobe. I doubt we see another on the court or from a shoe standpoint either. So whether you love him or hate him you must admire and respect his impact in both areas. I know my collection does with somewhere over 20 pairs of Kobes.