In late 2013. Kobe Bryant made a return to the league for a handful of games before going down with a knee injury. Despite being sidelined, Nike and Kobe Bryant have pressed forward with his latest signature line, the Kobe 9. Inspired by those that inspire Kobe, the new sneaker is vastly different form what the sneaker community has become accustomed to from the future hall of famer. Gone is the low cut design, in its place, a high-cut sneaker flanked with Flyknit and packed with the Lunarlon technology that we are so used to. Here, Kobe Bryant talks the about seeing his sneakers retroed, his design inspirations, and working on the Kobe 10.
Interview by Jacques Slade (@kustoo)
The Prelude Pack was meant to highlight certain points in your career. Is there any expectation for more down the line?
Not necessarily. We’ve always been reluctant to do a retro series. The reason why it made sense for this was because of the story we are trying to tell. Everything leading up to the Masterpiece shoe. So, the stories are important to go back in history and document some of those moments just because it leads into this new story. We’ve always been reluctant with retro. We are always looking forward, innovating.
I'm not a designer. But, I do a pretty good job of framing up stories.
What personal contributions did you have with the Prelude Pack?
What I try to do is be responsible for the story and where we are going that year. What is the direction we want to go? This year it was the Masterpiece and there are some muses that are all involved with that. Things that have inspired me throughout my career. Even before that, when I was a kid, what I drew inspiration from. So when i sit down with Nike, I tell them, this is the story, and here are some of the muses and thing that have inspired me. Now it is your turn to turn that into a collection. I'm not a designer. But, I do a pretty good job of framing up stories.
Can you talk about your three favorites and why those are your favorites?
It’s tough to pick a favorite. They are all symbolic of big moments in my career. I think the one that really turned the most heads in the room was when I told them about the “Misery” shoe. My 2008 shoe. I said I wanted the shoe to look like, just misery. I don’t want it to be happy, I want it to be absolutely sad like a vintage sad Picasso painting because it was symbolic of the moment when we lost to the Celtics. I think that story is the one that turned the most heads.
Lets talk about the Kobe 9. Nick Young wore it in a game. Was that your decision?
I’ve always been pretty open about other guys wearing my shoe. I always looked at it as a sign that we are doing something right because the guys want to wear them. It not necessarily about you wearing my shoe. More so, if you are wearing it, we must be doing something right.
Under Nike Basketball, you have both Kevin Durant and LeBron. Is there any competition between you three?
No. I don’t think so. I think Nike does an incredible job of just listening to the voice of the athlete. The athlete really determines the direction of their brand and how their line goes. Because of that, we are all different in personality and philosophies. The direction is going to be completely different. I think because of that, you really don’t see any direct competition as it pertains to our lines. I support LeBron’s stuff. I support KD’s stuff. We are around, we always talk and share ideas and concepts around each collection.
You seem to prefer a Lunarlon and Zoom mix. What is it about that combination that works for you?
I feel like it gave me more flexibility. I felt like if I started with the Air, it restricted in terms of where I wanted to go. Because of the Zoom, I have the ability to play around more with the insoles and the general structure of the shoe. Also the aesthetic of the shoe. That is why I have been more of a zoom guy.
"Sometimes you may create something that is absolutely atrocious. But you can’t take it back, that is the ultimate art."
A big part of the story for the Kobe 9 are these art pieces. Can you talk a bit about the art of basketball and how you apply that to your signature line?
Because we’re creating, in all facets of life. I think that is the genesis of this concept. We are all creating in our own form or fashion. In basketball, certainly, is something where you are creating a live work of art. Sometimes you may create something that's a masterpiece, sometimes you may create something that is absolutely atrocious. But you can’t take it back, that is the ultimate art.
Do you enjoy the creation aspect?
I enjoy the creation aspect. The journey is always much more enjoyable. Like now, the 9 is complete and we’re focused on completing the 10.
Lets talk about the Kobe 10. Will it be as dramatic a change as we see from the Kobe 8 to 9?
We just continue to innovate. It always starts with the athlete. You always start with the question of, 'What can help me to be a better basketball player?' You start from that technological standpoint and then you work from their. I have the story already framed up, I know what it is going to be. I know what the aesthetic of the shoe is going to be. The technology in the shoe is going to be absolutely crazy. It’s going to be...
We're just continue to push it. That's what we do. Try to solve problems that athletes may encounter.
Are there any artist in particular that you are inspired by?
There are several artists. If you look at some of the muses I have drawn from for this particular project, you find Beethoven, you find Picasso, you find Michelangelo. Artists as well such as Michael Jackson, there are a lot of different areas that I have pulled from. It just goes on and on and on.
You mention Michael Jackson. Will we see a Michael Jackson Kobe 9?
You’ll see a muse, Masterpiece, MJ style. The important thing is that is is more of an homage to all these great minds that I have pulled inspiration from. It's getting toward the end of my career and I think it's important for the kids nowadays when they look at they way I play and the attention to detail, they understand where that comes from. And the only way to do that is to pay homage to muses that I’ve had in my life.
In an interview with Russ (Bengtson) you mentioned a Kobe 9 Low. Is there anything you can tell us?
Yeah. The low is obviously something I decided to do in 2009, which, turned a lot of heads. It was met with a lot of uncertainty. but since, it was really latched on to the culture. So that is an area of the business that we are not going to go away from. I’ll put it to you that way.
Final question, with all the shoes you've had with Nike, is there a particular shoe that stands out to you?
I think the first shoe that we designed together was the most special one. It was when I first signed with Nike and we did the 2K4. That one, coming off the inspiration of a great white shark and me using that as a muse. On that project, we had Eric Avar, Tinker Hatfield, and Mark Parker. All these minds in one room just jamming on ideas and concepts and the 2K4 was just a revolutionary shoe.