Written by Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson)
Kobe Bryant was born in 1978 in Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter his family moved to Italy, so his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, could continue his professional basketball career. By the time the Bryants returned to the States in the early ‘90s, Kobe was not only rounding into an elite prospect, but he already had a perspective on the world that most players wouldn’t gain until they made an Olympic team—if ever.
Some things were the same, though. Kobe watched tape of NBA stars like Magic and Bird (and presumably dad’s ex-teammate Julius Erving), and wore the same overbuilt hightops as everyone else. So after a string of soccer-inspired, low-cut signature sneakers, it should have come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Kobe was the one to re-introduce the super-high hightop to Nike Basketball. Well, not to anyone else born in the ‘70s or early ‘80s anyway. But to millennials long used to low- or mid-cut performance basketball sneakers, this was a whole new world.
The thing about Kobe’s Nike signatures, at least since the IV, is that they’ve been so easy to wear both on- and off-court. Despite the soccer pedigree, they were essentially running shoes, something to leave unlaced by the door and simply slip on in the morning. But the 9s, well, that’s a whole other story. To lace up, or to not lace up? Pull the jeans down or tonguefuck (word to Jim Jones) the hell out of them?
The short answer is “do whatever you want.” Popped tongues were the move in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and would work equally well with jeans or joggers. And the Kobe 9, as high as they are, still aren’t nearly as bulky as the big-time late ‘80s, early ‘90s drops—Reebok Pumps, Nike Air Force Vs, Reebok 4600s. They might not even be as high as some of the sneakers Dr. J broke out late in his career, not that anyone actually wore those off-court.
One thing that the retro explosion has done is eclipse what used to be the go-to sneaker move, which was flaunting high-end performance basketball sneakers casually. No one in the late ‘80s would have thought twice about wearing Kobe 9s to school or to the mall or on the block. They would have pinrolled their acid-wash Levi’s or Bugle Boy khakis to mid-calf, strapped on some Swatches and swaggered all day long. There’s no reason not to do pretty much the same thing today. Only the brand names change.
For those asking how to pull them off with shorts, well, that’s a whole ‘nother question. We all can’t be Swaggy P.