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It’s been two years since Kobe Bryant played his last game, not before putting up 60 points on the Utah Jazz. And despite the fact his jersey is now hanging in the Staples Center’s rafters that hasn’t slowed down the future Hall of Famer or his love for sneakers.
Nike’s Kobe line, which really took off after the introduction of his fourth signature shoe, continues to churn out new releases. Last season saw the Kobe AD, a rebirth of sorts of the collection, and this year the second version of the shoe, the AD NXT 360, drops. If you know anything about Bryant, you know that he takes his sneakers—or anything that has his name on it—very seriously.
“Retired or not, wearing sneakers is a part of who I am,” Bryant says in an email interview with Complex. “I’ve literally been in them my whole life. Just because I’m not in a uniform every day doesn’t mean I’m not immersed in my product design and staying on top of innovation ideas. Not playing every day gives me even more time to dedicate to it.”
Part of the success of Bryant’s signature sneakers hasn’t just been their on-court performance, although they are the most popular low-cut shoe in the NBA, even with Bryant being retired. But the low-profile of the sneaker, and the influence from football boots and running sneakers you can see in it, has made it extremely popular as a lifestyle shoe. They’re easy to wear with jeans, comfortable, and not bulky. Not many other basketball styles can say that. That’s not what Kobe intends when he’s creating sneakers with Nike designer Eric Avar, though.
“We build every Kobe shoe with innovation and performance at the pinnacle of design importance. The design team knows that everything going into a Kobe shoe has to push the envelope in innovation,” Bryant says. “If it doesn’t, we won’t pursue it. I believe that mentality drives the consumer demand for Kobe product. People know what they’re putting on their feet is high quality. Whether they’re wearing them on or off the court is completely up to them.”
But he recognizes that people are going to be drawn to the shoe’s low-cut design. “We build every Kobe shoe for performance first,” he says. “However, I’m drawn to very simple, low-profile designs which is why I think my shoes carry over to being popular off the court.”
Kobe’s sneakers have seen a renaissance this year, too, thanks to Nike retroing the Zoom Kobe 1, and adding new technology that’s referred to as “Protro.”
This was followed by collaborations with Los Angeles’ Undefeated on three versions for All-Star Weekend that were worn by DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The legacy of Kobe Bryant is being carried on not by the memory of his five championships—although that helps—but by new players in the league and energy collaborations.
“All three [of those] players have been tied to Kobe in someway,” says Undefeated co-founder Eddie Cruz. “They all have that Mamba Mentality.”
Working with Kobe is huge for Undefeated, too. And that’s not lost on the brand. “It felt natural. It was great to work with Kobe and Nike again, creating another big moment for all involved, especially during ASW in L.A.,” Cruz says.
It may be Mamba Day and everyone is going to celebrate what Kobe “Bean” Bryant did in his career, but it’s also a day that shows he’s just as much involved in today’s NBA, at least from a footwear perspective, as he was in his playing days.