The passing of global basketball icon Kobe Bryant this year cast a long shadow on the sneaker industry. Resellers questioned the morals of cashing in on inflated prices around his shoes, Nike pushed back product from his line, and Reebok made a last-minute stop to a colorway tied to his footwear free agency during the early 2000s.
That retro of that Reebok shoe—a white, yellow, and purple pair the Los Angeles Laker once wore—was designed well before his death and originally planned for release at this year's NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago. Reebok has since canceled the launch.
"It was originally slated to launch earlier this year, but we pulled it from [direct-to-consumer] and wholesalers in light of Kobe's death," a Reebok employee tells Complex. The sneaker is a version of the Reebok Question, Allen Iverson's first signature model, that's floated around the internet for months.
While Bryant, who died in a tragic helicopter crash in California in January, was a Nike athlete for most of his career, he did have history in Reeboks. When he was between sneaker deals during the 2002-03 NBA season, he switched between brands regularly, spending some of those games in player-exclusive Reeboks. Among them was his pair of Questions in home Lakers colors.
Iverson himself posed next to the sneaker in September 2019, hinting at the coming retro. Freelance sneaker designer Frank Cooke, who helped bring the player exclusive back, posted his pair to Instagram in February 2020 after Bryant's death. The shoe showed up again on Wednesday, when Brian Nadav, founder and creative director at Philadelphia sneaker boutique Lapstone & Hammer, uploaded shots of his personal pair to social media.
"Initially I was trying to get the early launch on these playing into the Kobe from Philly story," says Nadav. The plan never came to fruition—Reebok ended up working with California-based footwear chain Shoe Palace on the product instead. And while even that launch was nixed after Bryant's passing, Nadav managed to secure a pair from Iverson's inner circle.
Cooke, the designer who helped Reebok and Shoe Palace with the plan to bring the old Bryant exclusives back to the market, is hopeful the product will one day release. But the timing in February for All-Star just wasn't right, especially given the potential for misunderstanding around production timelines.
"I just want people to know that it definitely wasn't a cash-in," he says, explaining that plans to retro the shoe that Bryant wore began around a year before his death. This was not, Cooke underlines, an effort to make a product around his passing, but rather an attempt to honor his unique sneaker legacy while he was still alive.
Nadav's Instagram posts reveal the extent to which the retro evoked that legacy. It comes in a shoe box disguised as a nondescript package of brown cardboard, with the address to the Lakers practice facility printed on and details pointing to its original status as a promo-only shoe. That spin on the sneaker, which was tied to Bryant but not endorsed by him, is reminiscent of a similar tribute released by New Jersey shop Packer Shoes in 2013. As with other models connected to Bryant, the Packer pair has shot up in value on the secondary market since his death.
It's possible that the unreleased retro of the Lakers-themed Reebok Questions first made for Kobe Bryant almost 20 years ago will enjoy a similar aftermarket price should pairs ever find their way to resale platforms. That was never the point, though.
"Nobody knew this tragedy was coming," Cooke says, "but we wanted to tell that Kobe story because he's a legend."