Nike and Kobe Bryant: The Shoes and Moments That Defined the Deal

If the Kobe Bryant Nike deal is history after his contract expired last week, it is a rich history. Here's a look at his biggest sneaker moments with Nike.

Nike Kobe Sneaker History
Complex Original


Nike Kobe Sneaker History

The future of the Nike Kobe line, one of the longest-running and most important signature sneaker series, is uncertain. The last deal in place between the late Kobe Bryant and Nike expired on April 13, 2021, and his estate has opted not to sign a new contract for now. Nike confirmed to Complex via a statement this week that the deal was over, with Bryant’s wife Vanessa adding a comment of her own on the status of her husband’s endorsement deal via Instagram. There’s the possibility the parties reach an agreement, but a failure to do so would mark the conclusion of Bryant’s long partnership with Nike that began in 2003. Bryant, or rather his estate, is essentially a free agent now.

If the Nike Kobe line becomes history, it will be a rich one. Since their first union, Kobe and Nike have produced industry-shifting sneakers and emotional ad campaigns. Collaborators of the late Lakers icon at Nike often described him as more connected than any other player to the actual development and design of his sneakers. The passion was evident in the final product, which captured the full spectrum of Kobe, from his mighty accomplishments on the basketball court to his passions beyond it. In this stage of uncertainty around what Kobe Bryant’s posthumous sneaker output will look like next, we’ve reflected on the sneaker moments that defined his time with Nike.

Kobe Scores 81 Points in His First Nike Sig Shoe (2006)

View this video on YouTube

The Nike Kobe line has enjoyed a good amount of crossover into casual wear, like all great sneaker lines, but it’s important to remember that it was designed as performance product first. And what cements great performance footwear in public memory is not the hours of testing that go into development, or even the athlete insights that inform the design, but the heroics athletes perform in them in full view of their fans. Kobe was a man capable of seemingly endless heroics. One of the earliest real sneaker moments in his long partnership with Nike came on Jan. 22, 2006, when he torched the Toronto Raptors with 81 points to lead the Lakers to a 122-104 victory. Kobe did so wearing the Zoom Kobe 1, his first signature shoe with Nike that arrived after his regular wear of non-sig models like the Huarache 2K4. The game was as good an advertisement for the shoes as anything an ad agency could have come up with, suggesting that they gave the wearer some superhuman capability. The white, black, and purple pair of Kobe 1s is maybe the most important colorway of his first signature model, and one released to the public for the first time ever in January 2019 as a retro with updated “protro” tech. — Brendan Dunne

Kobe and His Nikes Leap Over an Aston Martin (2008)

View this video on YouTube

“Do not try what I’m about to attempt right now,” Kobe warns at the start of the video, Nike Hyperdunks in hand. From there, he ignores the pleading of teammate Ronny Turiaf, lacing up his shoes while ensuring that he’ll be just fine. A few seconds later, a speeding Aston Martin drives straight toward Kobe, who times a high jump perfectly to miss it, floating over the car and creating one of the first viral marketing videos online. It was a stunt of course—the Lakers star and Nike pitchman did not risk his life for the sake of a commercial—but that did not slow its spread. The brand leaned into the connection, creating a special two-pack of Aston Martin-style shoes (one Kobe 5 and one Hyperdunk) that released in 2010. The shoes linked to the video have long been some of the most coveted Nike Kobes, these days fetching thousands of dollars on the secondary market. That limited edition pack aside, the Aston Martin video certainly helped Nike sell a decent amount of inline Hyperdunks. Just don’t expect them to help you leap over a speeding luxury vehicle. — Brendan Dunne

Kobe Takes Nike Back to the Future (2008)

Kobe Bryant Delorean

Kobe Brings Hyperdunks to the World Stage (2008)

Kobe Bryant 2008 Beijing Olympics Hyperdunk

Kobe Pushes Nike to Go Low (2008)

nike zoom kobe 4 protro carpe diem av6339 001 pair

Nike Makes Kobe a Puppet, Literally (2010)

View this video on YouTube

Sports have long been filled with mascots. Often these take the form of animals, Spartans, or mythical creatures. But what about mascots for sneakers? Penny Hardaway had Lil Penny to help push his footwear line, but Kobe Bryant and LeBron James received a somewhat different approach from Nike: They became the mascots and puppets themselves. In a series of ads that ran starting in 2010 with the launch of the Kobe 5, James and Kobe turned into the MVPuppets who would take part in hilarious skits that pitted the two stars against each other. Most notably, the launch commercial had Kobe’s sneaker catch on fire and burn down a sneaker store because it was so “hot.” As a Foot Locker employee at the time myself, I can vouch that this drove in a ton of customers who wanted to see the shoe after the lackluster Kobe 2s and 3s. Although I do remember a lot of people being disappointed with how the sneaker looked in real life vs. the commercial, it converted a lot of people into Kobe Nike faithfuls. — Matt Welty

'Grinch' Nike Kobe 6s Steal Christmas (2010)

Nike Kobe 6 Protro 'Grinch' CW2190 300 Pair

Kobe and Kanye West Explain the Kobe System (2012)

View this video on YouTube

An argument can certainly be made that Kobe’s “Kobe System” Nike commercials are one of the best series of ads that the Swoosh has ever put together. Kobe stars in seven different videos taking you through seven different levels of the Kobe System to try and make you more like the Mamba and reach new levels of success. Of course, the standout from the series is the sixth spot that co-stars the one and only Kanye West, a fellow Nike endorser at the time the commercial aired. In the 32-second ad, West attends the mock symposium asking Kobe “How much more do you want from me?” to which Kobe simply responds, “More.” Inarguably West and Kobe were at the top of their respective crafts at the time (and will always be considered all-time greats as well), so the banter featured in this installment of the series is nothing short of perfect. Not to mention, we are left with one of the most recitable lines in commercials at the very end, when West says, “What the fuck does that mean, Kobe Bryant?” — Ben Felderstein

Nike Kobes Embrace New Sneaker Tech (2013—Present)

Nike Kobe 9 Sketch

Kobe Bryant's 60-Point Last Game Sneakers (2016)

View this video on YouTube

Kobe closed out his NBA career in the most fitting way possible, scoring 60 points during his final game on April 13, 2016. It almost felt scripted, although even that is apropos for a man who spent his career hooping in the shadows of Hollywood. Nike made sure it was ready for the moment, building up to it over the course of his retirement tour with a “Black Mamba” collection of Kobe retros that served as a retrospective on his years in the league. The pack, which began with a white Kobe 1 and released successive shoes in darker shades, found its natural end in a Nike Kobe 11 dressed in black and gold that Kobe wore for that last performance. The shoes released on the same day of the game, the date of which is stamped in gold on a strip running down the heel. It was a rare sneaker on multiple levels. ESPN’s Darren Rovell said at the time that only 2,000 pairs were made. Beyond the physical scarcity, few shoes are immediately so important, so clearly the marker of an era and its end. — Brendan Dunne