Written by Peter Walsh (@Peter_M_Walsh)
Over the past 17 NBA seasons, Kobe Bryant has been at the center of the basketball world. Exploding onto the scene as a teenage rookie in 1996, Kobe has put together a career that includes five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP Awards, 15 All-NBA selections, one regular-season MVP, two NBA scoring titles, 12 NBA All-Defensive Team selections, and 16 All-Star Game selections. He is the Lakers all-time scoring leader, owns two Olympic gold medals, and is at least in the discussion as the greatest shooting guard to ever play the game of basketball.
Along with his accomplishments on court, Kobe has one of the greatest sneaker histories of all time. After becoming the face of adidas’ amazing ‘Feet You Wear’ campaign, Kobe left the Three Stripes for Nike where he teamed up with Eric Avar to design and wear some of the most innovative and forward-thinking sneakers Nike has ever produced. In the process, Kobe became a marketing machine, becoming one of the most recognizable faces in the sporting world.
Despite an injury-plagued 17th NBA season, Kobe is still at the top of the sneaker world due to the buzz of the Kobe 9 Elite, which released today. In anticipation of what Kobe may do in his ninth Nike signature (and 11th signature shoe overall), here is A History of the Sneakers Worn During Kobe Bryant's Best Performances.
adidas EQT Elevation
Top Performance: 1997 Dunk Contest
Sneaker: adidas EQT Elevation
Before he even stepped foot on an NBA court, adidas inked Kobe to a huge six-year, $48 million deal that made the teenager the face of adidas' 'Feet You Wear' campaign. Bryant burst onto the scene during the '97 Slam Dunk Contest, which he won with senior year prom date and R&B star Brandy cheering for him on from the crowd. Without a signature sneaker, Kobe put the adidas EQT Elevation in the spotlight during All-Star Weekend when he rocked a loud, Laker-inspired purple and gold pair during his first breakout performance. The EQT Elevation has recently been re-branded as the 'Crazy 97', as adidas has been re-releasing sneakers from Kobe's time with the brand.
Top Performance: December 17, 1997 loss vs. Bulls: 33 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists
Sneaker: adidas KB8
Kobe’s first-ever signature sneaker was arguably one of the greatest basketball shoes adidas has ever produced. The KB8 weighed in at an incredibly light 12 ounces, which was perfect for Kobe’s acrobatic style of play. With Bryant on the fast track to superstardom and already a fan favorite thanks to his dunk contest victory, the KB8 (recently rebranded as the ‘Crazy 8’) was a hit and helped adidas solidify its place in the basketball sneaker market. Adidas did a tremendous job of marketing the sneaker and Kobe proved to be a more than capable spokesman for the brand. As part of the ‘Feet You Wear’ line, the KB8 still reigns as a popular choice both on and off the court amongst NBA players.
adidas KB8 ii
Top Performance: March 21, 1999 win vs. Magic: 38 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Sneaker: KB8 II
Kobe's breakout season was a short one due to the 1998 lockout, but that didn't stop adidas from lacing the emerging star with another signature sneaker. The KB8 II was, once again, part of adidas' 'Feet You Wear' campaign and featured high-end ankle support and foot stability—perfect for Kobe's explosive style of play. Bryant's best game of his career to date came against Penny Hardaway and the Orlando Magic as Kobe got the best of Penny with a 38-point performance and the win. While Kobe's most recent sneakers with Nike have been low cut and inspired by soccer cleats, adidas outfitted a young Mamba with high-tops that provided a tighter fit and more support.
adidas The KOBE
Top Performance: Game 6 of the NBA Finals vs Pacers June 19, 2000: 26 pts, 10 rebs, 4 ast
Sneaker: adidas The KOBE
Inspired by Kobe's Audi TT Roadster, The KOBE (recently rebranded as the adidas 'Crazy 1') was a game-changing adidas basketball shoe. With Kobe Bryant rising the NBA ranks and the Lakers riding high as the top team in the NBA, The Three Stripes pounced on the opportunity to release a cutting edge signature sneaker for its top hoops spokesman. The Kobe I featured a sleek, clean look that was unlike any of Kobe's previous signature looks. The shoe broke new ground in the sneaker world as adidas teamed up with Audi to design the now famous look. The KOBE also marked the first time one of Bryant's signature looks was released in several different colorways, most notably in yellow. Kobe also donned the sneaker during his first NBA Championship victory over the Indiana Pacers in 2000. Kobe also occasionally wore the adidas KB8 III sneakers in '99, which were the last sneaker in the 'Feet You Wear' line.
adidas The KOBE
Top Performance: May 13, 2001 Western Conference Semifinals Game 4 win vs Kings: 48 min, 48 points (15-29), 16 rebs, 3 assists
Sneaker: adidas The Kobe
Instead of designing and releasing a new signature sneaker to start the following season, adidas and Bryant chose to ride out the success of The KOBE. During that season, the Lakers defeated the Sixers in five games for their second straight NBA title. The Lakers went 15-1 in the 2001 NBA Playoffs, Kobe went to the All-Star game and was named to the All-NBA Second Team and All-NBA Defensive Team.
adidas The KOBETWO
Top Performance: January 14, 2002 win vs. Memphis: 34 mins, 56 points (21-34), 5 rebs, 4 assists
Sneaker: adidas The KOBETWO
During what would turn out to be Kobe's final year under contract with adidas, the brand made the fatal flaw of releasing one of the worst-received signature sneakers of all time. In an attempt to take the cutting edge KOBE to the next level, adidas (and Audi once again) released a sequel to the KOBE that took on the same basic shape but covered the laces with another panel. Despite a bevy of awesome commercials and ads, the sneaker was a flop. During the 2002 Finals against the Nets, Kobe ditched the KOBETWO in favor of the original KOBE and shortly thereafter left adidas to become a sneaker free agent.
Air Jordan VIII PE
Top Performance: March 28, 2003 win vs. Michael Jordan and Wizards: 41 mins, 55 points (15-29), 5 rebounds
Sneaker: Air Jordan VIII PE
Kobe's top statistical year to date was also his most fun sneaker season. In the year between leaving adidas and signing with Nike, Kobe wore everything from Converse Weapons to Reebok Questions to exclusive PE Air Jordans. In March of '03, Kobe dropped 55 on Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards while wearing an exclusive pair of Air Jordan VIIIs draped in Lakers purple and gold. Kobe kept sneakerheads and big brands guessing where he was going to sign throughout the season, before ultimately inking a deal with Nike during the '03 offseason.
Nike Zoom Huarache 2K4
Year: 2003 - '04
Top Performance: May 11, 2004 Game 4 Western Conference Semifinals vs. Spurs 45 mins, 42 points (15-27), 6 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals, 0 turnovers
Sneaker: Nike Zoom Huarache 2k4
Shortly after signing a reported five-year, $45 million deal with Nike, news started to surface of an alleged sexual assault case involving Kobe. While most other endorsers dropped Bryant from their campaigns, Nike stuck by Bryant and waited out the ensuing storm with him. Easily the most trying season of Bryant's career, Nike didn't outfit the troubled star with a signature sneaker, instead opting to lace him with the high-performance Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4. Kobe sported a plethora of different PEs and was quoted as saying that the Zoom Huarache 2K4s were the first sneaker he wore that truly felt like an extension of his feet on the court. The 2K4s were lightweight, simple in design and popular with players throughout the NBA.
Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K5
Top Performance: December 28, 2004 win vs. Raptors: 46 mins, 48 pts (14-26), 4 ast, 2 reb
Sneaker: Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K5
Nike followed up the Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4 with the Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K5. Featuring a similar look to the Huarache 2K4, Nike designer Eric Avar focused more on the performance of the sneaker rather than the aesthetics. The sneaker weighed in at a light 14.4 ounces and was a flexible shoe thanks to the decision to eliminate weight from the sneaker's midsole. Unfortunately for Kobe, the improved sneaker didn't translate to an improvement in the win column as the Lakers finished 34-48 and missed the playoffs.
Nike Zoom Huarache 2K5
Top Performance: December 20, 2005 vs Mavericks: 42 min, 62 pts (18-31), 8 reb, 0 ast, 3 stl
Sneaker: Nike Zoom Huarache 2k5
Prior to breaking out his first signature Nike shoe, Kobe put some more miles on the Nike Zoom Huarache 2K5s. One of his more memorable performances in that sneaker came against the Dallas Mavericks where he scored 30 points in one quarter, and 62 points overall. The game was one of five in the season where he went above the 50-point mark.
Nike Zoom Kobe 1
Top Performance: January 22, 2006 vs Raptors: 42 min, 81 pts (28-46), 6 reb, 2 ast, 3 stl
Sneaker: Nike Zoom Kobe 1
After missing the playoffs the previous season, Kobe went through an aggressive offseason training routine and showed up to camp at a muscular 225 pounds. The added weight meant he needed a more durable sneaker and Nike came through with a more cushioned, supportive design for Kobe's first signature sneaker under Nike. Kobe's finest moment wearing the Zoom Kobe 1 came when he dropped a career-high 81 points against the Raptors in January of 2006. Kobe went on to win the scoring title for the first time in his career and the 35.4 points per game remains the highest scoring average of his career.
Nike Zoom Kobe II
Top Performance: March 16, 2007 win over Portland: 50 mins, 65 pts (23-39), 7 rebs, 3 ast, 3 stls
Sneaker: Nike Zoom Kobe II
Released in three different versions, Sheath, Strength, and Finisher; the Nike Zoom Kobe II was designed with many of the features from the Nike Air Huarache 2K4 in mind. Ironically, Kobe ditched the Kobe II's later in the season in favor of the actual Huarache 2K4. Despite another amazing statistical season from Kobe, the Lakers failed to advance past the Western Conference Quarterfinals as they lost to the Suns.
Nike Zoom Kobe III PE
Top Performance: May 29, 2008 Game 5 Western Conference Finals win over Spurs: 43 min, 39 pts (16-30), 3 rebs, 3 ast
Sneaker: Nike Zoom Kobe III PE
For the Nike Zoom Kobe III, Bryant teamed back up with Eric Avar who was absent from the design of the Zoom Kobe II due to health issues. 2007-'08 marked the first season where Kobe commented on his obsession with the black mamba snake. Taking notice, Avar designed the sneaker with the deadly snake as the main inspiration. The result was a sleek, comfortable shoe that Kobe loved. The sneakers weighed just 13 ounces which allowed Kobe to fly around the court with ease. During the season, Kobe won MVP for the first time in his career and led the Lakers to a Western Conference best 57-25 record. They reached the NBA Finals, only to lose to the Boston Celtics.
Nike Zoom Kobe IV 'Del Sol'
Top Performance: February 2, 2009 win over Knicks: 37 min, 61 pts (19-31), 3 ast
Sneaker: Nike Zoom Kobe IV 'Del Sol'
Featuring Nike's innovative Flywire technology, the Zoom Kobe IV was a low-cut, lightweight masterpiece. Weighing in at under 12 ounces, the ZKIV was designed by Kobe and Eric Avar to resemble a soccer boot. The result was a high-end performance sneaker that was incredibly comfortable. Released in 21 different colorways, the 'Del Sol' edition was the one Kobe wore when he famously dropped 61 points on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden—a Garden record that was recently broken by Carmelo Anthony. Kobe enjoyed arguably the best season of his career in the sneakers as the Lakers finished with the best record in the West and Kobe won his first NBA Championship without the services of Shaquille O'Neal.
Nike Zoom Kobe V 'Big Stage' Home
Top Performance: June 17, 2010. Game 7 NBA Finals win over Celtics: 23 pts, 15 rbs, 2 ast
Sneaker: Nike Zoom Kobe V 'Big Stage' Home
Following up on the success of the Kobe IV, Bryant and Avar took the low-cut look to the next level with the superb Kobe V. It's well documented that Kobe became infatuated with the game of soccer as a youth growing up in Italy and the Kobe V looks more like a boot seen on the pitch rather than a sneaker on the hardwood. Released in an unprecedented 33 different colorways, the Kobe V covered all aspects of his life from his time in Philly as a high-school star to his respect for the Duke University basketball program. By no coincidence, the better the signature sneaker, the better Kobe performed on the court. Bryant went on to win his second straight championship and Finals MVP award, calling the hard-fought victory over the Celtics the most satisfying of all of his five championships. Though it's up for debate, the Nike Zoom Kobe V may be the best Kobe signature sneaker ever made.
Nike Zoom Kobe VI 'Concord'
Top Performance: March 22, 2011 win over Suns: 48 min, 42 pts (15-31), 12 rebs, 9 asts
Sneaker: Nike Zoom Kobe VI 'Concord'
Riding the successes and popularity of the Kobe V, the Zoom Kobe VI was also released in 33 different colorways and featured another low-cut look that was inspired by Kobe's "Black Mamba" alter-ego. Aesthetically, the shoe looks amazing. Featuring a Flywire surface that is draped in what looks and feels like snakeskin, the sneaker is one of the most intricate designs Nike has ever come up with. Eric Avar didn't sacrifice performance for looks, either. The sneaker's main appeal to Kobe was the fact that the midsole was so thin that it felt as if he was playing barefoot on the court, something he had strived for since his adidas days. Coming off of two straight championship runs and Finals MVP awards, Kobe's play started to decline. Playing his lowest minutes average per game since the '97-98 season and scoring the fewest points per game since the '03-04 season, Kobe's body started to break down a bit and his knees began to deteriorate. Though he was still breaking records and winning All-Star Game MVP awards, the Black Mamba couldn't push his team over the top and the Lakers fell to the eventual champion Mavs in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Nike Zoom Kobe VII 'Concord'
Year: 2011 - '12
Top Performance: January 10, 2012 win over Suns: 48 pts (18-31), 5 boards, 3 ast
Sneaker: Nike Zoom Kobe VII 'Concord'
Designwise, the Nike Zoom Kobe VII didn't stray too far from the Nike Zoom Kobe VI except for two removable inserts that were designed to match the different styles of Kobe's game. First is the 'Attack Strong' insert that featured a higher ankle cuff that provided more cushioning and was intended to match Kobe's physical play. The 'Attack Fast' insert featured a lower ankle cuff which made the sneaker lighter and was meant for Kobe's less frequent aerial assaults. The Nike Zoom Kobe VII also took the 'Black Mamba' mantra to the next level by featuring variations of the Kobe VII inspired by other animal predators like the leopard and great white shark. Released in 35 different colorways, the Zoom Nike Kobe VII capitalized on the tremendous 'Kobe System' marketing campaign that featured everyone from Kanye West to Richard Branson. Though he wasn't the same player he used to be, Kobe still showed flashes, including a season-high 48 points against the Suns while wearing the 'Concord' edition of the VIIs. The Lakers once again failed to advance past the Western Conference Semifinals but Kobe did win a Gold Medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics, his last appearance with Team USA.
Nike Kobe 8 'Elite'
Top Performance: April 10, 2013 win over PDX: 48 mins, 47 pts (14-27), 8 rebs, 5 asts, 4 blks, 3 stls (1st player ever to amass such a stat line)
Sneaker: Nike Kobe 8 'Elite'
Ditching Roman numerals for a traditional '8', Kobe and Eric Avar teamed up once again to create a sneaker that was an extension of Kobe's foot. Once again, Kobe opted for the low-cut, lightweight look. Aesthetically, some variations of the Kobe 8 again featured a snakeskin print, further playing off his "Black Mamba" persona. Wearing the Kobe 8 'Elite', Bryant amassed a 47-point, 8-rebound, 5-assist, 4-block, 3-steal stat line—the first time in NBA history a stat line like that had ever been accumulated. During the stretch run of the season, Kobe put the team on his back, playing a ridiculous amount of minutes while acting as the Lakers' facilitator and primary scorer, all in an effort to get the struggling team into the Playoffs. Unfortunately, the heavy workload caught up with Bryant and he tore his achilles' on April 12, a devastating injury that shook up the entire landscape of the NBA.