Apr 20, 2021

An earlier version of this story appeared in the August 23, 2017

Adidas signed a quartet of young phenoms over 20 years ago to help launch its basketball line when the term "signature sneaker" was synonymous with Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant was the public face of the movement, and rightfully so given his newfound celebrity status as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers and his earnestness in promoting himself.

The Bryant-Adidas partnership didn't last long; he ended their contract in 2002 and went the entire 2002–03 NBA season without a sneaker endorsement deal before signing with Nike, where he finally felt at home.

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Like Harry Potter arriving at Hogwarts, all of a sudden..." Back in 2009, he told me, "He was home. [laughs] To paraphrase, "I'm constantly surrounded by a group of people who are just as competitive and just as competitive as I am, or just as passionate about the sport as I am." Although I am extremely competitive, no one treats me any differently because of it. Simply put, I'm surrounded by people who are just like me in every way "

Kobe's signature series quickly spread across the league, with players of all positions and from all teams wearing them because they were trusted to perform. This contrasted with the Air Jordans, which were worn primarily by Michael and a small group of his Bulls teammates during his playing days. While Jordan's line had a profound impact on fashion, Bryant's line had a similar effect on innovation.

After the Zoom Kobe IV became widely worn in the NBA, Bryant said, "It means we were doing it right because professional athletes aren't going to throw shoes on their feet just to throw shoes on their feet." They spend all day on their feet at work, so they need footwear that supports their feet, enhances their performance, and prevents injuries. "

Throughout his two decades in the NBA, Kobe wore more than 50 different sneaker models. Here, we rank the best and worst of his Adidas and Nike signature sneakers.

Count 24: Adidas' The Kobe II

The Defining Moment: Nick DePaula

One can point the finger at this shoe and say that it is the reason Bryant no longer wears the brand's products. It wasn't just its inherently clumsy design that gave it a bad reputation as "The Toaster" among kids. True to its unattractive appearance, the shoe was also a dud performer. The 2002-03 season marked Bryant's departure from The Kobe Two in favor of the 2001-02 duo. That was when he finally made the decision to stop wearing Adidas shoes.

23. The Adidas KB8 III (also known as the EQT Responsive).

Photography by Tom Hauck/Allsport

Many diehard Bryant fans can't think of any other Adidas sneaker design of his besides the KB8 III. Bryant's "Feet You Wear" podular technology, which the company had previously embraced but had grown tired of by the turn of the millennium, was featured on this model for the last time. During the regular season, he wore it in a few different Lakers-themed colorways, but for the playoffs, he switched to the more traditional Forum 2000.

Twenty-two. Nike's Zoom Huarache 2K5

Thanks to Nike!

For two years prior to the release of the Zoom Kobe 1, Bryant was the face of Nike's Zoom Huarache line while the two companies plotted the course of his signature shoe line. The shoe took design cues from Nike's Free Running line, which it resembled in that it had a higher, strap-attached protective collar and more pronounced flex grooves. As a result of their intended purpose on the court, the design was adored by ballers but failed to gain widespread popularity.

Countdown: 21. Nike Kobe III Zoom

Thanks to Nike!

"When people first saw the shoe, they were like, 'Oh -- I don't know I dunno,'" Bryant laughed.

Some people really liked the high-tops, but others said they looked like Belgian waffles. Bryant had one of his greatest individual seasons while wearing a variety of brighter and more refined looks after the initial all-black version debuted. For sneakerheads, the shoe will always be associated with Bryant's accomplishments in it: the lone MVP award of his career and a return to the NBA Finals after Shaq's retirement.

Adidas KB8 II, No. 20

Thanks to Adidas

While Kobe Bryant hardly wore the KB8 II during the NBA's abbreviated 1998–1999 lockout season, it was this sneaker that triggered Adidas's complete redesign of Kobe's shoes in the new millennium. The second KB8 model was relaunched by Adidas, but it hasn't found much favor among collectors despite its limited colorway (black, white, and a bold purple).

As of today (March 19), Nike has released the Kobe VII System.

Thanks to Nike!

Kobe and Nike experimented with a winning formula just as his Nike series became one of the industry's premier performance products. The seventh shoe featured a modular design called the "Kobe System," which allowed the wearer to swap between two insoles with different tongues. There was a pair of low-tops and a pair of loose, Velcro-fastened sleeves. Nike abandoned the "System" concept after the next season's release of an expensive shoe that didn't significantly improve the line.

18-Ad for Nike Kobe

Courtesy of Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Yes, "Kobe A.D." is an unmistakable abbreviation for "Kobe After Death," a slightly awkward and unquestionable first in the world of post-retirement signature sneakers. The shoe was popular on the court and widely adopted throughout the NBA because it was built on the same principles of speed, cushioning, and lockdown as previous low-top Kobe sneakers. NBA stars like DeMar DeRozan of Toronto and Isaiah Thomas of Cleveland received personalized pairs of the AD from Nike.

Seventeenth Iteration of the Nike Kobe Zoom

Thank you, Nike!

Despite being one of the best-performing sneakers in the entire line, the Kobe II hasn't held up as well with age because it was released before shoes started getting lighter and lower.

Bryant praised the design team, saying, "The designer on that, Kenzo [Ken Link], is extremely talented." I liked the way it turned out because we all sat around the table and chopped it together. "

A lockdown strap and plastic heel chassis provided firm support, and Zoom Air cushioning ensured comfort. The shoe's laser-cut diamond pattern graphic was a nod to his daughter Natalia Diamante and added a little something to the backstory.

16th Adidas EQT Boost

Andrew D The Bernstein NBAE/Getty Images Collection

During his first NBA playoff appearance, Bryant wore a black and white version of the Elevation, which has since become more famous for Bryant's aerial assaults in the 1997 slam dunk contest. For the annual All-Star Weekend event, Bryant wore an all-purple pair while still wearing his warm-up top. This was a display of the swagger and confidence that had come to characterize his NBA career to that point. Bryant won his only competition and helped bring attention to the unique Adidas look for the rest of the season.

15. A Low-Top Nike Kobe 9.

Thanks to Nike!

Due to Kobe's limited playing time due to injury in 2013–14 and 2014–15, the 9 Low is often overlooked in favor of the higher-cut 9 Elite. Bryant wore this particular model when he moved past his hero Michael Jordan into third place among the NBA's all-time scoring leaders, and it has since become a collector's item due to its Flyknit upper and sharply sculpted carbon fiber sides.

Ranks #14 on Adidas's 2010 Top Ten

Andrew D Image Credit: Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Ten professional athletes from around the league wore the first Adidas Top Ten sneakers in the late '70s. Shoe was released to honor the era's greatest players, such as Rick Barry, Adrian Dantley, and Bob Lanier, and was designed with their input.

Bryant should have been among the group of young players chosen in 1996 to wear the brand's newest Top Ten sneaker, which featured the best of the next generation. Beginning his rookie year in the NBA, Bryant wore a white, silver, and black pair for home games and a black, silver, and white pair for away games.

The Nike Zoom Kobe 1 (No. 13)

Thanks to Nike!

Bryant explained why he chose the Zoom 1: "I wanted to have more cushioning." During that season, I was recovering from knee injuries and other setbacks. We made some concessions in terms of weight in order to increase the amount of padding in this shoe. "

Kobe's "Sheath" logo was prominently displayed on the tongue of the shoe. Bryant took inspiration for his saber holster logo from the action flick "Kill Bill." Bryant maintained that aggressive mindset throughout an 80-game season in which he averaged 35 points per game, the highest scoring average of his career. 4 points, the most impressive being his 81-point performance in January 2006 against Toronto.

Twelve, a high-top Nike Kobe X Elite.

Thanks to Nike!

For the second year in a row, Kobe had rejected the low-top silhouette preferred by the majority of NBA players for game night, opting instead for the ultra-high sneaker that was frequently likened to boxing shoes. The shoe, which featured a Flyknit upper, was more adaptable and comfortable than the Kobe 9 that came before it.

2011-11 Nike Kobe 11

Thanks to Nike for providing these images.

The 11 is most notable for being the last pair of sneakers worn by Bryant during his 20-year NBA career, despite the fact that the design was more evolutionary than revolutionary. Throughout his final campaign, he wore a variety of fully knit interpretations of the model, from subtle to striking. However, the black and gold "Mamba Day" outfit stands out as the most iconic. Bryant scored 60 points in his final home game, and other players wore special sneakers in his honor. These sneakers have since become collector's items.

Topping the list is the Nike Kobe 8

Thanks to Nike!

Coming off of the VII's "System" approach, the eighth Kobe sneaker was simplified in every facet The lightweight and pliable upper was made from engineered mesh, and the tongue was made from a single piece of material. While not as revolutionary as the Kobes 4-6 that came before it, this sneaker is still a fan favorite. A few years and a few seasons later, players like DeMar DeRozan will still occasionally throw up an 8.

Nine. Low-top Nike Kobe X.

Thanks to Nike for providing the images.

The 10th Kobe model, which featured a fully clear bottom and a two-pronged support wedge, was further evidence of Bryant's insistence on releasing stylish shoes with an offensive focus. The main mesh-based version featured a basic, no-frills design that instantly made it one of the most worn Kobe sneakers in the NBA. Nike released a few Flyknit versions as limited editions. In excess of two seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo, star player for the Milwaukee Bucks, has been unable to remove them.

8 - Nike Kobe VI Zoom

Thanks to Nike!

As Kobe became fully committed to his self-anointed "Black Mamba" nickname, it was only natural that the lethal snake alter ego make its way into his footwear storytelling Many heated debates occurred within Nike over the design of the shoe, but in the end, designer Eric Avar and Kobe prevailed. The sneaker, whose entire upper was inspired by snake scales, is still a fan favorite today, years after it first debuted, thanks to its unabashed Mamba motif.

A.7. Adidas Kobe

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The Kobe, a reimagined version of Bryant's signature sneaker, was released in collaboration with Audi, whose headquarters are located just an hour south of Adidas' in Germany. Even the fake taillights and spoiler on the back of the vehicle managed to look sleek and sophisticated.

Bryant modeled for the shoes and monochromatic tracksuits in the ad campaign, which also featured contemporary furnishings and motorcycles. In addition, Bryant's signature logo, which fans have dubbed "Frobe," made its debut on the shoe in the form of a side portrait silhouette that included elements of his sculpted afro hairstyle at the time.

6. (Tall) Nike Kobe 9 Elite.

Thanks to Nike!

Kobe was about to release one of the most innovative sneakers of his Nike career when he suffered a career-ending Achilles tear in 2013. Unlike the previous five low-top signature models, the 9 was not just a mid-cut; it was sky-high.

While Kobe was sidelined by an injury, Nike promoted his dogged determination to get well by having other NBA players wear the sneaker in exhibition games. The 9 was the first Nike basketball shoe to use the Flyknit material, and it is best remembered for the nine stitched lines along the heel that symbolized each threaded stitch of Bryant's Achilles surgery.

5) The Nike Hyperdunk

Thanks to Nike!

Bryant was chosen to introduce the Hyperdunk in the months leading up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, which presented a huge global opportunity for Nike as it introduced two of its newest innovations, Flywire and Lunar Foam.

Bryant said, "The technology is what made me want to buy it." "I'm a real tech nerd, and not many people would cross that line or try on a shoe that's so cutting edge. "

The Hyperdunk's angular, linear design and synthetic construction would go on to influence the next decade of basketball shoes, with Bryant at the helm. The Hyperdunk was one of Nike's most popular basketball shoes because of a viral video of Kobe Bryant dunking over a speeding Aston Martin on top of a parking garage.

Four, Adidas KB8

Thanks to Adidas

Kobe Bryant was the youngest player in the NBA to have a signature shoe by the end of his second season. One of Adidas' most popular basketball sneaker designs, the rechristened "Feet You Wear" model now scrunched together his initials and jersey number in its striking black and white debut color.

Bryant wore the KB8 in his final season with the Bulls, and pictures of him squaring off against Michael Jordan in the Forum and at the 1998 All-Star Game in Madison Square Garden are now considered classics of sports photography. Both the original and a knitted, updated version of the Crazy 8 are still regularly re-released by Adidas under the "Crazy 8" moniker.

The Nike Zoom Huarache 2K4

To Nike's Credit

Bryant signed with Nike in 2003, and soon after he went on a trip to the Amazon with Nike's current CEO Mark Parker and legendary designers Tinker Hatfield and Eric Avar. The group became closer and began discussing things that had inspired Bryant as they shared their experiences.

As Bryant put it, "the first meeting with the 2K4, as soon as I started to talk about the great white [shark] and the design and the sleekness of [the shoe] and how I wanted to incorporate that into the shoe," things started to move quickly. The idea clicked with him instantly. "

In the early 2000s, sneaker culture was dominated by gimmicks and obvious cushioning systems, so for Avar, the Huarache 2K4 was an opportunity to re-establish Nike's perspective on modern design.

Bryant wore the 2K4 throughout his first season with Nike, including the 2004 NBA Finals and the 2004 All-Star Game in Los Angeles, where he was the MVP.

2 Nike Kobe V Zoom Zoom

To Nike's Credit

Nike aimed to improve upon the Zoom Kobe IV by making some minor changes for the fifth iteration. The low collar and new, fully synthetic "Skinwire" upper were the most noticeable changes.

Bryant put it best: "It's really about functionality and about doing something that makes sense." Having a shoe that is low to the ground for whatever reason is not as important as having a shoe that serves a purpose. Going lower allowed us to shave off an ounce without sacrificing any of the shoe's functionality or comfort. "

As he had done with the Kobe IV, Kobe wore the Kobe V in the NBA Finals, where he won back-to-back titles and ultimately his fifth ring.

1. Nike Kobe IV Zoom

Thanks to Nike for providing these images.

With Bryant's fourth signature model, Nike and him have hit their stride after he learned how to effectively contribute to and influence the design process.

Bryant stated, "I just wanted to have better range of motion within the ankle and be able to move and cut and not feel that movement is restricted."

Although Steve Nash and Gilbert Arenas wore low-cut shoes before Kobe, Kobe's influence and impact spread throughout the NBA like no one else's. It didn't take long for point guards and fellow wings like Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom to start rocking the shoe after its initial release.

About the IV's effect on the league as a whole, Bryant said, "They know how meticulous I am and how detailed I am about my game, and I'm not going to throw something on my feet just to throw it on my feet."

With the low-top request in mind from the beginning, Avar created a sneaker that is now widely regarded as one of the best basketball shoes ever.

Bryant remarked that his team had "developed a theme" for his sneakers. Constantly seeking to break records for speed and lightness is a driving force for us. "

The shoe's traditional lines were pushed to their limits, and in doing so, several nods to Bryant's style were incorporated. Venom, a comic book character who appeared in the film "Spider-Man 3" in 2007, served as inspiration for the shoe's outsole. A pivotal moment for Kobe was when the alien symbiote suit Venom took over his body and merged with his skin.

Like any self-respecting Kobe, he immediately sought out his shoe designers to request a pair that could "fit like a second skin." The IV, in its low-cut form, embodied Bryant's vision for the pinnacle of his signature shoe by featuring a Venom-like graphic along the sole.

Former Sole Collector Magazine editor-in-chief and current Nice Kicks creative director Nick DePaula