B/R Kicks: Revisiting Kobe Bryant's Signature Sneakers

Giancarlo Ferrari-King@@GiancarloKingFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2017

B/R Kicks: Revisiting Kobe Bryant's Signature Sneakers

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    Bidding farewell to Kobe Bryant after his retirement at the conclusion of the 2015-16 NBA season remains a hurdle many of us in the sneaker community haven't yet climbed over.

    Forget Bryant's endearing talents on the court—his sneaker legacy remains prevalent. Bryant is the rare NBA star to have an impact with two brands, as well as enjoying one year of sneaker freedom.

    We've set out to look back at all of his signature sneaker efforts, plus the rare gems he broke out during his free-agent period. Check out Black Mamba's sneaker metamorphosis.

Adidas EQT Elevation

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    Sneaker: Adidas EQT Elevation

    Designer: James Carnes

    Released: 1996-97

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 56-26

    The year 1996 was pivotal for young Kobe Bryant. Not only was he coming into his own as a playmaker, but he also won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie.

    Even as he gained popularity, Bryant had yet to receive a signature shoe. The Adidas EQT Elevation instead became his footwear calling card.

Adidas KB8

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    Sneaker: Adidas KB8

    Designer: James Carnes

    Released: 1997-98

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 61-21

    When Adidas finally gave Kobe Bryant a signature shoe, the result captivated footwear fans and helped propel his brand into the future. The KB8—now called the Crazy Eight—was designed to fit in with the athletic mold of the late 1990s. It was a direct reflection of what Adidas Basketball was creating at the time.

    Unlike Michael Jordan's first few kicks—which also played well in the casual realm—this shoe was limited to an era where aesthetics were measured strictly in an on-court capacity.

Adidas KB8 II

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    Sneaker: Adidas KB8 II

    Released: 1998-1999

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 31-19*

    With one signature shoe already in the bag, Adidas continued to make Kobe Bryant a priority with the KB8 II. James Carnes would once again take the lead with a goal of building on the original KB8's success.

    The KB8 II was the sneaker Bryant wore during the NBA's lockout-ridden 1998-99 season. Because of the lack of critical moments and the fact the league was left limping upon its return, this shoe never had the same impact that the original KB8 was equipped with.

    *Season started in February after a lockout

Adidas KB8 III

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    Sneaker: Adidas KB8 III

    Designer: James Carnes

    Released: 1999-2000

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 67-15

    The Lakers' championship dreams were realized once again during the 1999-2000 NBA season. Kobe Bryant served the role of assistant general to Shaquille O'Neal, putting Tinsel Town back on the basketball map.

    Adidas had given Bryant the KB8 III—the last shoe designed by James Carnes—prior to the start of the season. Bryant would use the kicks for a good portion of that historic season, but wouldn't actually wear the KB8 III during the NBA Finals.

    Instead, he delivered on the grandest stage of them all in the KOBE One.

Adidas KOBE One

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    Sneaker: Adidas KOBE One

    Designer: Eirik Nielsen

    Released: 2000-01

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 56-26

    Of all Kobe Bryant's Adidas efforts, the KOBE One—known later as the Crazy 1—stands alone. The space-age design, eerily reminiscent of an Audi TT, helped this sneaker receive a split vote. Half of the population despised it, while the other half loved it.

    The Adidas KOBE One also was on Bryant's feet when he captured his first NBA title, giving it an extra dash of "wow" not seen before. Despite having three signature shoes prior under the Three-Stripe umbrella, the KOBE One changed everything.

Adidas KOBE 2

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    Sneaker: Adidas KOBE Two

    Designer: Eirik Nielsen

    Released: 2001-02

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 58-24

    If we devised a trivia game around Kobe Bryant's kicks and asked what his least favorite sneaker was, the answer would be the KOBE Two.

    Taking their creative lead from the original KOBE blueprint—released a year earlier—Adidas decided to push further modernization onto the KOBE Two. While the original Kobe worked in that context, its successor didn't hold up.

    The sneaker was so hated by the Black Mamba, Bryant decided to switch back to the KOBE One during the 2001-02 NBA Finals.

Reebok Question Mid

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    Sneaker: Reebok Question

    Designer: Scott Hewett

    Released: 2002-03

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 50-32

    Kobe Bryant's hiatus from a signature shoe deal allowed him to wear whatever he wanted during the 2002-03 season. One of the hallmark selections was Allen Iverson's Reebok Question, dressed in Lakers' white, yellow and purple.

    In between contracts with Adidas and Nike, Bryant took sneaker free agency to the next level with outstanding, bucket-list choices. He refused to pull back, testing the waters of brands like Reebok and Jordan.

Nike Air Force 1 Mid

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    Sneaker: Nike Air Force 1 Mid

    Designer: Bruce Kilgore

    Released: 2002-03

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 50-32

    During his free-agent stint, free from the overlords who controls brands and contracts, Kobe Bryant didn't simply lean in the direction of Reebok. He also gave us a preview of the company he would eventually sign with.

    It was sweet to see Bryant drop buckets in the Nike Air Force 1 Mid. Sporting a plain white upper, touched up only by a yellow Swoosh marker, Kobe helped make the shoe cool again—along with Rasheed Wallace.

    For one year, innovation was thrown out the window as Bryant simply wore what he wanted. It was refreshing to witness if you were a fan of sneakers.

Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4

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    Sneaker: Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4

    Designer: Eric Avar

    Released: 2003-04

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 56-26

    The KOBE Two forced Bryant out of Adidas' camp. After leaving, he enjoyed a year filled with free-agent sneaker choices—the Reebok Question and Air Jordan XII to name a few. After he took advantage of the freedom with a variety of kicks, Bryant settled in with Nike.

    He was immediately paired with designer Eric Avar, who would go on to become Bryant's very own Andy Warhol. The first shoe the two worked on was the Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4.

    A beautiful sneaker with all of the trimmings, this shoe was the first official on-foot look for Bryant's endorsement deal with Nike.

Nike Kobe Zoom 1

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    Sneaker: Nike Kobe Zoom 1

    Designer: Eric Avar & Ken Link

    Released: 2005-06

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 45-37

    Kobe Bryant had spent the better part of three years with Nike before he was awarded the second-coming of his signature line. The first shoe to bear Bryant's name was the Nike Zoom Kobe 1.

    For the first time in his already decorated career, extensive innovation was beginning to play a factor in the construction of his shoes. The Kobe Zoom 1 embodied that philosophy thanks to the motif and progressive views of Eric Avar and co-designer Ken Link.

Nike Zoom Kobe II

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    Sneaker: Nike Kobe Zoom II

    Designer: Ken Link

    Released: 2006-07

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 42-40

    With Eric Avar on leave, Ken Link helped introduce the Nike Kobe Zoom II. The Lakers' struggles were prevalent during this time period, though Bryant never wavered.

    Behind the Kobe Zoom II's backdrop, the Black Mamba averaged 31.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. He was at his peak in terms of having a complete game and the Kobe Zoom II became part of that legendary evolution.

Nike Zoom Kobe III

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    Sneaker: Nike Kobe Zoom III

    Designer: Eric Avar

    Released: 2007-08

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 57-25

    Two years into Phil Jackson's second run as coach of the Lakers, the team was back to dominating the Western Conference. The 2007-08 NBA season pushed Los Angeles into the NBA Finals, where it would eventually lose to the Boston Celtics.

    However, the groundwork was there for a championship run. Kobe Bryant was firing on all cylinders and the Nike Zoom III became his footwear weapon of choice.

    This sneaker was geared towards a high-top design, facilitated by an intricate groove structure and aerodynamics. It also marked Eric Avar's return to the Kobe line.

Nike Zoom Kobe IV

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    Sneaker: Nike Kobe Zoom IV

    Designer: Eric Avar

    Released: 2008-09

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 65-17

    Kobe Bryant experienced his first NBA title under the Nike moniker in 2009. The sneaker he wore was the Nike Kobe Zoom IV.

    This low-top fit produced a complete turnaround from the previous model. It also broke ground in terms of materials, structure and of course, fit.

    Without the Nike Zoom Kobe IV, it's hard to fathom where his line would be today. Out of all of Bryant's kicks, nothing broke boundaries as quickly and proficiently as the Kobe IV.

Nike Zoom Kobe V

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    Sneaker: Nike Kobe Zoom V

    Designer: Eric Avar

    Released: 2009-10

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 57-25

    Redemption came in the form of the Nike Kobe Zoom V. Forging down a path of "low-top kicks are better," the Zoom V became another masterpiece in his Swoosh collection.

    Bryant scorched the Boston Celtics in an NBA Finals rematch from two seasons prior. The Lakers won a tough seven-game series, while the Black Mamba himself enjoyed MVP honors, thanks to his 28.6 points per game.

    The Nike Kobe Zoom V would be the last championship pair of kicks Bryant would get to wear.

Nike Zoom Kobe VI

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    Sneaker: Nike Kobe Zoom VI

    Designer: Eric Avar

    Released: 2010-11

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 57-25

    Proliferated snakeskin on the mid-sole gave Kobe Bryant's Black Mamba nickname weight when the Nike Kobe Zoom VI debuted in 2010.

    Countless colors and a deeper push toward low-top greatness consumed every inch of this sneaker. Though they fell short of winning their third-straight NBA title, the Lakers still won 57 games behind Bryant's dominance.

Nike Kobe VII

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    Sneaker: Nike Kobe VII

    Designer: Eric Avar

    Released: 2011-12

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 41-25

    A shortened NBA season—thanks to the league's fourth lockout—and a new head coach were all in the mix when Nike's Kobe VII came out in 2011.

    The VII became a strategic achievement mainly due to cushioning. Thanks to Nike's Cushion foam and Zoom Air panel, the Kobe VII didn't miss a beat, as Eric Avar and Bryant continued to defy the limits of low-cut footwear.

Nike Kobe 8

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    Sneaker: Nike Kobe 8

    Designer: Eric Avar

    Released: 2012-13

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 45-37

    Sneaker enthusiasts and Kobe Bryant fans will remember the Nike Kobe 8 for being the shoe worn when Bryant tore his Achilles.

    What you may forget is this sneaker was in many ways a better, updated version of the Kobe VII. At the time, Eric Avar was focusing on material switches, swapping out the traditional Kurim upper with a refined mesh version.

    The result of these experimentations cemented Bryant's line as the best technical product in the marketplace.

Nike Kobe 9

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    Sneaker: Nike Kobe 9

    Designer: Eric Avar

    Released: 2013-14

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 27-55

    Kobe Bryant returned from a torn Achilles to the comforts of a high-top sneaker. The first Nike Kobe 9 took a break from lows, bringing a perceived sense of stability to the line—a low-cut rendition was later released.

    Not many basketball sneakers look and feel as good as the Kobe 9. When mixed with Nike's Flyknit technology, this sneaker was able to pivot Bryant's line into the future.

    Stability became a cerebral focal point, as Bryant continued to recover from the damage sustained to his Achilles. The Kobe 9 helped Bryant get back to being the Black Mamba.

Nike Kobe 10

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    Sneaker: Nike Kobe 10

    Designer: Eric Avar

    Released: 2014-2015

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 21-61

    The tail-end of Kobe Bryant's career was more about appreciation rather than production. In the midst of the Lakers' struggling to win ball games, Bryant's Nike Kobe 10 was released.

    Flyknit, molded mesh and a rubberized sole became the mind, body and soul of the shoe—a natural progression from the Kobe 9. It may not receive a ton of love these days, but that does not mean the Kobe 10 isn't beautiful.

Nike Kobe 11

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    Sneaker: Nike Kobe 11

    Designer: Eric Avar

    Released: 2015-16

    Los Angeles Lakers' record: 17-65

    Can one game erase the woes of an entire season? The 2015-16 Lakers posed that very question as they bid farewell to Kobe Bryant on April 13, 2016.

    Bryant's 60-point finale was capped by perhaps his most ambitious shoe in years. Outside of core Lakers' fans, does anyone remember the team won just 17 games that season?

    The Kobe 11 was sort of the coup de grace of a captivating sneaker line that changed the course of history. No Nike athlete before him—sorry, MJ—came close to altering production from a technical standpoint.

    Bryant's ambition to making a lasting impact in footwear is a microcosm of himself as an athlete.

    All stats, records and information provided by Basketball Reference, unless noted otherwise. All Nike product information and release dates provided by Nike News, unless noted otherwise.