Let's look back at the evolution of Kobe Bryant's signature shoes 

May 15, 2018

THE 2018 NBA Conference Finals are heating up, and so is the eternal discussion of GOAT status: Will LeBron James emerge with greater consideration from hoops fans? Who really is the Greatest of All Time? What if all the greats played in the same era? The questions are endless, circular, and a lot of times, pretty toxic.

So instead of pitting the game’s greatest players against each other and engaging in the folly of comments section one-upmanship, take a walk on the lighter side of basketball fandom and revisit their signature sneakers. Let's take a look at the kicks lineage of Kobe Bryant (who, after the Cavaliers’ embarrassing Game 1 loss against the Celtics, liked a tweet that said he was more skilled than James—just sayin’).

From his NBA debut in 1996 to his retirement in 2016, Bryant has hit the hardwood in a lot of impressive sneakers. The famously loyal Laker even went on a sneaker free agency at one point, in between his contract with Adidas and his eventual signature line with Nike. Here’s how his main signature sneakers (excluding spin-offs like the Zoom Venomenon) have evolved through the years.

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Adidas KB8

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Older fans would recall that before Bryant signed with the Swoosh, he had six numbered models with The Three Stripes, starting in the ‘97-’98 season with his first-ever signature sneaker: the Adidas KB8. He had spent his rookie year wearing the Adidas Top Ten and the Adidas EQT Elevation (now known as the Crazy 97), before moving on to the wavy, curvy KB8, which was incredibly light at the time and perfectly suited to his agile play style. The KB8 has since been renamed and released again as the Adidas Crazy 8 in 2007, because Adidas just couldn’t waste one of their classics. Then to prove its timelessness in 2017, Adidas Originals retooled the Crazy 8 and gave it a modern, stylish “ADV” edition, outfitted with Primeknit.

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Adidas KB8 2

The sequel to the KB8 followed in the ‘98-’99 season, and like its predecessor, the KB8 2 was made of curvy, bold lines. But it had new feature: Adidas’ “Feet You Wear” technology, which was designed to emulate natural motion (much like Nike’s Free Run technology, which was introduced in 2005). Unfortunately, patent issues would eventually end the run of “Feet You Wear,” so only the KB8 2 is the only Kobe sneaker with that feature.

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Adidas KB8 3

Until recently, the third KB8 was one of the most obscure Kobe signatures, forgotten over the years because it wasn’t too much of a bold departure from his previous models, nor did it mark a significant moment in Bryant’s career (other than his on-court fisticuffs with Chris Childs of the New York Knicks). But the KB8 3 did come back from the dead this year, low-key: Take a look at its sole. Familiar? That’s because Kanye West used that sole for the Adidas Yeezy 500. So yes, it’s official: '90s sneakers are back with a vengeance.

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Adidas The Kobe

Which brings us to the plantsa Kobes. Adidas shifted gears at the turn of the century, scrapping the KB8 line and busting out a new, super-futuristic sneaker for their flag-bearer in basketball. Christened “The Kobe” and inspired by the Audi TT Roadster, these were pretty eccentric head-turners at the time. But whatever charm they had was raised to the nth when Bryant went on to win the first of his five rings in The Kobe, cementing this shoe’s legacy for Kobe fans. The “The Kobe” would return years later as the Adidas Crazy 1, which—like the Crazy 8—even has its own cool new lifestyle version (which, in our opinion, are seriously underrated).

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Adidas The Kobe 2

Okay, scratch that: These are the real plantsa Kobes. If you could call the first The Kobe eccentric or ahead of its time, you’d call this second one downright ugly. They were barely worn by Bryant himself as he bagged his second ring in 2001 wearing an all-black colorway of The Kobe 1 instead of this supposed sequel. To this day, The Kobe 2 remains one of the more perplexing shoes, and an interesting case of sneaker design gone wrong.

Adidas The Kobe 3

These barely count, as they were never released, nor worn by Bryant himself. By the summer of 2002, Bryant paid out of his Adidas contract to become a signature sneaker free agent for one whole season. During this time, he wore various Air Jordans, Air Force 1s, Reebok Questions, Converse Weapons, and even some AND1s, before he was eventually signed by Nike. It was a glorious time for Kobe fans and sneakerheads, and one that birthed a lot of collectible colorways. But if he hadn’t backed out of his Adidas contract, this is what he would’ve worn instead.

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Nike Zoom Kobe 1

After his season of sneaker free agency, Bryant was signed by Nike in 2003. However, just shortly after inking the contract, Bryant had to face what would be the greatest stain on his legacy: charges of sexual assault. Ongoing litigation and the risk of a PR crisis meant that Nike couldn’t yet come out with a signature sneaker for him, so Bryant continued to play in the Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4 and 2K5 (the 2k5 was the first sneaker to use Bryant’s now-famous “Sheath” logo). After the out-of-court settlement in 2005, Bryant would finally be able to return to the hardwood court with his own Nikes: The Zoom Kobe 1. Designer Ken Link (who also worked on the Nike Zoom Lebron 2 to 6) took inspiration from the Huaraches to make the Zoom Kobe 1. In these, Bryant would play the legendary 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. Early in 2018, the Zoom Kobe 1 came back in a “Protro” edition—a performance-oriented update of the original design.

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Nike Zoom Kobe 2

Ken Link started to work more closely with Bryant for the Nike Zoom Kobe 2, which featured a tall, strapped-in design and Free technology for the first time in basketball. The Kobe 2s were not quite so distinct in terms of design, but they did mark the year that Bryant traded in his number 8 jersey for number 24. They also mark the beginning of Bryant’s career with the national team, which took home back-to-back gold medals in the FIBA Americas tournaments of 2007 and 2008.

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Nike Zoom Kobe 3

Link was succeeded by the designer who would ultimately define the look of a Kobe sneaker: Eric Avar. His first work with Bryant was the Zoom Kobe 3, which had a distinct scale-like, diamond-shaped netting (shoutout to 2018’s Adidas Deerupt). This netting is said to have been inspired by Bryant’s “Black Mamba” nickname, but also by Bryant’s daughter, Natalia Diamante. But the 3 wasn’t the most stylish Kobe; in terms of off-court wearability, you might even argue that it was a step back. It was, however, the beginning of Avar’s legacy with the Kobe line, and just a prelude of what would follow. The 3 is also the shoe that marks Bryant’s first league MVP title—and the Lakers’ humiliating loss to the Boston Celtics in the finals.

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Nike Zoom Kobe 4

For a brief period, Bryant was the posterboy for the all-new Nike Hyperdunk, which was also designed by Eric Avar and featured lightweight Flywire technology. Avar took the same tech and incorporated it into the Zoom Kobe 4. But more importantly, the 4 kicked off an era that’s fondly remembered as Kobe’s “low-top revolution,” which was something of a coup for basketball. Most people didn’t believe in low-cut basketball sneakers until the Zoom Kobe 4, which was even advertised with a cheeky ankle insurance commercial. But critics of the shoe would be proven wrong as Bryant went on to win his fourth championship and his first Finals MVP title wearing these in 2009—his first post-Shaq, post-Adidas championship.

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Nike Zoom Kobe 5

The Black Mamba went back-to-back and won his fifth ring and second Finals MVP title in 2010, wearing the Zoom Kobe 5. In many ways, the 5 was a perfect successor: it was even lighter, even lower, and it marked a Game 7 win against the Boston Celtics in the Finals—sweet revenge. The 5 also marked an aesthetic landmark for the Kobe line: almost all models that preceded this had a similar silhouette. Plus, as a broader mainstream sneaker culture started taking off around this time, a slew of bold colorways (‘Bruce Lee’, ‘Chaos’, ‘Miles Davis’, ‘Aston Martin’) became recurring themes.

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Nike Zoom Kobe 6

Avar then went back to the snakeskin motif for the Zoom Kobe 6, which debuted on Christmas Day in one of the most iconic Kobe colorways of all time: ‘Grinch’. Bryant wore the ‘Grinch’ 6s as he faced off that day against the Miami Heat’s newly-formed big three: James, Wade, and Bosh (the Heat beat the Lakers 96-80). The Kobe 6 kept what worked: low, lean, and light, but it also made bolder aesthetic statements.

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Nike Zoom Kobe 7 System

Bryant’s seventh signature sneaker will be remembered as the one he wore to nab his second Olympic gold, but also for being the first with “Kobe System,” featuring customizable cushioning and a removable collar. It had two settings: “Attack Fast” and “Attack Strong,” which Bryant would swap depending on the demands of the game. Notably, the sock-like collar of the “Attack Strong” setting would be a precursor to the knit and snug-fit basketball shoes that are still prevalent today.

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Nike Kobe 8 System

The Kobe 8 pushed the existing mold of Kobe sneakers to what was ostensibly its limit: even lower and lighter than ever at 9.6 ounces, with new Engineered Mesh technology and several snakeskin and Mamba-motif colorways. But it also happened to mark the moment that Bryant tore his Achilles tendon, which would end his year abruptly and push him into a grueling period of rehabilitation.

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Nike Kobe 9

After eight months of rehab, Bryant returned wearing the Kobe 8, only to suffer another injury after only six games. He’d be out for the rest of the ‘13-’14 season, but his ninth signature sneaker released nonetheless. After years of championing lower and lower low-tops, Avar came out with the highest of highs, which was even ridiculed at first, for looking like boxing shoes. The 9 would eventually be released in low- and mid-top versions, but is still unique for being the first basketball shoe to use Nike’s Flyknit technology. It’s also the shoe that Bryant wore as he surpassed Michael Jordan in career points.

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Nike Kobe 10

The tenth Kobe would mark yet another injury for the then-37-year-old Bryant, who ended his season prematurely due to a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. The Kobe 10 debuted without him, this time as a low-top yet again. But like the Kobe 9 before it, the Kobe 10 would also drop in other Elite and Flyknit editions that were mid- and high-cut. After recovering from his injury, Bryant would announce his retirement with a touching letter in the Player’s Tribune.

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Nike Kobe 11

Just a month after announcing his retirement, Bryant stepped out in the Kobe 11, his last numbered Nikes. The 11 was to the 10 what the 6 was to the 5—a performance update, but not a great departure in terms of overall design. But the 11 will be remembered as the shoe that Bryant wore on April 13, 2016, when he sang his swan song: an amazing 60-point performance for the final game of his career.

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Nike Kobe A.D.

The end of an era brought rise to a new one. Kobe Bryant’s retirement marked the beginning of a new line of Kobe shoes, as Nike enlisted designer Ross Klein to take over. The Post-Kobe era began with the Kobe A.D., which first debuted for the ‘16-’17 season. The following year, the A.D. would be updated as a mid-top (although strangely, it isn’t marketed as the Kobe A.D. 2).

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Nike Kobe A.D. NXT

Further design innovations came in the A.D. NXT, the “next-level iteration of his post-retirement shoe.” The NXT featured a “Flyknit shroud” and a “toggle system,” which were both reminiscent of the sort of bold innovations that Kobe sneakers were known for.

Nike Kobe A.D. NXT 360

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And that brings us to the latest Kobe sneaker, but also perhaps the one with the most confusing string of designations. (Since they aren’t being numbered like before, it’s harder to keep track.) But the A.D. NXT 360 stands out for being the first-ever basketball shoe to use Nike’s 360-degree Flyknit. That means the upper is just one piece that wraps the foot completely, rather than just over and around the edges. It’s testament to the innovation that continues even after Bryant’s retirement: ultimately, his legacy in sneakers.

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This story originally appeared on FHM.com.ph.

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