Kobe Bryant was more than a legendary basketball player. He was a shrewd businessman with incredible attention to detail. With his relentless work ethic, the Los Angeles Lakers legend rewrote the history books while simultaneously revolutionizing performance basketball footwear.
Bryant’s sneaker legacy is best known for his time at Nike. What if he had never left Adidas? It is easier to say what would not have happened rather than what would have happened. But today we will try to answer both questions.
Adidas Kobe Brand
After the Lakers’ third straight NBA championship in 2002, Bryant and his agent Rob Pelinka traveled to Germany to meet with Adidas executives. In the book Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryantauthor Roland Lazenby detailed a terse encounter between the two sides.
Adidas presented its vision for the Kobe line, which included sneakers and apparel. But the 23-year-old wasn’t interested. According The Wall Street JournalBryant paid $8 million to opt out of the remainder of his Adidas contract.
Bryant’s decision to leave Adidas changed the course of sneaker history. If the perennial NBA All-Star had stayed with Adidas, it’s easy to imagine Bryant getting his own brand. Similar to Michael Jordan with Nike or Stephen Curry with Under Armour.
For better or for worse, we will never know. But now we can skip to important moments that absolutely wouldn’t have happened if Bryant had never signed with Nike.
Free Sneaker Agency
Bryant had to wait a year before signing a contract with a new company. So while the greatest sneaker free agent of all time met potential business partners off the court, he tried everything on the court.
Bryant wore a wide range of basketball shoes during the 2002-03 NBA season. Over 82 games, Bryant wore 65 pairs of Air Jordans. Additionally, he mixed And1, Converse, Nike, and Reebok shoes during this momentous season.
Needless to say, we would never have had the iconic images of Bryant competing against Jordan in different pairs of Air Jordans. There have been plenty of sneaker free agents over the past two decades, but there will never be another as important as Bryant.
After the launch of the Nike Kobe line, Bryant wore shoes that were normal for the era. The first three Nike Kobe shoes were high tops and used heavy materials. Those early shoes are still popular, but Bryant once again made history by demanding low profile basketball shoes.
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Inspired by futbol shoes (soccer cleats in America), Bryant wanted an ultra-minimalist basketball shoe. Not only has Nike eliminated unnecessary hardware, but they’ve started implementing their newest technology to the Kobe lineup.
Leather has gradually taken precedence over wired and knitted materials. The Nike Kobes 4-11 became lighter and revolutionized performance basketball shoes. Maybe the low resolution could still have happened under Adidas, but it’s impossible to say.
Fans can entertain the GOAT debate or even argue over who has the best signature line. But there’s no denying that Bryant had the best commercials. Even his perfectly balanced Adidas ads sincerity with comical moments.
But Nike commercials featuring Bryant have reached new heights. Ankle Insurance, MVPuppets and the Kobe System are three of the best basketball shoe advertisements of all time.
After Bryant’s retirement in 2016, Nike changed the direction of the Kobe line. The following October, Nike introduced the Kobe AD line, which marked a new era in Bryant’s role with the company.
Despite initial reservations, Bryant agreed to have Nike reissue his old shoes. But on one condition, retro sneakers incorporate new technologies. Thus, the ‘Protro’ line was born in 2018.
Since then, all the other major brands have followed suit. But at the time, it was a new strategy. Bryant was truly inventive and Nike was the perfect partner to implement the superstar’s vision. It’s fun to dream of what might have been had Bryant stayed with Adidas, but it’s hard to imagine a better outcome than the path he took with Nike.
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