Kobe: Revolutionary Feet
Low-What? You trying to break your ankle, boy?
Whether you love or hate Kobe Bryant, you have to respect his impact on the game of basketball and its culture. I’m not here to throw a bunch of numbers in your face or debate whether he’s the greatest hooper of all time. I’m here to highlight an aspect of his iconic career that's undebatable; his signature sneaker line with Nike, which forever changed hoops sneaker culture.
If you’re like me and grew up in the late 90s/early 2000s, it was a cardinal sin to get caught hooping in low-top kicks. Growing up, the OGs told countless tales of "he-was-going-to-the-league-ass" guys from their neighborhoods who broke their ankles or tore ligaments during a fateful run in low-tops. To make matters worse, this was during the height of the And 1 Mixtape era, a time when streetball legends like Hot Sauce, AO, The Professor, and Skip to my Lou were touring the nation, snatching ankles and drawing a cult-like following. Then you had professional ball handlers like Allen Iverson, Steve Francis, and Tim Hardaway putting defenders' lower extremities in body bags on national TV. Let's just say, boycotting low-tops was a no brainer for my peers and me. In fact, the only low tops you would see on the courts back in those days were Black Nasties: All black Air Force 1s worn by kids who grew up to be the shooters and robbers your favorite trap rappers rap about today.
In December 2008, when Kobe Bryant and Nike introduced the Nike Zoom Kobe IV to the world, the game changed as we knew it. Now, this wasn’t the first Kobe sneak we’d seen -- “Black Mamba” actually got his start with Adidas, where he rocked the Crazy 8s, Kobe 1s and Kobe 2s -- but it definitely was the first of this style. The Nike Zoom Kobe IV was a low-top basketball sneaker designed by Eric Avar which featured Nike’s Lunar Lite, Flywire, and Zoom Air technologies. At the time of its release, the Zoom Kobe IV was the lightest basketball sneaker that Nike had ever manufactured, weighing only 11.6 ounces. This shocked the basketball world, as the best player on the globe, Kobe Bryant, went against life as we knew it and decided to risk his ankles/livelihood by hooping in........ low-top sneakers?! Even Eric Avar, the designer of the shoe couldn't believe Kobe’s request. But Kobe, being the cultured visionary he was, drew inspiration from soccer, a sport he played growing up in Italy with just as much emphasis on footwork and lightness of feet as basketball. Ironically, Steve Nash, another former footballer turned hooper, was the only other NBAer wearing low tops at the time.
Matt Nurse, the senior researcher at the Nike Sports Research Lab, dispelled the urban myth we grew up believing. He stated that a stable base in a low-cut shoe provides the same stability and support as a mid-cut height sole. With that being said, 50% of ankle injuries stem from contact with another player and 80% of all ankle injuries occur in the paint, often from the result of landing awkwardly or on another player’s ankle. Lest we not forget, Kobe’s worst ankle injury happened in 2005, when he wore the Nike Huarache 2K5 -- a high-top shoe -- which led to his absence for 16 games.
Despite the information, the majority of fans and players were still skeptical of a shoe with no visible ankle support. That was until "Black Mamba" finished the season with a clean bill of health, playing in each of the Lakers' games and another title tacked on to his Hall of Fame resume. In the 2009 Finals, "Vino" and the Lakers demolished the Magic in five games, averaging a lofty 32.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and, 7.4 assists. With the shoes comfortably sitting on Bryant's feet, the code had been cracked. Kobe Bryant dispelled a basketball myth that was older than me and many of my peers. After the release of the Kobe IV, Kobe never played in high-tops again, until the release of the Nike Kobe 9 -- which were designed after his horrific achilles injury. A low top version was released as well.
Today, low-top kicks are arguably the most popular basketball sneaker, and one can see the influence of Kobe’s sneaker line in Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Dame Lillard, Lonzo Ball, James Harden, and more signatures. Kobe’s sneaker line may not be as iconic in the fashion world as Jordan’s, but from a performance standpoint, "KB24" boasts the most iconic and innovative hoops shoe of all time