Tag: Kobe Bryant

How the NBA has mourned Kobe Bryant through sneakers

‘It’s not like wearing Kobes makes this feel any better.’


Washington – In their first home game after Kobe Bryant’s untuned you death, the Washington Wizards won the opening tip against the Charlotte Hornets, and the basketball found its way into the hands of Isaiah Thomas.

Instead of advancing past half court, Thomas dribbled in place for eight seconds before his team was sanctioned for an intentional eight-second violation. Following the turnover, the Hornets inbounded the ball and dribbled out their own intentional 24-second shot clock violation, as the crowd at Capital One Arena chanted — “KO-BE! KO-BE! KO-BE!” — all while Thomas stood by himself, staring down at his sneakers. On his feet were a pair of “Finals MVP” Nike Zoom Kobe 4s — the same pair Bryant wore the night he and the Los Angeles Lakers claimed an NBA title in 2009.

Thomas wore them four days after the 41-year-old NBA legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed, along with seven others, in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The night of the Hornets game, Thomas arrived at the arena rocking a yellow throwback No. 8 Bryant Lakers jersey. And during pregame, he stumbled across the decade-plus-old pair of Kobe 4s, tucked in the bottom left cubby of his locker. He decided to lace them up in honor of his longtime hero and mentor.

“It was only right,” Thomas told The Undefeated. “I hadn’t seen anybody wear these this season, so I had to pull them out. But it’s not like wearing Kobes makes this feel any better.”

Bryant is the first player in NBA history with a signature sneaker to die. His legacy in basketball footwear is undeniable. He repped two major brands, Adidas and Nike, while receiving 22 different signatures and more than 20 team models bearing his name and logo. Since Bryant’s sudden death nearly a month ago, players across the NBA have mourned him through their sneakers. From breaking out exclusive shoes from Bryant’s storied signature line to scribbling personal messages on pairs and even abandoning brand loyalty, the tributes to one of the most important figures in sneaker history haven’t stopped.

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Perhaps most notably, for the first time since he entered the NBA in 2003, Lakers star LeBron James played a game in another player’s signature shoe — Kobes.

“It really speaks to how much our players admire him,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said. “For many of the young players today, Kobe was the NBA. They all admire him. Sneaker culture is so prevalent now in the NBA and the world that it’s so appropriate for them to honor him in this way. I know Kobe loved sneakers, and the fact that our players are rallying around sneakers as one way to show their love and admiration for Kobe is amazing.”

On Jan. 26, in the hours after news of the helicopter crash surfaced, more than 40 players across eight NBA games took the court wearing pairs of Bryant’s sneakers.

The first game on the schedule, a matchup between the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets, tipped off less than 40 minutes after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirmedthe death of Bryant, the retired 20-year NBA veteran. Seven players on the rosters of the Rockets and Nuggets laced up Kobes for the game: Denver’s Torrey Craig wore the “Galaxy” Nike Zoom Kobe 7s, which Bryant donned in the 2012 NBA All-Star Game. P.J. Tucker wore a pair of player exclusive (PE) Nike Zoom Kobe 7s, made for the basketball team at Los Angeles’ Westchester High School. Tucker, the NBA’s unrivaled sneaker king who wears multiple pairs of sneakers in any given game, typically ends games playing in Kobes. That afternoon, he pulled the Westchester PEs out of the 16-pair duffel bag he takes with him on Houston’s road trips.

Houston Rockets power forward P.J. Tucker in the “Westchester” Nike Zoom Kobe 7 PEs.TIMOTHY NWACHUKWU/GETTY IMAGES

“RIP KB,” Tucker wrote with a Sharpie inside the swoosh of each shoe. He also wrote “THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER” and “LOVE YOU KB24” on each midsole. The permanent ink on Tucker’s rare Weschester PEs will forever remind him of the day he, and the world, lost Bryant.

That same afternoon, San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, a native of Compton, California, who has idolized Bryant since high school, when they first met, received a message as he arrived at AT&T Center to face the Toronto Raptors in the second NBA game of the day.

“I probably took like five steps away from my car and my cousin texted me asking me, ‘Is this real?’ ” DeRozan recalled. “He was like, ‘This Kobe thing … ’ I paused for a minute. Just like everybody, I didn’t wanna believe it. I think I was the only one who knew at that moment. I sat on the floor and tried to process it from there. We played an hour and a half after that. Everybody was asking what was wrong, and if I was OK. Once it hit everywhere, you could just feel the whole energy sucked out of everybody.” DeRozan last spoke to Bryant in December. “My daughter is getting older now and she loves basketball,” he said. “We were talking about getting her into the Mamba Academy.”

In a 110-106 Spurs loss, DeRozan scored just 14 points while wearing the “Big Stage/Parade” Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Protros, which were scheduled to drop on Feb. 7. Following Bryant’s death, Nike postponed the release. “It was, by far,” DeRozan said, “the hardest game I ever had to play in my life.”

San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan in the “Big Stage/Parade” Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Protros.LOGAN RIELY/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES

DeRozan represents a small collective of NBA players that includes Thomas and Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker, who exclusively rock Bryant’s Nikes on the basketball court. He’s worn Kobes since day one — Oct. 28, 2009, when DeRozan played his first NBA regular-season game in a pair of black and white Kobe 4s. The four-time All-Star has laced up Kobes in all 805 games of his NBA career with one exception. On Feb. 12, 2012, Bryant traveled with the Lakers to Toronto for a matchup against his protege and the Raptors. That afternoon, DeRozan tried to get into his opponent’s head by ditching his usual Kobes for a pair of Air Jordan 10s. Undoubtedly, the Black Mamba noticed.

Kobe Bryant (right) of the Los Angeles Lakers protects the ball from DeMar DeRozan (left) of the Toronto Raptors during the game between the Toronto Raptors and the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 12, 2012, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.RON TURENNE/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES

“It’s a thing early on in your career that you don’t ever wear the shoe of a player you’re going against,” DeRozan said. “I remember I wore some Jordans and as soon as Kobe walked on the court, he was mad as s— at me. He was like, ‘What the hell is going on!?!’ We laughed about it and I didn’t do it again. Ever since then, I’ve stuck with Kobes.” In 2017, a year after Bryant retired from the NBA, Nike released the Kobe A.D. DeRozan PE, inspired by one of the shooting guard’s earliest, and fondest, memories watching his idol play for the Lakers while growing up in Los Angeles. Two more of DeRozan’s Kobe PEs, a red limited edition Zoom Kobe 1 Protro, and a blue Olympic-themed Kobe A.D., dropped at retail in 2018.

“It’s always meant so much to me to be able to wear his shoes just because of our relationship and how he handpicked me to wear them,” DeRozan said. “I’ve always worn his shoe proudly, and continued to have his shoe live on. That was always my plan, even before his whole thing — to honor him and everything he stood for.”

Booker, along with Thomas and DeRozan, also played the night Bryant died — wearing Kobes, of course. The Suns shooting guard scored 36 points, fittingly on 24 shots, in a pair of all-purple Kobe 4 PEs, on which he penned in quotes a phrase Bryant once proclaimed to him: “Be Legendary.” After wearing a pair of Kobe 4 PEs in Wizards team colors against the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 26, Thomas turned to PEs from his brief stint with the Nuggets during the 2018-19 season. Coincidentally, the yellow, navy and red Kobe 4s are the same shoes Thomas took the court in after his close friend, West Coast rapper Nipsey Hussle, was shot and killed in March 2019. “RiP Nip RiP Kobe,” Thomas wrote on the side panel of the right shoe’s heel, while adding a line from Hussle’s 2018 track, “Victory Lap” — “I say it’s worth it, I won’t say it’s fair.”

When the Wizards returned to Washington to play the Hornets on Jan. 30, Thomas inked messages calling out the late Hussle and Bryant on his “Finals MVP” Kobe 4s, and added another line — “I Love You Chyna!!” — to honor his late sister.

Former Washington Wizards point guard Isaiah Thomas in the “Finals MVP” Nike Zoom Kobe 4s.PATRICK MCDERMOTT/GETTY IMAGES

On April 15, 2017, Chyna Thomas was killed in a one-car accident in the family’s home state of Washington at the age of 22. The following night, Thomas, then playing for the Boston Celtics, opened the 2017 NBA playoffs wearing a pair of green, gold and black Nike Kobe A.D. PEs.

“Kobe was one of the first people to reach out after my sister passed. He helped me through it for a while. It wasn’t just that day,” Thomas said. Two-and-a-half weeks later, Thomas broke out the green Kobe A.D. PEs again, and scored a career-high 53 points in a game that fell on the day Chyna would’ve turned 23. “I still have that pair, because that was my sister’s birthday,” Thomas said. “It was one of the biggest games that I ever played. One of the biggest games in playoff history … a special night for me in Kobes.”

Thomas is now an NBA free agent after being traded by the Wizards on Feb. 6 and waived by the Los Angeles Clippers. He played his final game in Washington on Feb. 3 wearing the “Prelude” Kobe 4.

“I’ve been Team Kobe my whole life … ,” Thomas said. “I will always wear Kobes and pay homage to, in my opinion, the greatest player to ever play.”

It wasn’t until five days after the tragedy that the Lakers took the court for the first time. On Jan. 31, during a game against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers, nearly every player and coach on the hardwood at Staples Center that night had on a pair of shoes that the late Lakers legend made timeless.

“I just wanted to find some special Kobes to wear,” Lakers shooting guard Troy Daniels told The Undefeated. “I had a pair that I made three or four years ago through Nike I.D. but had never actually worn them. I figured it would be a good time to wear them.”

That night marked James’ first time playing an NBA game in another player’s shoe. James, who’s received a signature sneaker every basketball season for 17 years, laced up a pair of Nike Zoom Kobe 1 Protros — a performance retro model of the shoe Bryant wore while dropping 81 points at Staples Center on Jan. 22, 2006.

Left: LeBron James points at the late Kobe Bryant’s two retired jerseys hanging in the rafters of Staples Center, while wearing the ‘‘81 Points’’ Nike Zoom Kobe 1 Protros. Right: Kobe Bryant, wearing the Nike Zoom Kobe 1s, points into the air after scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006.

“To see that is beyond crazy,” DeRozan said. “It shows the relationship between Kobe and ’Bron, who looked up to Kobe even before he got in the league. It shows the amount of respect that Kobe had amongst his peers and amongst the greats. I don’t know the last time we saw ’Bron in some shoes other than his. So for ’Bron to throw on them shoes — that says a lot.”

On his pair of Kobe 1s, James wrote “Rest in Paradise KB + GG” and “#Mamba4Life.” During the game, he also wore a pair of the “Big Stage/Parade” Nike Zoom Kobe 5s.

“LeBron actually practiced in them a couple times,” Daniels said. “But I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He never wears low-cut shoes. For him to put those on, it was powerful.”

Sneaker salutes continued across the NBA in the week following James’ unprecedented moment. At Staples Center on Feb. 6, Houston Rockets star James Harden, a native of Los Angeles, broke out a pair of white, yellow and purple Reebok Question PEs, which Bryant wore during his sneaker free agency during the 2002-03 NBA season before signing with Nike. Harden had the freedom to wear a pair of the Questions as a signature athlete for Adidas, which has owned Reebok since 2005.

On Feb. 8, Brooklyn Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie released a special edition pair of the K8IROS Mark II, his personally designed signature basketball sneaker. Dinwiddie — who changed his jersey number from Bryant’s famed No. 8 to No. 26 — pledged 100% of the proceeds from sales of the shoes in the first nine days following their release to the MambaOnThree fund in support of the loved ones of the seven other victims involved in the helicopter tragedy.

“While I continue to mourn this tremendous loss alongside the millions he impacted globally, I wanted to do my part to honor him in my own unique way,” Dinwiddie wrote in an insert included in the promotional packaging of the K8IROS Mark II. “As a native son of L.A. who grew up idolizing Kobe, I have learned many lessons from him, both on and off the court. One of those is his entrepreneurial drive, which inspired me to create my own shoe.”

“One of the top sneakers to ever be played in,” Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant said of Bryant’s signature line at media availability before the Rising Stars Challenge during 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago. “I’m a big fan of them. I got a lot.”

In a 114-109 Grizzlies win over the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 26, Morant wore the “Chaos” Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Protros — the last pair of Kobes Nike released before Bryant’s death. Morant hasn’t worn Kobes since.

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant in the “Chaos” Nike Zoom Kobe 5s, the last pair of Kobe Bryant’s shoes that Nike released before his death.JOE MURPHY/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES

“I just don’t want to wear them no more now,” said Morant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft who’s in the conversation to become Nike Basketball’s next signature athlete.

“Man, to be honest,” New Orleans Pelicans rookie, and Jordan Brand athlete, Zion Williamson told The Undefeated at All-Star Weekend. The question: What is Kobe Bryant’s legacy when it comes to basketball sneakers? “It’s up there with Jordan’s. Especially in this generation, because he was this generation’s Michael Jordan. If you look … a lot of players wear Kobes when they’re playing basketball. His impact on the shoe game was incredible.”

Throughout All-Star Weekend, Bryant’s sneakers surfaced on the feet of multiple players, dominated by pairs of the unreleased “Big Stage/Parade” Kobe 5s, worn by Bam Adebayo, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Joe Harris, Buddy Hield, Khris Middleton, Josh Okogie, Duncan Robinson and Domantas Sabonis. For the All-Star Game, Adebayo unveiled a custom-painted pair of Nike Kobe A.D.s, while Lakers big man Anthony Davis hit the free throw that gave Team LeBron a 157-155 win over Team Giannis while wearing a purple and yellow pair of Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Protros.

“I always wore high-tops and mids, honestly,” Davis told The Undefeated in an interview five days before Bryant died. “Then maybe two years ago, I was trying different shoes, put the Kobes on, and I just felt like I was faster. I jumped higher. I shot better. I just felt like Kobe. So I stuck with them … I love Kobes.”

At the All-Star Game, Lakers assistant coach Phil Handycollaborated with Brand Aces on a custom-designed pair of “Chaos” Kobe 5s. The sight of the pair, which feature “KOBE” on one shoe and “GIGI” on the other, brought tears to Handy’s eyes when he unboxed them for the first time.

“As someone who actually had a chance to get to know Kobe a little bit and understand what he was about,” Handy said, “it’s an honor to have a shoe like this to represent him, his family and everything he stood for. That’s what this means to me.”

Bryant meant everything to basketball — and, as a result, sneakers. The tributes will keep coming and extend far beyond the shock of his death because Bryant’s legacy in footwear is truly everlasting.

“I’ll never play in another player’s shoes as long as I’m in the league from now on,” DeRozan said. “That’s how much I love Kobe’s shoes.”

Chronicling the career and life of Kobe Bryant

Kobe, thanks for all the memories. Rest In Peace.

By Marc J. Spears

People have asked me time and time again: What’s Kobe Bryant like?

“Simply the best,” I always answered.

I first learned about how much he cared when he showed up for a charity game for Hurricane Katrina victims in Houston on Sept. 11, 2005. I will never forget the image of him sitting next to a young black boy on the bench during the charity event. Nor will I forget how he took the time to ask me questions about my New Orleans-based parents and family, who were affected by Katrina. It meant the world to me. There were other NBA stars there that day, including LeBron James and Allen Iverson, but Bryant was the star of the stars.

I first learned about Kobe’s graciousness on Oct. 24, 2008, when my former college basketball teammate Troy McCoy took his 7-year-old son, Cameron, and two of his friends to a Los Angeles Lakers preseason game as a birthday present. After hearing the kids cheering loudly for the Lakers in an otherwise quiet game, Lakers media relations director Alison Bogli gave McCoy and the kids postgame passes to meet some players. Long after the game, Bryant came out of the locker room looking around and saying, “Where’s Cameron at? Where’s Cameron?”

A stunned Cameron put his hand up in the air, but was too shy to say anything. Kobe walked up to the boy and said, “Hello, my name is Kobe. What’s your name?” Bryant got Cameron to respond, then offered the kids words of wisdom and took a picture with them.

Kobe Bryant (right) of the Los Angeles Lakers high-fives fans after the game against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 28, 2015, at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Kobe approached many of the people he was asked to meet postgame with attention to detail and focus, much like how he played ball.

“He would do a lot of due diligence on his own,” Michelle Obeso-Theus, who worked for Bryant from 2011-15, once told The Undefeated. “Regardless of how people view him, he is a genius. Very tenacious. Resilient.

“He taught me dedication and sacrifice to be great. His vision to see the future was crazy. When he said he wanted to meet someone, he always wanted to know what made them great. It didn’t matter if they were a wood-carver. He wanted to understand the mentality of what it takes for them to be a wood-carver.”

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On Sunday morning, Bryant died at age 41 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. He leaves behind a basketball legacy as one of the greatest NBA players of all time and one of its fiercest competitors. He was an NBA MVP, five-time champion, 18-time All-Star, 11-time first team all-NBA selection and two-time Olympic gold medalist. But he was so much more.

Kobe wasn’t just another player I covered.

After he suffered a torn Achilles tendon injury in 2013, Bryant, showing his competitive fire, said via e-mail: “Please do me a favor though and write a piece about what I was doing prior to getting hurt and the numbers I was putting up and bringing the team to the footstep of the postseason. I feel they are forgetting how good I was for ANY age. And that nothing in my career suggests that I won’t come back just as good or better next season.”

Another time, when I mistakenly asked a question and referred to his four NBA championships, he quickly corrected me — it was five — and gave me that Mamba glare.

Kobe was often accommodating to me when doing interviews after games and practices. He called me “Big Spears” and used to give me a hard time for asking thought-provoking questions, once saying, “Man, you always asking me those Dr. Seuss a– questions.” He knew I could take his joking. Kobe had a sharp sense of humor.

Marc J. Spears (left) interviews Kobe Bryant (right) at NBA-All Star weekend in 2013 in Houston.MARC J. SPEARS

One time with his Nike right-hand man Nico Harrison by his side, he playfully objected to doing an interview with me after a Lakers practice unless I changed my wardrobe that day: an adidas sweatsuit and shoes. Keep in mind that Kobe was then a Nike endorser who had a bad breakup with adidas. After some good-natured ribbing, he did the interview.

But when it came down to it, Kobe was thoughtful. In March 2016, I landed a job as the senior NBA writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated and I gave him the news via e-mail. Bryant responded by writing: “Happy for you my brotha!!! Write from the heart!!! Always here for you.”

On Dec. 17, 2018, I was on hand as the Lakers retired both his No. 8 and No. 24. It was his night, but on his way out, he caught a glimpse of me and yelled, “Big Spears.” We shared an embrace and had a brief conversation before he was whisked away. And I am far from the only reporter who Kobe was gracious to, as he made time for countless other media people in sports and beyond.

I last had an in-depth conversation with Kobe in a phone interview last February. He told me about his busy schedule when I asked if he was keeping an eye on the Lakers.

“Look,” he said, “between building an entire studio from scratch, hiring a publishing-production company, licensing, building an animation studio, writing the book, between that and coaching my daughter’s team every single day, I have no time. I mean I have no time. None.”

He remained driven and dedicated to his family.

On March 19, 2019, Bryant released his first sports-fantasy book, The Wizenard Series: Training Camp. Written by Wesley King, Bryant’s youth series features characters of different races and background. He believed his daughters needed to see characters who looked like them.

“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the characters would be children of color, mixed-race, because that’s what I have at home,” Bryant said. “And that’s what I grew up with. But in the industry, itself, it is very hard to find that. Very, very hard to find that because we tend to … the general argument is that, ‘Well, they can’t appeal to the masses.’ ”

Kobe did.

The basketball world won’t be the same without him. Neither will mine. Rest in peace, Kobe.