Kobe Bryant Day 2023: His Best On-Court Moments and the Sneakers He Wore in Them
8 moments and 8 shoes that tell the legend of the Black Mamba. From the start of his Nike Kobe brand, his Air Jordan PEs, to his short-lived adidas signatures.
Shoes are nothing more than rubber, leather, and an amalgam of other textiles. Their value’s just relative to the narratives we attach to them. Case in point: anything Travis Scott-related, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Ye, Virgil Abloh, Ronnie Fieg, Teddy Santis, et al.
Air Jordans won’t sell too high above their production cost if not for the legendary moments its namesake has created. And as many of them His Airness has, his de facto successor, Kobe Bean Bryant, has plenty of his own. It’s easy to come up with an exhaustive list considering there’re so many in his 20-year, one-team NBA career.
As we reminisce about him on 24 August, this year’s Mamba Day, here are eight signature Nike and adidas Kobe shoes:
■ 81-Point Game (against the Toronto Raptors, 22 January 2006)
Nike Kobe 1 Protro “81 Point Game”
Kobe Bryant has many pinnacles in his career: five championships, four All-Star Game MVPs, two scoring titles, etc. Although he was robbed of multiple MVPs in the course of his prime, this singular scoring performance in January 2006 is the Mamba Mentality on full display. 24, 8, and 81. The three numbers that come to mind when thinking about the Mamba’s supremacy.
Kobe led the league in scoring that year, averaging 35.4 points per game. His contemporaries barely averaged 15.
■ The Kobe–Shaq Alley-Oop (Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals)
adidas Crazy 1 “Matte Silver/Core Black”
Kobe Bean Bryant has one of the most prolific and expansive highlight reels of anyone not named Michael Jordan. He’s been a mainstay on “Top 10 Plays of the Week” from Year 1 to Year 20.
But if there’s a moment that stands out taller than most, it’s this play from Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals against Scottie Pippen and the Portland Trailblazers.
To think they were down 15 with only 10 minutes of gameplay, the Lakers rallied all the way to lead by four by the time there was a minute left. When most people would play it safe, Kobe decided to lob it to fellow Lakers legend Shaquille O’Neal for the coup de grâce.
Any credible video montage will have included this play. The finesse, the grace, it’s poetry in motion. Absolutely gif-worthy.
■ Matt Barnes “No-Flinch” In-Bound Play
Nike Zoom Kobe V “Away”
Another vivid display of the Mamba Mentality. It was just a regular season game, nothing much at stake. Yet it unwittingly birthed one of the most famous stories in the Kobe lore.
The Orlando Magic’s Matt Barnes was preparing to in-bound the ball with Kobe calmly standing in front of him. As the offensive normally would, Barnes fakes a chest pass (supposedly) right onto Kobe’s line of sight and the Mamba did. Not. Even. Flinch.
That’s just how locked-in Kobe usually was. To say nothing of the clip of Chris Rock talking to him from the side of the bench and Kobe was completely oblivious to his presence, let alone his words. Just pure laser focus. So concentrated his stare could slice any balls of steel. Scary.
■ “I’ll go through Pau’s f***ing chest” (2008 Beijing Olympic Games Gold Medal Match)
Nike Hyperdunk ’08 “United We Rise”
Aptly taking place on 24 August (what would eventually be Mamba Day) as well, was the Gold Medal match at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. The USA Basketball Men’s National Team was at the precipice of re-coronation after years of disappointing appearances on the international stage.
Dubbed the “Redeem Team”, the only thing in their way was Spain and Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant’s brother-in-arms and closest confidante right after his own family. It’s a memorable game not just because of the conclusion of USA basketball’s redemption arc, but because it showed the lengths Kobe would go to for a victory on the battlefield.
He told his teammates prior that he would bulldoze through Pau Gasol’s chest within the first few minutes of the game to send a message. Nobody believed him knowing how close they were. Until Kobe did, within the first play. Seconds into the game. To everyone’s shock. But it ultimately, galvanized them.
The pair he wore in the game was a PE with but this was the exact model and colorway.
■ Michael Jordan–Kobe Bryant Final Matchup (2003)
Nike Air Jordan 8 Retro “Kobe Bryant” PE
Michael Jordan in 2003 was on his farewell tour, playing for the Washington Wizards. It was to be his last game against the Lakers and everybody knew the match-up would be between Kobe Bryant and him, the promising rookie against the aged veteran and legend.
There would be no ceremonial passing of the torch. Kobe would have to snatch it, and Jordan himself wouldn’t have it any other way—knowing how competitive they both were.
Kobe would go on to score 55 points in the game with an incredible 42 in the first half. But Jordan would outsmart him on several occasions, much to Kobe’s playful chagrin.
■ Dunking Over LeBron James and Winning 2011 NBA All-Star Game MVP
Nike Zoom Kobe VI “All-Star”
Kobe Bryant was an 18-time NBA All-Star, winning the MVP award four times. The trophy itself would eventually be renamed in his honor to “NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant Most Valuable Player”.
By the time he won his last one in 2011, he was already an elder statesman with the best years of his playing career unknowingly in his rear view. Yet, he was still holding his own against stars a decade younger like Kevin Durant, demonstrating his point with a sweet trail-away dunk over prime LeBron James.
■ Shooting Free Throws After Tearing Achilles Tendon
Nike Kobe 8 Protro “Halo”
On 12 April 2013, Kobe Bryant would be forced to relinquish control over his fate. For over 15 years, he’s pushed his body to its limits. Working when everyone was working, working when everyone was asleep.
The temple would eventually collapse with the career-altering, season-ending injury wherein he would tear his Achilles tendon. However, moments like these are what defined Kobe and the mythic Mamba Mentality.
Anybody else would’ve been carried off to the locker room after such a catastrophe. Proving he was a sui generis, he would hobble back to the court to shoot two more free throws. His teeth gritting to bear the pain that his eyes can’t hide.
The “Halo” colorway isn’t the exact shoes he wore. But with the pair’s imminent arrival on his birthday, 23 August, the seraphic makeup may be the best one to celebrate his life.
■ “Mamba Out” Speech (Scoring 60 in His Final Game)
Nike Kobe 11 Elite Low “Fade To Black”
Everybody who was anybody would gather at the Staples Center on 13 April 2016 for Kobe’s final game. His last appearance in the purple and gold. His last as an active player on the hardwood. As fate would have it, there would be no second and third retirement like MJ before him. It would be the ultimate curtain call for his illustrious 20-year career.
Shaq would challenge him pre-game to score 50 and in true Mamba fashion, Kobe would up it to 60. The night and career would be capped off with the iconic “Mamba Out” speech.
The legend of the Black Mamba will live on, be it in documentaries, biographies, or through the tales of people who’ve interacted with him, and the people who knew him best.
Most of us will never live up to the Mamba Mentality the way he did, but we’re all the better for striving for it. With the shoes listed above, we remember the displays of those moments, and wearing them maybe the closest we get into “stepping into his shoes”.
For what it’s worth, with the rejuvenation of Nike’s Kobe brand line, we will definitely see more of these shoes as we saw them on his feet. Stay tuned!
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