All week long, an endless array of players wore a variety of Kobe Bryant’s most memorable sneakers in his honor, pulling from an extensive archive of his nearly 20 Nike signature models, and an additional handful of pairs from Bryant’s early Adidas days.
After first meeting Bryant at age 15, LeBron James has long looked to the Lakers legend as a source of inspiration and a measuring stick of what it meant to achieve greatness in the league. The fellow teen phenom could often be seen wearing Bryant’s signature Adidas sneakers all throughout his time at Saint Vincent-Saint Mary’s High School. Both James and Bryant eventually signed with Nike during the summer of 2003.
James capped off the week-long series of tributes by speaking on behalf of the Lakers organization during a touching remembrance before the franchise’s first game since last weekend’s tragedy. He was all-in for the occasion, lacing up a retro size 16 pair of the Kobe 1 in its most iconic colorway, the white, purple and black edition in which Bryant famously scored 81 points.
“Me wearing the oversized jersey, me wearing the wristband, me wearing the finger sleeve, me wearing his shoes — it was just showing appreciation and the love that he gave us, way before he knew us,” James said. “Then, when we got an opportunity to actually be competitors and then become brothers.”
As he often does, James added in a collection of handwritten notes along his sneakers, this time honoring Bryant and his daughter Gianna, by inscribing “#Mamba4Life. RIP KB. RIP GiGi. Rest in paradise KB + GiGi.”
For Bryant, his first Nike signature model in 2006 represented the start of a shift in his career, as it was the last model he’d wear with No. 8.
“As soon as you put that shoe on, you are going to see that it has a lot more cushion,” he said years ago. “A lot of power forwards and a lot of players that are bigger in stature enjoyed those shoes more than some of the others because it had a lot more cushion in them. Coming off of that shoe, I wanted to get back to the lighter weight stuff.”
At 6-foot-9, James was said to be looking for a pair of the Kobe 1, 2 or 3 in which to start Friday’s game — all higher cut silhouettes than Bryant’s more recognizable low-top editions later in the line. As players all throughout the week rocked rare and special edition colorways, each with an immediately noticeable theme, nickname or memory connected to Kobe, for the Black Mamba himself, that specific Kobe 1 had always ranked among his favorites.
“It’s special man, because when you see that shoe, that’s the first thing people think of — the 81,” he said. “It’s special to have those moments with shoes and how people tie in your years or games to a shoe.”
While James had long been considered a peer of Bryant’s, for many of the game’s younger players, Kobe was their aspirational icon all along, their childhood hero, and more.
“He and LeBron were for me, the guys that [are the reason] I play basketball,” Luka Doncic said. “I looked up to them and that’s why I got motivated to play basketball. It’s just really hard.”
The day after learning of Bryant’s passing, Doncic and his Dallas Mavericks were set to tip off, with the 20-year-old MVP candidate making an exception from his newly inked Jordan Brand shoe deal to instead wear a pair of Kobe 5s. Doncic was the first player to write the names of all nine victims of the Calabasas helicopter tragedy on his sneakers.
“I just wanted to honor the people,” he said. “Anything I can do for their families, I’m open to do it. Anything.”
It was just a month ago that Bryant, clad in an orange WNBA hoodie, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna sat courtside for a Lakers game featuring the visiting Mavericks to see Doncic up close. As Bryant would often do in recent years, he went full proud dad mode, snapping an iPhone image of his daughter with one of her favorite players just after the buzzer.
“It was something special. Kobe knows me,” Doncic said. “It was something amazing.”
Each night, remarkably rare pairs have hit the hardwood. P.J. Tucker wore an exclusive Kobe 7 originally made just for the Los Angeles-area Westchester High School team. Isaiah Thomas turned back the clock with an exclusive Finals-themed pair of the Kobe 4 from 2009. Tobias Harris pulled out a 2008 pair of the Kobe 3 that commemorated Bryant’s lone MVP season.
Langston Galloway’s Hyperdunks honored perhaps Bryant’s most iconic commercial — the unforgettable 2008 viral stunt of him leaping over a speeding Aston Martin. Even coaches have been getting in on the footwear tributes, with full benches across the league wearing a variety of Kobe 4 and 5 colorways.
Check out the best sneakers spotted around the league in this week’s all-Kobe overview, and be sure to vote for your favorite pair in our poll below. For real-time updates on sneaker culture and NBA kicks, follow @SneakerCenter on Instagram.
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