In a dimly lighted downtown L.A. art gallery filled with marigolds and flickering candles, Kobe Bryant stared death in the face Tuesday morning, much the way he’d gone eye-to-eye with many an opponent on the basketball court. And, just like he did in most of those encounters, the Laker for life emerged the victor.
The retired NBA superstar was at the MAMA Gallery on Dia de los Muertos to start the marketing campaign for his latest Nike signature shoe, the Kobe A.D., an occasion for which the brick-walled gallery space was transformed into a shrine to the player. Several tiers of bleacher-like seats were blanketed in candles and flowers, among which were placed framed photographs of Bryant and Lakers jerseys bearing the numbers 8 and 24.
On one wall, five all-black basketball hoops were mounted upon a mural that read in all-caps: “Let us gather around and bid our farewells to the beautiful game of the Black Mamba. Gone are the days of a legendary fade away as he fades away back to blackness.”
On the other wall was a piece of art by Mister Cartoon (the tattoo artist whose customers include Bryant) depicting a snake and a decorated skull floating above the Los Angeles cityscape. To its left was a neon art piece by Patrick Martinez that resembled a palm reader’s storefront sign bearing the words: “Five Rings, the past and future of L.A. is bright, 1996-2016,” the dates referencing the years Bryant played.
In a staged, seven-minute Q&A with “Access Hollywood” correspondent Liz Hernandez, Bryant held forth on cooking at home (he’s proficient at making breakfast, he said, but lunch and dinner not so much), what being retired means (“Not having to obsess about winning a championship,” was one upside; “not having to focus dealing with the Russell Westbrooks of the world,” was another) and the inspiration for the Kobe A.D. (which, in this case, does seem to stand in for “after death,” not anno domini, Latin for “in the year of the Lord.”)
“It’s a concept that kind of came to me years ago,” Bryant told Hernandez. “With the end of my career almost feeling like a death because I’d been playing basketball so long, and it was my life for a while. To walk away from that death[-like] experience and ask: ‘Can we move on from that? What comes after that? How do you progress from that?’ And that’s when the idea kind of hit me. [I] need to transition; the basketball player is now done, retired. So now we have to move on to the next phase.” (The short answer is: the “Mamba mentality” a.k.a. the ghost of Kobe future.)
Because the whole point of Dia de los Muertos is to honor those who have passed on by celebrating (instead of mourning) them as a way of acknowledging and embracing the inevitable cycle of life, Bryant and the folks at Nike attempted a masterful (and meaningful) transition of the Kobe Bryant brand.
The event was more about symbolism than specifics, but here are the details we managed to glean about Bryant’s 12th signature shoe for Nike and his first post-retirement silhouette: The Nike Kobe A.D. is a low-profile, on-court shoe that features Nike’s proprietary Lunarlon foam in the midsole, its Zoom Air cushioning system in the heel and a minimal rubber outsole with micro-tread traction. The upper is composed of a breathable mesh that incorporates Nike’s Dynamic Flywire construction (essentially strategically placed filaments that allow for a lighter-weight upper).
The pair on display in L.A. on Tuesday were gray (as were the ones in the provided Nike press materials), but we assume additional colorways will be available at some future date. The suggested retail price is $160, and the street date is set for Nov. 22 at nike.com and select retailers nationwide.
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