Kobe Bryant’s signature shoes keep his memory close to those in NBA’s bubble
Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, an assistant coach with the Lakers, looked at his sneakers while standing on the court. His eyes fixated on the logo atop the tongue of the white and black low-top shoes, the sheath that’s become synonymous with Kobe Bryant.
It might seem like a little thing, but a lot had to happen for Kidd to be here, inside the NBA bubble, wearing one of his favorite pairs of shoes. He packed four pairs for the team’s trip.
“When you’re on the other side, you never want to wear the enemy’s shoe. That’s an old-school thing for me. If Kobe saw that, he’d think, ‘Oh, he idolizes me. I’ve got him,’” Kidd said.
The reason why Kidd wouldn’t wear the shoes before is the reason why so many are wearing them now, Bryant’s signature kicks becoming the unofficially most popular shoe in the bubble. At the Lakers’ practice Tuesday, at least 13 players, coaches and staff members wore Bryant‘s shoes.
Coach Erik Spoelstra has thrived through a turbulent season to bring the Heat to the NBA Finals. LeBron James and Miami players know why he deserves respect.
The Lakers’ opponents aren’t any different.
“You see the effect that he had on the world. Me growing up, I was a Kobe fan, Kobe fanatic ... it’s my favorite shoe to play in,” Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “I’ve been playing in them this whole playoff run, so can’t stop now.”
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, once Bryant’s agent, was involved in the design process for the signature Nike shoes, sitting in on meetings as his top client agonized over every decision. The sessions for the Kobe 5 — one of the most popular models of the shoe — are replayed inside Pelinka’s brain every time he laces up a pair.
Whenever the Lakers are on the court, it’s a smart bet that Pelinka has a pair on his feet.
“When I put them on, it just triggers so many incredible memories of sitting around a table where Kobe would be collaborating with the Nike designers about how he wanted the shoe to look and the inspiration behind it,” Pelinka said. “Those sessions were just so memorable, with him pulling inspiration out of all these unexpected places — like how a great white shark swims and building that into how a shoe should work and building that, the way he’d want the material on his shoe to fit so it would give him an advantage on a certain footwork move he’d been working on. He was kind of a Da Vinci-like designer — every detail was so thought through.
“… He was obsessed with the details. He was always reverse-engineering life, always look at the details. And when I put on that shoe, that’s the inspiration I get — how am I going to make the most of this moment, this day, this game. That’s what he stood for. That’s how he approached life.”
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Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among the nine who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, pushing the Lakers franchise into a very public mourning for one of the NBA’s icons.
“When you think of the Lakers, you think of Kobe. You don’t think of anybody else. You think of Kobe Bryant,” Anthony Davis said Wednesday while wearing his own signature shoe that’s part of the Bryant line. “And for guys to, not just on the Lakers but around the league, to wear his shoes and continue his legacy, for Nike to continue his legacy, it’s amazing. … I fell in love with them, and I want to be able to continue to push his legacy for as long as I can.”
Dwight Howard, who feuded with Bryant during a failed pairing in 2012-13, wore purple, black and gold versions of a Kobe 5 re-release during Tuesday’s media day. His return to the Lakers last year was a surprise considering how he left, but when he got back to Los Angeles, he had a message.
“I was wearing them before anything even happened with Kobe. I had talked to Rob and told him I wanted to wear all Kobes this year,” Howard said. “I just, for some reason, didn’t want to wear anybody else’s shoes.”
Bryant’s never too far from the Lakers, even inside the bubble. The team breaks huddles with Bryant’s “Mamba” nickname. The Lakers are undefeated this postseason wearing the special black jerseys he helped design. There’s a tribute patch on their jerseys.
“For me, it’s the jerseys,” Davis said. “For me, it’s being here, being a Laker. Every time I put on the Laker uniform, we say ‘Mamba on three’, we talk about Mamba mentality, we talk about Mamba shots, Kobe, all those things. That’s what gets me thinking about it.”
And then there are the shoes, the ones they wear and the ones on the feet of the players they compete against.
“What he’s done for this league, he was a role model for a lot of us growing up. Just like kids wear Jordans or LeBrons, Kobe is the same way,” Denver forward Torrey Craig said. “I just think a lot guys are wearing them now out of respect for him.”
For some players, lacing up the style of shoes Bryant himself once wore allows for a brief moment of reflection, a glimmer of memories before they refocus on the game in front of them.
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And for the people who still are deeply wounded from the loss, the shoes mean more.
“It’s a tangible reminder, a representation of Kobe and Gianna’s spirit being with us and with this team. And that’s powerful. Anytime in life where there’s tragedy, you have to hope that beauty will come out of that in some form,” Pelinka said.
“And it’s in these little things where you have to find inspiration — because it’s still incredibly saddening. We know Kobe and Gianna would want us to carry forward in strength because that’s what they both were. And these things can help catapult us.”
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