A surprising amount of rare sneakers have unique stories behind them, but few are as wild and winding as when one of the NBA’s greatest at the height of his popularity bought himself out of a six-year contract at a cost of $8m just so he could stop wearing a signature shoe he despised.
There are a lot of ways for an endorsement deal to go and whilst none will reach the heights of the legendary Air Jordan, there are still many avenues for success so long as the partnership is right and the design is something every person involved can be proud of.
By contrast, you have The Kobe 2, which spawned an incredible series of events and a lifelong grudge between the Mamba and the Three Stripes of Adidas
A Different Step
The origins of Kobe Bryant’s relationship to Adidas predate his dominance, with him having a signature sneaker, the KB8, as early as his second season in the NBA, having spent his first season in the EQT Elevations that won him a Dunk Contest.
Once it became clear that Kobe was going to be one of the two biggest stars of the LA Lakers, as well as one of the biggest stars in basketball after Michael Jordan’s second retirement in 1999, Adidas would release a shoe so iconic it was simply called The Kobe.
Inspired by the retro-styled aesthetic of the Audi TT roadster, the explicit focus was on style and fashion first, similar to a lot of the Air Jordans around this time.
With that said, Kobe loved the new shoe, how it looked and how it fit. It was to the point that in the 2000 NBA Playoffs, Mr Bryant brought out a pair of then prototype sneakers and made both himself and them legendary by winning the NBA Championship in stunning, star-making fashion.
They would be his familiar companion throughout the 2000/01 season as well, where the Black Mamba won a second NBA Championship, despite the best efforts of Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia 76ers and Allen Iverson’s incredible Reebok sneakers.
However, despite the unique design stylings of Adidas and Kobe’s continued success, trouble brewed on the horizon.
A Step Too Far
The 2001/02 NBA Season began with the debut of the Kobe 2 sneakers, and they were particularly odd.
The Kobe 1s were occasionally described as “moon boots” due to the wide aesthetic and monotone colourways, but the Kobe 2s took this a step too far by being as bulky, chunky and unpleasant to play basketball in as moon boots.
In charcoal and occasionally in white, this was not so bad, but in silver, or, heaven forbid, the colours of the American Flag, the shoes looked unbelievably tacky and despite their bulk were cramped and uncomfortable.
However, whilst the general public was unimpressed and the relatively low sales showcased this, the person most unhappy was Kobe himself, who spent $8m to buy himself out of his deal, wore the Kobe 1 for his third straight NBA Finals run against the New Jersey Nets, and eventually penned a deal with Nike.