On Sunday, January 26, 2020, the world lost one of the most legendary basketball players of all time, Kobe Bryant. Shortly after the tragic news, an outpouring of tributes, memories, sentiments, and stories of his influence was shared across the globe. Kobe Bryant wasn’t just an athlete. His impact was undeniable both on and off the court. Not just as a basketball player either but as a leader, a businessman, an icon, a husband and a father.
The Lakers legend is survived by his wife, Vanessa Bryant, and his three children: Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Maria Ono, and seven others, also passed away in the accident.
Bryant, was drafted 13th overall by Charlotte in the 1996 NBA Draft. He was 17-years-old at the time and spent his entire career, which spanned over 20 seasons, with the LA Lakers. With the immediate attention he gained as being one of the most promising young players in the league, Kobe quickly gained international recognition, a feat not seen since the “Dynasty” days of Michael Jordan. During his career, he led the Lakers to five NBA championships, was an 18-time All-Star, and scored a total of 33,642 points during his career.
Off the court, he was an icon and the inspiration between dozens of iconic sneakers with a signature series that spanned over two brands.
To recognize and honour one of the greatest names in basketball, sneakers, and ultimately, the world, let’s take a look at just some of Kobe’s extraordinary achievements through his career.
Kobe’s Draft Year and the Slam Dunk Contest
Bryant declared himself for the 1996 NBA draft upon graduating from Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. He was the son of Joe Braynt, a former NBA player, and became the first guard to ever be drafted out of high school after being picked 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets. He was quickly traded to the Lakers, however, in exchange for Vlade Divac -- a trade that undoubtedly altered franchise history.
His early time in the league saw him develop his abilities as a point guard and slowly gain more playing time. There was already plenty of hype around the rookie phenom, but he took it to another level after he dominated the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend. He would go on to make his first official all-star appearance one year later, in just his second season.
Bryant began his career playing in the adidas EQT Elevation. Although it was the first shoe he wore in a six year stint with adidas, it actually wasn’t a signature sneaker. He’d receive that at the beginning of the start of his second season in the form of the adidas KB8. While many will remember Kobe as being the face of Nike, adidas will always hold the distinction of creating his first ever signature sneaker, the design of which was said to mimic natural movement.
The Laker’s first-ever three-peat
The turn of the century saw Bryant, along with Shaquille O’Neal, lead the franchise to its first-ever three-peat. Shaq joined the Lakers in 1996 as a free agent and formed a terrifying duo alongside a young Bryant.
The 2000 NBA finals allowed fans to witness Kobe’s determination and mental toughness as he battled through an ankle injury that he suffered in Game 2. He only missed one game and the Lakers would take that series in six. The season after, the franchise, along with Kobe, dominated the playoffs. During the 2001 postseason, the Lakers swept their opponents in the first three rounds and handily bested the Philadelphia 76ers in five. The 2002 NBA Finals would see the Lakers complete their first-ever three-peat in franchise history. It’s also the last time that an NBA team has ever accomplished such a feat.
Bryant would wear several more iterations of the KB8 before switching to the boxy, molded fit of the adidas Kobe 1 -- a sneaker that drew inspiration from the Audi TT Roadster. He would also wear the Kobe 2 aka "The Toaster" for a short while, although 2002 would mark his departure from the brand with three stripes.
The years following saw a number of shortcomings and frustrations, which carried on until the 2005-06 season, when Phil Jackson returned to coach the team. During that season, the world also witnessed what would go down in history as one of the most dominant performances to ever take place in basketball.
On January 22, 2006, during a game against the Toronto Raptors, Kobe Bryant scored 81 points, which holds as the second-most points ever scored in a single NBA game, standing only behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. His mind-blowing performance saw him make 28 of 46 shots, seven of 13 three-pointers, and 18 free throws.
He dominated the Raptors defense while donning the Nike Zoom Kobe 1, the first of Bryant’s highly-anticipated signature line with nike. The sneaker initially dropped on Christmas Day and was designed by Ken Link.
League MVP and 20,000 points
The 2007-08 season will also go down as one of the star’s most memorable years in the league. Bryant became the youngest player (at the time) to reach 20,000 points in the league and was also announced as the league MVP. Kobe wore the Kobe 3 during that season, which was designed by Eric Avar, and would later go on to call it one of his favourite sneakers.
Kobe captains the 2008 “redeem team”
2008 also saw Bryant lead the United States’ Basketball team at the Summer Olympics, held in Beijing China. He captained the “redeem team,” playing with stars like Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. Kobe was instrumental, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter of the Gold Medal Game against Spain.
It’s also worth noting that during the 2008 Olympics, Kobe, as well as several other players, wore the Nike Hyperdunk, which was the official shoe of Team USA. It’s one of the few times in his career (save for his time between leaving Adidas and signing with Nike, during which he experimented with many different models) that he wore a sneaker outside his signature line. And who could forget watching Kobe leap over a speeding Aston Martin?
Back-to-back titles and the Kobe IVs
2009 and 2010 would see the Lakers enjoy a pair of back-to-back championships against the Orlando Magic and the Boston Celtics, respectively. It was the Lakers’ fourth and fifth Championship of the “Kobe Era.” The 2008-09 season was particularly important. For one, it was the first championship that Kobe had won without his longtime teammate Shaq.
It was also the season that he wore the Nike Kobe 4, which was designed by Eric Avar. It’s arguably one of the most successful and popular releases that Bryant ever had with Nike. Why? Because it was the first low-top that he ever wore. This was during a time when most people believed that wearing low-top shoes in basketball equated to more injuries. The Kobe 4 acted as a turning point, leading to more companies and athletes entertaining the idea of a low-top sneaker for basketball. You could make the argument that low-top sneakers today, such as the Kyrie 2 or the Zoom Freak wouldn’t be nearly as popular without these.
Kobe’s second gold medal at the 2012 Olympics
Kobe would acquire a second gold medal at the Olympics in 2012. Team USA took to London with some new faces, including Anthony Davis, Kevin Duratn, and James Harden. Once again, the Nike Hyperdunk was the official shoe of Team USA but players were given the option to wear their own shoes if they preferred. Bryant would wear the Eric Avar-designed Kobe 7, which was noted for its customization options in the cushioning and ankle.
Kobe passes MJ on the All-time Scoring List
On Dec 14, 2014, Kobe passes long time idol Micheal Jordan on the all-time scoring list and to commemorate this historic achievement, Nike released the "Mamba Moment" edition of Kobe Bryant's signature shoe, the Kobe 9 Elite Low. The shoe was released on NikeiD which sold out instantly.
Kobe’s Swan Song
The final game of Kobe Bryant’s illustrious career would take place in 2016 against the Utah Jazz and it was truly a night to remember. The 37-year-old was celebrated with an emotional pregame tribute, including words from former teammates and other NBA legends, including Magic Johnson.
The game itself would end in a way that would only be fitting for a legend like Kobe. He played 42 minutes in total that night, which was more than he would typically play in a regular season game. He eventually caught fire, carrying his team with 60 points, including 13 unanswered points in the final two minutes. 60 points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block.
Kobe Bryant ended his NBA career with a dominant and awe-inspiring performance sporting the Kobe 11 “Black Mamba” sneakers.
There’s no doubt that Kobe Bryant will be greatly missed. He’ll be missed by his family, his friends, and his teammates. He’ll be missed by every basketball player that ever watched him race up and down the court, and every athlete who heard stories of his mental toughness, his work ethic, and his determination. Mamba mentality will forever live on.
HIs legacy, his accolades in the game of basketball, and his impact on tens of millions of people will continue, however, and it will carry on. The name Kobe Bryant will continue to inspire, not just the athletes, but the rest of the world. Rest in Peace, Mamba.
Written by: Vincent Plana
Photography: Andrew Lau
Sneakers provided by: Howard Wang
Kobe images: Getty Images