Kobe Bryant took little time to show the rest of the NBA that he was a star in the making. This was impressive enough. But the fact that he did so with objectively terrible footwear makes it even more of an achievement. Bryant’s business relationship with Nike is well-known. But he began his career with Adidas.
When you see the monstrosities they had him wearing, you can see why that deal ended so soon.
Kobe Bryant’s first signature sneakers are hard to imagine
Even as a young player, Bryant was upfront about his intention to be the true heir to Michael Jordan. He copied MJ’s moves, mannerisms, and mentality to become the best player in the NBA. He got closer to those heights than anyone hoped for. But Bryant came up short in one area of his career: MJ never got caught in awful footwear.
Sure, not all Jordans share the same level of quality. (Would the Flu Game Jordan 12s be so memorable without the shot over Bryon Russell?) But one of the things that made MJ such a marketing juggernaut was that he looked cool in basically everything.
As good as Bryant was early in his career, he couldn’t make his Adidas shoes look great, as New York Magazine details. Before the 1996-97 season, Bryant signed a six-year contract with the company reportedly worth $48 million. Adidas deserves credit for giving Bryant his first signature shoe when he was still an unproven talent. But that’s about it.
This is not the same company that’s gained clout thanks to artists like Pharrell Williams and Kanye West. At this time, they were an also-ran in the sneaker market. Judging by the shoes they designed for a budding superstar, it’s easy to see why, as High Snobiety reports.
The details of Kobe Bryant’s Adidas sneakers
The shoe was inspired by the Audi TT – Adidas and Audi shared office space at the time – which makes sense, because who hasn’t wanted sneakers that resemble a two-door, German sports car?
Kobe Ones were sold in catalogs with phrases such as “front toe grill” and a “rear spoiler”. These look like the non-slip shoes you wear to work in a restaurant, combined with a vaguely tankish silhouette. Not a great effort from the Three Stripes.
Kobe still balled out in these kicks. He averaged over 28 points per game that season and claimed the first of his five titles. The first effort always leaves the most room for improvement. Adidas still had the chance to give Kobe a shoe more befitting of his talent. They extremely did not do that.
I’ve looked at this photo several times and I still cackle at the absurdity of his product. What was Adidas going for here? There a lot of objects these “shoes” remind me of: dental equipment, an unadorned refrigerator, an all-white colorway of the Tesla Cybertruck. They do not look like things you would wear to play basketball.
Once again, Kobe brilliantly while lugging these bricks on his feet throughout the season. He averaged 25 points a game and was named to the All-NBA First-Team for the first time as the Lakers completed their three-peat in 2001. But these alabaster trash cans were the final straw for Bryant’s relationship with Adidas.
Would Bryant be as iconic without the swoosh?
It’s hyperbolic to say that Kobe left Adidas because of the Kobe Twos alone. But it was reported that even he was disappointed in the shoes to the point that he switched back to the Kobe One during the 2001 NBA playoffs.
Kobe eventually went on record about the Adidas Kobe Two for The Corp podcast, speaking about Adidas and saying “That company doesn’t count,” and going on to say, “That’s what taught me that I need to lead the design charge.”
Bryant bought out the rest of his contract and signed with Nike in 2003. Together, the two parties crafted one of the most iconic marketing personas ever. The reason so many people were despondent after Bryant’s tragic death in January wasn’t just because of his mesmeric displays on the court.
It was also because his personality inspired millions of supporters across the globe. To believe in the Tao of Kobe is to believe is to believe in the “Mamba Mentality” and the idea that hard work and self-confidence can push you farther in life than you might think.
That idea took root because of media campaigns that leveraged Bryant’s charisma to terrific effect. His shoes got nicer too.
Bryant is remembered as one of the beloved players of his generation. Nike’s packaging helped him achieve that status. In their own way, the Kobe Twos, with all of their “futuristic vacuum” vibes, were a net positive for his career.