March 3rd, 2016 by Zack Schlemmer
How could the best player in the NBA not have a signature sneaker deal? In the modern era of endorsements for every player from All-Stars to bench-warmers, it’s almost unthinkable that one of the greatest players of all time—in his prime, no less—was out there for an entire season without a signature shoe or even a brand paying him to rep their logo. We’re referring to Kobe Bryant, who during the 2002-03 NBA season was a sneaker nomad, drifting from one brand to the next throughout the season. But this isn’t some strange story of a hero shunned by the powers that be. As it turns out, that drifting wasn’t aimless. It was all by design, as Kobe himself made the decision to leave his footwear sponsor and lucrative contract behind.
Not happy with the direction his adidas signature line was headed, Kobe opted to buy out his contract with the Three Stripes during the summer of 2002, just after winning his third NBA title in a row with the Lakers. You’d think as soon as Kobe left adidas at the height of his stardom he’d instantly sign with Nike, the biggest basketball shoe brand with the deepest pockets, right? Wrong. Part of Kobe’s buy-out agreement stipulated that he wasn’t permitted to sign with another brand for one full calendar year, meaning he’d have to be a sneaker “free agent” for an entire season. After the 2002-03 season, Kobe did indeed sign with Nike to nobody’s surprise, but in the meantime, other brands got to court him—including by supplying special PE colorways—making for the most legendary season of sneakers by any player ever.
Continuing our review of Kobe Bryant’s 20 Year Sneaker Legacy, today we’ll take a look back at this important and memorable chapter of the Black Mamba’s sneaker history. From Air Jordan to AND1, Kobe laced up some serious sneakers during the ‘02-03 season, all of which can be seen in this extensive recap.