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A Year Later

By John Kim

Kobe Bryant’s death was one year ago today. The truth is, the loss of his life and the eight other souls on that ill-fated helicopter ride is just a small portion of the never-ending influx of tragedy that is the year 2020. Kobe Bryant’s life was not worth more or less than any of the eight victims on that January 26th accident, let alone the hundreds of thousands that perished at the hands of COVID-19, natural disasters, police brutality, and other dark events. However, it’s undeniable that Kobe has left a lasting mark in the basketball, sports, and sneaker community, so we’d like to take this brief time to honor his legacy one year after his passing.
 
 
Please continue below to see some of our favorite moments of Kobe’s career, and how his legacy has impacted generations after.

For the Nike Zoom Kobe VI, Nike took a truly cinematic approach for the ad campaign by tapping director Robert Rodriguez for a short film that starred Kobe Bryant as “The Black Mamba”, Bruce Willis as “Mister Suave”, Danny Trejo as “The Crippler”, and Kanye West as “The Boss”.⁠
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While the Kobe VI was the focal point of this hero vs. villain plotline, the sneaker spotlight was ever so slightly stolen by Kanye as he and Nike decided to tease the Air Yeezy 2.⁠
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The Kobe VI has been back in the spotlight as of late as Nike has released the Protro version in the famed “Grinch” colorway. More Kobe VI Protro releases will be scheduled throughout 2021.
 
You’ve seen the viral video of a Chinese fan brought to blubbering tears at being in the mere vicinity of Kobe Bryant. His profound effect on Asian basketball culture is immeasurable, and throughout his career, he reached god-like status. During his earliest years with Nike, Kobe wasn’t featured in much marketing plans in the US as his reputation was under repair. However, he was featured in ads in China which only contributed to his status early on.
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“I thought I was famous until I got to China with Kobe.” – LeBron James on Kobe Bryant at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
 
Kobe Bryant’s obsession with Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker is what led to the birth of the “Chaos” saga. Originally debuting with the Zoom Kobe IV, the “Chaos” look had evolved through each signature model and shone brightest with the Kobe 9 Elite “Masterpiece”. Here, Kobe poses with the shoe at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles; the menacing smile is no mistake.
 
Kobe Bryant’s profound impact reached far and wide – especially the future stars of the league. Many young athletes idolized The Black Mamba, with many crediting his tenacity, will, and devotion to their own success. One such player is Devin Booker, whose relationship with Kobe can be described as master/protege and friend. ⁠

During Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour in 2016, the retiring legend blessed the Suns shooting guard with an autographed pair of Kobe 10s with a simple message – “Be Legendary”. Then a rookie, Booker – who exclusively wears Nike Kobe footwear – began writing that short proverb on all of his shoes.⁠

Not long after Kobe’s untimely passing, @dbook had that same message, in the same handwriting, tattooed on his arm by @jonboytattoo.
 
Alongside the entire Nike Zoom Kobe journey is footwear designer Eric Avar, a name that needs no introduction. He and Kobe shared a uniquely deep connection; Kobe had the rare ability to articulate his footwear needs, while Eric was able to grasp the language and translate it into footwear. Truly a dynamic duo on the level of Tinker Hatfield and Michael Jordan.
 
Jordan Brand honored Kobe Bryant in 2016 with an astounding display of footwear at the All-Star Weekend in Toronto. Air Jordans 1 through XXX, in white and black styles, were accented with Laker purple and gold. The black set, in Kobe’s size 14, were auctioned off for charity on eBay, netting $240,100 for the Jordan Wings Initiative and the KVBFF. Additionally, a special two-pair package of the white Air Jordan 3 and 8 (two PEs that Kobe wore during his infamous sneaker free-agency) were gifted to friends and family.⁠

We all knew Michael and Kobe were close, but the true nature of that unbreakable bond wasn’t revealed until Michael’s tearful eulogy for his “little brother” on February 24th, 2020.
 
First ring, first official shoe. Kobe Bryant debuted his first signature model – the adidas THE KOBE – during the 2000 NBA Finals. The shoe was designed in collaboration with fellow German company Audi in a special project led by industry veteran Peter Moore, the architect behind the Air Jordan 1. There was an added layer to the authentic connection with Audi as the shoes were a bit of a nod to the So-Cal car culture.
 
The public response to the sneaker upon its release later that year was unmatched in its polarity; the shoe was equally lauded for its confident Audi-inspired design and ridiculed for its awkward simplicity. Despite Kobe leaving the brand just a few years after its release, THE KOBE will always be remembered as one of adidas’ most pivotal moments in its basketball brand.
 
Kobe Bryant was always for the culture, tapping into sneaker boutiques and electing for viral-style videos for his earlier ad campaigns. This photo of Kobe will live on in sneaker forum history.
 
Above the rings, MVPs, All-Star Games, Olympic Gold Medals, sneakers, and business ventures, Kobe Bryant’s lasting legacy is this photo. While Kobe was made for the court, his devotion to fatherhood and teaching the game is where he seemed to be the most at ease. It’s where his infamous grimace softened into a brilliant smile. The Mamba Mentality may be partly defined by winning at the highest level and being first to arrive and last to leave the gym, but it’s entirely about understanding your true calling and being the best you were meant to be.⁠

Kobe Bryant: 8/23/78 – ♾️⁠
Gigi Bryant: 5/1/06 – ♾️