Kobe Bryant was known for a number of things on and off the court during his 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.
His signature shoes with Nike are just one of those countless things that brought him to the level of superstardom that he achieved. The Nike Zoom Kobe 4 is one of the most well-known and frequently purchased sneakers in league history, and it came from the first-ever sneaker free agency.
Bryant started his career with Adidas as they offered him a six-year deal right out of high school to avoid missing out on him the way they did Michael Jordan. However, things fell apart rather quickly when they released The Kobe Two series. The shoes were so bad that Bryant no longer wanted to be represented by Adidas.
Bryant asking out of his contract and playing a full season without a shoe deal led him to be the first superstar player to ever have this period of ‘sneaker free agency,’ according to Nick DePaula of ESPN:
Bryant wasn’t a fan, and he wanted out. He paid back millions to Adidas as part of a complicated break clause and agreed to play the entire 2002-03 season without a shoe deal. Bryant couldn’t even wear the same brand three games in a row — leading to the first-ever period of “sneaker free agency” for a star player.
A number of signature shoe brands made Lakers style sneakers for Bryant, leading to his eventual decision to pick Nike:
Bryant rotated through an exclusive batch of Laker-hued sneakers from the likes of Jordan, Nike, Converse, Reebok and AND1 until he landed a four-year, $40 million deal with Nike.
The pairing of Bryant and Nike was one that would last for the remainder of his career, and create some of the more iconic sneakers in history. It’s hard to imagine what would’ve happened had Bryant stayed with Adidas.
Nike and Bryant agreed to a deal that would continue to sell and make signature shoes for him even after his retirement, speaking to his legacy on the game.
In addition, Bryant forever changed the sneaker game with his free agency — yet another untouchable part of his legacy.