After placing three shoes (two Nike models, one Adidas) in ESPN’s first unveiling (Nos. 21-30) of their #NBArank All-Time Kicks list, retired Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was represented yet again in the next wave.
As voted on by a panel of ESPN sneakerheads, the Nike Zoom Kobe 8 System, first released Dec. 20, 2012, was rated the No. 19 shoe all-time. After changing the landscape with a low-top Zoom Kobe IV, Nike and Bryant bucked the trend by re-introducing a mid-top in the Kobe VII.
The shoe was met by mixed reviews, which resulted in Nike Performance Footwear Creative Director Eric Avar and Bryant reverting back to a low-top in the Kobe 8. It was the lowest and lightest performance basketball shoe at that time, weighing just 9.6 ounces (U.S. men’s size 9).
The upper featured a graphic snakeskin print, an ode to Bryant’s ‘Black Mamba’ alter ego, and it was the first time Nike Engineered Mesh was utilized on a basketball shoe.
Innovation with the Kobe 8 was further seen with the interchangeable midsole options. That was particularly true for those who created the shoe on NIKEiD, as customers were able to select from Lunarlon cushioning, an orthotic-ready Nike Zoom insert, or Nike+ enabled midsole options.
The Kobe 8 drew rave reviews and was part of Nike’s ELITE Series 2.0+ in preparation for the playoffs. Bryant’s signature shoe was a black-based model with gold accents and boasted Kevlar padding on the tongue.
Bryant was wearing the ELITE model of the shoe when he led the Lakers to a thrilling 113-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the then-Rose Garden on April 11, 2013. Bryant scored a season-high 47 points, added eight rebounds and had five assists.
He outdueled Damian Lillard, who poured in 38 points and handed out nine assists, leading the Lakers to a much-needed win at the time as they were fighting to reach the playoffs.
For as heralded as the Kobe 8 was, it’s also forever connected to the evening Bryant ruptured his Achilles tendon against the Golden State Warriors in April 2013. He was wearing a white-based ELITE model of the Kobe 8, and while there was speculation that iteration of the shoe would see a public release, it never hit shelves.