What did Kobe Bryant mean to you? What’s your favorite highlight? Favorite memory?
Those are just a few of the questions being asked in the wake of his sudden death, the passing of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others who were also aboard the helicopter that tragically crashed in Calabasas.
There are an infinite number of answers and no measuring the full reach and impact Bryant had.
Vigils at Staples Center, the Mamba Sports Academy and Lakers practice facility, along with murals throughout the city, offer just a glimpse into how many lives he touched. Bryant’s relentless drive inspired thousands. Transitioning to fatherhood after retirement set another example to follow.
And for some, including this author, there was an added sense of connection through his signature sneaker line. On the surface, it seems trivial to place such significance on material items. But like most things involving Kobe, there’s nuance and depth.
I can’t remember what drew me to collecting basketball shoes, but before Bryant became a larger-than-life figure, my passion started with the Adidas KB8.
I was nine years old when my parents bought me the black and white pair. With that came a euphoric feeling of having the same shoes as Kobe even though at that point, he’d yet to make his mark in the NBA, still only in his second season.
The new millennium brought forth The KOBE, which released in black, white, silver, yellow, ice blue, and mesh. I coveted every single one. Yes, wanting the same exact shoe, just in different colors, is probably as ridiculous as it sounds. Friends and family would tease me about it.
But I didn’t see different colors. It was remembering Kobe had on the white pair when he hit a game-winning jump shot over Jason Kidd in Game 2 of a 2000 playoff series against the Phoenix Suns.
He was wearing the black pair when he saved the Lakers after Shaquille O’Neal fouled out in Game 4 of the NBA Finals that same year.
The yellow pair was debuted in the 2001 NBA All-Star Game. And the mesh months later during the playoffs when Bryant and the Lakers went on to win their second consecutive championship.
The association between shoes and highlights went into overdrive after Kobe made the jump to Nike. His shoes often were the most technologically advanced and heralded pair available.
It was another example of what personified Bryant: always innovating.
But more importantly, the moments and memories continued.
Ask any collector and he’ll easily describe to you in detail which pair Kobe had on when he torched the Toronto Raptors for 81 points. Or when he drilled a buzzer-beater against the Suns in the 2006 playoffs.
I can even tell you which pair he had on when draining a shot at the buzzer against the Milwaukee Bucks in December 2009 and when Bryant again unleashed on the Raptors, this time with a wild comeback in March 2013.
And there are countless other examples.
Bryant’s first MVP Award was commemorated by Nike through a limited release of his third signature shoe with the brand. It marked the first time I lined up by myself hours before a store opened (I’d previously only done so as a teenager with a parent).
Little did I know it was a sign of things to come. Bryant revolutionized the sneaker market with the Nike Zoom Kobe 4. With that came more releases. More lining up. More memories.
Arguably his first signature moment in the model came with scoring 61 points at Madison Square Garden. The black/del sol colorway Bryant wore that night had been a general release and was still easily available — until that memorable game.
I took that for granted, underestimated the emotional response to his achievement, and failed to circle back around to purchasing that pair. So I live vicariously through those who do have them and find joy in watching highlights from that game.
As Nike continued to release new iterations of the Kobe 4 on what felt like a weekly basis, there were more lines, more hoping my size would still be available by the time I reached the register.
Sure, waking up at 4 or 5 a.m. was ridiculous. But I wanted the shoes. Needed the shoes.
I was lucky enough my now-wife joined me on most early-morning journeys even though she never wanted a pair for herself. In some cases, shoes were released via raffle and having another person by my side was all the more valuable.
But while I see a Kobe highlight or accomplishment in a specific shoe, she recalls the countless hours lined up in front of a Niketown or House of Hoops and what our day together entailed.
Every so often, we look back on those experiences and laugh, fully aware of how mad it was Kobe regularly had us driving into L.A. before sunrise.
Words will never truly describe the impact he had. Kobe’s connection with each individual was so personal and unique.
Decades ago, Jordan Brand had a commercial that asked, “Is it the shoes?” that were behind Michael Jordan’s greatness. The answer, of course, was no.
And the same applies to my collection of Kobes. It’s not the shoes. It’s the memories.