Dime was invited to Nike‘s unveiling of the Kobe 9 Elite, featuring three in-line colorways, and two New York-only limited time iterations. We listened to Kobe Bryant chat with Knicks sideline reporter, Jill Martin, before Kobe answered softball questions posed by pre-picked high school students. Following the Q&A, we spoke with Nike’s VP of Global basketball footwear. Then, we tried the Kobe 9 Elite “Masterpiece” while working out with Kobe’s barrel-chested trainer Tim Grover. We still can’t move around very well after the workout.
The name of the event was “Flynight,” and it was dark in a converted space buttressing the U.S. Postal Service building across the street from Madison Square Garden in New York City. Like most Nike events, this one was top class with delicious finger foods and the bottled Coca-Cola with the real sugarcane.
A huge installation dominated the event space from behind a row of chairs facing where Kobe did his Q&A. The set piece was lit by a blacklight, with the Flyknit sneakers â€” both the lunar2 and the Kobe 9 Elite glowing like futuristic footwear in the dark space. One part of the model featured the Kobe 9 Elite, with the “Inspiration,” “Detail” and “Perspective” colorways set out for perusal
Before undergoing the grueling workout with Grover, we chatted with Kelly Hibler,, Nike’s VP of Global Basketball Footwear and someone who â€” along with Bryant, Nike Creative Director and VP of Innovation Eric Avar, and the whole Nike team of engineers â€” designed the ninth signature shoe in the Kobe line.
Something to keep in mind is the innovation involved in the Kobe 9 Elite. Combining Flyknit technology, which had only been available in running shoes up until now, with the Flywire support structure and Lunarlon cushioning â€” so your feet feels the court, rather than runs along it â€” there was a lot of circumspect testing and never before-seen engineering involved in the creation. The three separate technologies conjoined in the Kobe 9 Elite to form the most innovative sneaker in hoops today.
Here’s what Kelly told the assembled reporters as we looked at the three colorways coming out as well as the limited edition New York pair of colorways, the DRG “Volt” and Black/Grey.
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On the high upper…
Kelly Hibler: The beautiful thing about working with Kobe is having a dialogue about how you move. When we started, we talked about how we could build the feel of the low-top, but give him the support of a hi-top.
The notion has always been that if you don’t have a hi-top you don’t have enough support. The true science proves out that the support comes from here [gestures to the foot], so you don’t need a hi-top to get that support since it comes from the base of the foot. The reality here is that sciences says the hi-top sends signals to your brain to make small movements in your ankle [ostensibly, that’s why they went back to the hi-top, but only with the flyknit technology was it possible without dragging the foot down with more weight â€” something Kelly assured us all he hates].
On whether Kobe ever tried the Flyknit running shoes before giving input…
KH: We talked to him about his needs and what he wanted. And then we started processing, will this innovation [Flyknit] allow us to get to what we want: lightweight, super strong, if it allows us to get there. And then those two things start coming together. It’s a team effort. There’s a brainstorm that goes on. And that’s one of the things we talked about. And Flyknit was an untouched area for basketball, it had just been in running. So we knew â€” we had a good idea, it was going to be a new way to build for basketball.
On whether it could translate to different Nike basketball lines…
KH:I can say this, we built a basketball shoe we couldn’t have envisioned when we started. And its opened doors for us to all kinds of other things. It’s shown us we can take a technology like Flyknit and we can support an athlete with the kind of forces Kobe puts on his shoe. We can do it this way. And we have a lot of room to continue to improve. So yeah, I’d say its safe to say you’ll see it in other places.
On the biggest difference between the Flyknit running shoes and the Kobe 9 Elite’s…
KH: You can feel the difference. Those shoes [holding up a pair of flyknit running shoes] are designed to go straight ahead; minimalist, designed for a straight-ahead motion. If you watch an any basketball player…
The average basketball player changes direction in a single game a thousand times. So we knew we had to keep the basketball athlete from flying out of their shoe. So Nike engineered exactly where you need that [additional support]. So the difference is we provided that support where the running shoe was just one-directional.
On whether the material are all that different from the running shoe…
KH: In essence, it’s the same technology as the running, we just found new other ways engineer it in combination withe Flywire support to accommodate a basketball athlete.
On whether you can feel the difference when you’re wearing them…
KH: Absolutely. You look at the pattern, you can see and feel the difference. You put the running shoes on, you think, ‘Oh my God, that feels so good.’ You put on this shoe, it’s the fit of all the players that have put it on and tried it, and they all say a similar thing: ‘Wow, that feels so good.’
On keeping it as lightweight as possible…
KH: Yeah, we always look at it as being the right weight for the athlete. We talked with Kobe, and Kobe is always challenging us to provide as much a support while making it as light as we can…The nice thing about Flyknit is it allows you to provide the structure just where you need, so no excess. That’s why is sustainable, and 50 percent less waste than you would find in a standard hi-top, and that lends itself to making it lighter.
On how many colorways are coming…
KH: Welp, you’ve got five coming out this spring, but yeah there will be more. That’s another nice thing about Flyknit, you can do a lot of colorways with that single-strand technology.
On their resemblance to a wrestling shoe…
KH: There are things in that design [a wrestling shoe] that really worked. That’s why they’ve been that way for so long. With the way the knit works, it made it tighter around the ankles, so I get the reference, but it delivers a much more incredible feel and fit, though. It’s not [designed like a wrestling shoe] but I can see the resemblance.
After talking with Kelly about the design, we got to try a pair Nike Kobe 9 Elite “Priceless” with a special guest: famed trainer to the basketball illuminati, Tim Grover. As a group we were bused to the basketball experience at a gym along 10th avenue where the new Kobe kicks sat in a locker with other Nike gear, which included a jersey, shorts, socks, sweats, jacket, and a Fuel Band that measures how much fuel you burn.
Nike brought Grover out after we’d changed into our gear, so we don’t have a word-for-word synopsis of what he said, but we can paraphrase the overal theme of what he was trying to instill. It was a fascinating look at one of the more revered trainers in basketball today.
After experiencing a number of injuries as an undersized Division I player, Grover traveled everywhere (and still does) to find the best remedies to keep an athlete’s body symmetrical. He lucked out â€” and totally acknowledges as much â€” when he landed Michael Jordan as his very first client in 1989, when MJ was on the cusp of dominating the NBA for the foreseeable future.
His work with Jordan led him to working with Scottie Pippen, Hakeem Olajuwon, and eventually Kobe Bryant. Grover’s now considered the very best, and most grueling trainer on the NBA landscape, and he didn’t hesitate to talk about what it was like working with such Gods of the hardwood.
He admitted that Kobe is probably the only one he has to tell to slow down, and said that that difference between MJ and Kobe is MJ knew when to say enough. Bryant attacks his workouts so hard, it can lead to overdoing it, and he even implicitly acknowledged Bryant’s psychopathic training regime (calling Grover at all hours to work out) might have played a role in him re-injuring his knee this season.
But the one component Grover wanted to instill in everyone present, before leading us out on the court, was the idea of equilibrium. One of our peers asked why players seem to be getting injured more frequently now â€” when medical science has progressed so much in the last 20 years. Grover believes it boils down to a misalignment in the body because of the specialization inherent in a lot of today’s basketball players. Focusing solely on basketball from a very early age can be a detriment because players overwork the same muscles.
Jordan had baseball, Kobe supposedly loves to play tennis and is a very strong swimmer. Grover even said the perfect sport to play in conjunction with basketball, at least in order to maintain muscle equilibrium, is volleyball. But you have to abstain from spiking the ball a lot which can put a tremendous amount of pressure on the knees.
It was fascinating to hear him talk about athlete’s bodies, and some of the points he made about the symmetry of the muscle groups made us think of Nikola Pekovic‘s bizarre baby workout for the ‘Wolves.
Once we got on the court, though, there was no way to think about anything but the pain. Imagine you’re a reasonably fit person, someone who lifts or goes jogging on a semi-regular basis. That’s us, but being trim and fit did not prepare us for even a watered down version of the Tim Grover workout.
After working out as a group with Grover for 45 minutes, we wanted to die. Normally, we focus on upper body lifting, and running, but Grover only focused on the core, which is from right below your chest to your knees. So it was all thigh, butt and back muscle training we were ill-equipped to handle (we haven’t moved around much since we got out Saturday night).
After the taxing body exercises, we were split into teams and played a little bit against the other teams (our team won). Still, we were in pain. A lot of pain because those core muscles he had us working out, didn’t know they even existed. We’ve got parts of our upper legs and lower torso now that we didn’t even know could get sore.
Oh right, the shoes! During the workout phase and the basketball drills, it felt like we were playing in the world’s most amazing pair of running shoes. That’s because the Kobe 9’s stretch with you, so that you’re getting the same support whether you’re running straight ahead, or laterally. The Kobe 9 Elite’s latch onto your foot like Venom latched on to Spider-Man, and every move we made was perfectly aligned with the sneaker. We’re wearing them right now, and don’t plan on balling without them for a long time.
What do you think?
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