When it comes to standing at the intersection of sneakers, basketball, and rap, no figure better epitomized the crossover of the three worlds than Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba wore his love for all three games as proudly as he wore the numbers 8 and 24 — both numbers that Lakers brass have deemed worthy to hang in the rafters of the Staples Center.
Starting with the hoops, Kobe is one of the best scorers that the game has ever seen, and symbolized the “prep-to-pro” era more than any other player not named Lebron James. To this day, players emulate him, idolize him, and look to him for advice — both on and off the court.
However, his contributions to two other areas of pop culture are either overlooked or less revered than his illustrious basketball career. For instance, Kobe’s most overlooked contribution to the culture outside of basketball was in following the legacy of one Michael Jordan, turning his signature court shoes into streetwear staples. Kobe signed his first shoe contract with Adidas at only 18-years-old, back in 1996, and in short order had kids in hoods from Los Angeles to far-flung locations like China and the Philippines rocking his signature Crazy 8s.
He even managed to make the Crazy 1s look cool; who else but number 8 on the Los Angeles Lakers could encourage so many of us to take to the streets with kicks resembling airport shuttle trains on our toes?
Adidas still does a tidy business in retro re-releases of their classic Kobe line, but unlike many stars, who become legends in one major brand over the course of a career, Kobe is one of the few basketball superstars to switch brands (and jersey numbers) midstream and actually have his second collection sell even more than the originals. Kobe’s Nike line of sneakers are so insanely popular that Nike is still releasing new yearly editions of the Black Mamba, despite the fact that Kobe finally hung up his own low-cut kicks in the summer of 2016.
Speaking of “low cut,” the modern trend of speedy guards wearing low-top, flat-soled shoes in game was all Kobe. Before he insisted on chopping the top for the fifth iteration of the line — after noticing that soccer players played with as much, if not more, torque than basketball players — common knowledge amongst hoopers was that ankle support was a must. Kobe’s radical indifference to common knowledge not only sparked a trend in on-court apparel, but the Kobe 6 became one of the most sought-after non-Jordan basketball shoes for casual wear, along with nearly every annual version to date.
Such is the popularity of Kobe’s Nikes that the infamous Ball family was accused of ripping off the design of the Kobe 10 for Lonzo’s ZO2 signatures, even as the eldest ball brother will do his best to fill the shoes left behind by the Lakers’ most famous player.