A History of Kobe Bryant’s Most Important Sneaker Inspirations

  • Nike Kobe X symbols inspiration
    Maniacal focus

    This characteristic of Kobe — that desire to be utterly perfect in every regard — played a huge part in what crafted his latest shoe, the Nike Kobe X. But it also serves as the unofficial slogan of his entire line with the Swoosh. Laser focus is super important to the Mamba, and it’s what has both driven him to excel in the NBA while also turning him into a sort of lone wolf among league circles.

    “I like trying to do something as perfectly as possible,” Bryant says. “And it’s crazy, I know, and it’s not necessarily the healthiest thing in the world. But it’s what I enjoy.”

    That comes through in every single sneaker of his and in his 10th sig with Nike, it was a key pillar of inspiration along with extreme confidence and resilience.

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  • Great white shark

    Elias Levy/Flickr Creative Commons

    Great white sharks

    During the early years of his relationship with Nike, Bryant, Mark Parker, and Tinker Hatfield often sat down to figure out what defined Kobe. What made him tick? Those talks often centered around great white sharks, nature’s foremost killing machine. Like Bryant, they are sleek and explosive, and seemingly come from nowhere with tremendous power. Above all else, they are predatory.

    It’s a theme that’s run throughout the course of his Nike line and the great white shark has come to directly inspire a few different colorways.

    image via Elias Levy/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Black mamba

    Ian White/Flickr Creative Commons

    Black mamba

    Who remembers the iconic SLAM cover where they had Bryant pose with a snake? Yeah, technically that WASN’T a black mamba because…you know…it might be the most dangerous snake in the world. But it was still pretty cool. It was during a period where Bryant decided he was going to rebrand himself into a deadly animal that could strike so fast you’d be bitten before you even knew what was going on. The inspiration worked perfectly for both the player and the sneakers. All of this was epitomized in the Zoom Kobe III.

    image via Ian White/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Michael Jackson Super Bowl

    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    Michael Jackson

    Bryant once said it was the real MJ who helped him win three championships early in his career with Shaquille O’Neal. Huh? Yep, apparently they often talked about how Jackson prepared to go on stage and perform, and how detailed he was in everything. That synergy between final product and the work involved to get there is a main reason why Kobe really, really respects artists, and those tones have often found their way into specific sneaker colorways. A purple edition of the Kobe 9 Low that honored Michael Jackson even featured a moon surface graphic on the outsole, which was obviously there to represent Jackson’s patented dance move.

    That same sneaker also saw a colorway inspired by Beethoven.

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  • Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi

    Gerard Julien/Getty Images


    Bryant grew up in Italy, living there until middle school as a kid who was obsessed with basketball in a soccer-obsessed world. He still loves to tell stories about how he’d be playing ball at the parks and kids would come set up soccer goals beneath the hoops, and so he’d have to wait until everyone else was done before he could play again. Safe to say the sport of soccer had a huge impact on him.

    He’s still a big fan today, too. Bryant’s line routinely creates sneakers that are low enough to resemble soccer shoes.

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  • Manny Pacquiao Kobe Bryant Nike sneakers

    Chris Hyde/Getty Images

    Manny Pacquiao

    Seriously. During the unveiling of the Kobe 9 in 2013, Bryant said he spent some time watching the famous boxer train in the ring and one of the biggest takeaways he noticed were Pac’s shoes. Take a look at that particular Kobe sneaker. In a line that’s consistently pushed the envelope with low-top cuts, the Kobe 9 is the one shoe that sticks out because the ankle support goes so high.

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  • Cheetah Kobe Bryant Nike sneakers

    Ulrika/Flickr Creative Commons


    “When you watch me shoot my fadeaway jumper, you’ll notice my leg is always extended. I had problems making that shot in the past. It’s tough. So one day I’m watching the Discovery Channel and see a cheetah hunting. When the cheetah runs, its tail always gives it balance, even if it’s cutting a sharp angle. And that’s when I was like: My leg could be the tail, right?”

    Kobe really once said this. Amazing, this guy. Big cats, because of their quickness, aggressiveness, and calculated calm, have played a big part in Bryant’s sneaker line. The VII was directly linked to both the cheetah and leopard. It featured a cast polyurethane outer shell with a “skin” to simulate three predator patterns for the leopard, great white shark, and black mamba.

    image via Ulrika/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Audi TT Roadster adidas Kobe Bryant sneaker

    Dein Nordrhein-Westfalen/Flickr Creative Commons

    Audi TT Roadster

    Don’t forget. Bryant was once an emerging adidas athlete and it’s The Kobe that’s probably the most famous shoe from his short-lived line with the 3-Stripes. The shoe took inspiration from Southern California’s cultural obsession with cars, particularly the Audi TT Roadster that was sitting in Bryant’s driveway at the time.

    image via Dein Nordrhein-Westfalen/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Nike Kobe X symbols inspiration
  • Great white shark
  • Black mamba
  • Michael Jackson Super Bowl
  • Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi
  • Manny Pacquiao Kobe Bryant Nike sneakers
  • Cheetah Kobe Bryant Nike sneakers
  • Audi TT Roadster adidas Kobe Bryant sneaker

Kobe Bryant is a deep dude. Always has been. I still remember one of Bryant’s earliest sneaker commercial campaigns with adidas where the teenager was philosophizing like he was reading a poem, talking about life and goals and what really mattered, all of it backed by Italian architecture. It was in stark contrast to virtually everything else out at that point, such as ads like Allen Iverson teaching you how to do his signature playground crossover to Penny Hardaway talking about pool parties and Tyra Banks with a fast-talking puppet.

Kobe has recently reiterated that once he retires, he wants to just disappear for a while, disappear from the spotlight and perhaps, maybe, never even come back. I don’t believe it, no matter what he says. Seems like everyone else feels the same, too. Everyone believes Bryant could succeed in broadcasting simply because he is articulate, has strong opinions, and above all else, just loves to work hard and be involved.

That passion for detail has helped shape Bryant’s signature line with Nike, turning it into a shoe that consistently pushed the envelope in terms of design and tech.

This weekend at Champs Sports, we’ll see the release of the Nike Kobe X “Vino,” a shoe that got its green makeover from the grapes that help to make the aforementioned wine. It’s typical Kobe — taking something no one else in the league could make cool and making it work on a sneaker. But this is far from the first time we’ve seen this. Bryant’s used just about everything possible to inspire his shoes.

With the “Vino” releasing this weekend, we thought it was a perfect time to showcase what makes Bryant’s sneakers so special. This is a History of Kobe Bryant’s Most Important Sneaker Inspirations.

BUY NOW: Nike Kobe X “Vino”

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney

image via Nike