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Kobe Bryant is a man who needs no introduction. A five-time NBA Champion, 2008 NBA MVP and the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer, the Black Mamba is a force to be reckoned with on the court. Off the court he’s no different, with a fan base than spans the globes and endorsements from many of the world’s biggest brands as well as a signature shoe line now heading into its 9th generation. Part of Kobe’s off-court success can be attributed to the fact that he continues to tour around the world to engage with fans and spread his love for the game of basketball. On his most recent tour, Bryant made a brief stop in Hong Kong to hand out awards to up-and-coming talented local players. We caught up with him afterwards to discuss the growing basketball culture in China, growing up in the NBA and what the future holds for his sneaker line.
What do you think of the basketball culture in China?
They’re very passionate about the game. It’s the reason why I continue to come back because there’s so much excitement and I enjoy being around it.
How do you think it’s evolved since the first time you were here?
The basketball level has gotten better since the first time I was here. Throughout the years you’ve seen an improvement in the skill and the general understanding and knowledge of the game.
You’ve referred to basketball as ‘the beautiful game,’ a title most commonly associated with football (soccer). What do you think of the rise of basketball internationally?
I think it’s a great example as to what sport is. No matter what game you play, if you’re passionate that’s ‘the beautiful game to you.’ The great thing is sport transcends language; it transcends culture. You put a kid from China, a kid from America, and a kid from Italy on the basketball court and all of a sudden they’re speaking the same language.
You joined the league in 1996, which seems almost a lifetime ago. How do you think the league has changed and more importantly, how have you changed?
The league has changed in the sense that it’s gotten younger. When I first came into the league I’m not sure what the average age was but I’m guessing that it was much older than it is now. Rules have changed – the game is less physical now, it’s faster. For myself, I’ve changed because when I first came in I was 17; now I’m 35.
As far as basketball shoes go, you really helped to usher in the era of low-cut silhouettes. Why is it such a favorite and will you ever change it up?
It’s certainly something I will continue to use. For me it was a no-brainer. I felt more comfortable in low-cut shoes. I hadn’t had a low-cut shoe I could play in, certainly not a signature shoe, and I just felt like it was something that would work for me. That’s what I decided to do and it really caught fire within the industry.
It isn’t just you now as we’ve also seen other low-cut signatures like the KD VI…
It’s really just me sitting down with the team at Nike and I try to come up with crazy things that I feel are going to enhance my performance. The great thing about Nike is they have the technology to be able to do that. They are the ones that come back and make the shoes perform the way I need them.
“I think it’s a great example as to what sport is. No matter what game you play, if you’re passionate that’s ‘the beautiful game to you.’ The great thing is sport transcends language; it transcends culture.”
Kobe Bryant talks about the rise of basketball internationally
Speaking of technology, your last two shoes featured modular setups, which allow for variable performance characteristics. Is that something we’ll see in the next shoe?
Yea, I’ll certainly continue to have that. I think it’s important to have options. When I practice I want to have something that’s a little thicker to try and prevent some of the wear-and-tear, and then when I step onto the court for game time I want something a little thinner and closer to the ground. I didn’t want to have something that was that thin all the time, I wanted to be able to mix-and-match.
Sticking with technology, your last shoe utilized Engineered Mesh – are we going to see any new materials or technologies?
Yup… The next one is going to knock your socks off.
Nike does a great job with themes and telling stories with their colorways. Are there any themes or stories that haven’t been explored yet that might appear in the future?
Yea. The next campaign there is a consistent theme that will drive the entire campaign. It’s very important that each shoe that we’ve done tells a story of where my career is at to that point. I think if you go back to the start of 2004, each product is a snapshot where my career was at that time.
A lot of signature ranges now feature lifestyle versions, whether it’s strictly lifestyle like the Kobe 8 NSW or lifestyle makeups of the performance silhouettes like the EXTs. Is that something we’ll see more of going forward?
We’re doing a lot with NSW, making sure that NSW and performance are on the same track and running parallel to each other. While obviously different aesthetically, the story and inspiration remains the same. So we will see a lot.
As you get closer to the twilight of your career, do you think your signature line can continue once you’re done playing?
I think that when I do decide to call it quits, that’s when it’ll take off. I’ll have more time to focus and do more creative things.
Do you think we’ll ever see any of your earlier models get retro’d?
Yea, we may see a little bit of that. It won’t drive the business but we’ll see a bit of it from an energy (NRG)? perspective.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming season?
I’m looking forward to it. Right now it’s tough to put a verdict on it since I’m still trying get to where I can get out on the court. I’m taking it one step at a time.
Are you looking forward to playing with the new teammates you’ve acquired?
It’s always exciting whenever new teammates come in because it’s always a filling-out process. There’s always the excitement of having guys on your team that you’ve played against for years. Now you’re on the same team and trying to figure out that puzzle, and it’s always interesting.
“I’m looking forward to it. Right now it’s tough to put a verdict on it since I’m still trying get to where I can get out on the court. I’m taking it one step at a time”
Kobe Bryant speaks about the upcoming season