There was a major buzz around the cities at each stop of Kobe’s three-day “Mamba Mentality” tour. Local media and fans gathered around the gyms where he held basketball clinics, and lined up in the streets awaiting his store visits. At each location, Mamba fans waited in heavy anticipation of his glorious arrival. For the megafans and sneakerheads, however, there was an added anticipation. Just as intriguing as Kobe’s arrival was the anticipation of what signature sneaker he’d be wearing.
Through the Netherlands and Italy, Bryant personally donned the Kobe XI “Last Emperor” and the USAB colorways. He also donned the new Kobe XI “Summer Pack” introducing a clean white and teal colorway that we’ve been told will release August 31st.
In speaking with Kobe about the concept of being legendary, both with him as a player and in regards to his footwear line, he shared a uniform sentiment for the two. He spoke of this imminent status as one that should not focus on him as a player, or be based solely on his accomplishments. The Mamba wants his mark to be made on the game through the players he’s inspired, and for his mentality continue to live on in the future generation of players. In the same way, he wants his sneakers to be worn, enjoyed and glorified based on the performance and innovation – not because of him.
Even with footwear, of course, the comparisons must be made with Jordans. However, as far as we can see, it’s apples and oranges. The focus for Kobe, is not on how his shoes will become legendary, he does not have this concern for legacy the same way you may assume a 5-time champion, 4-time MVP would. Consistent with the way he went about his game for 20 seasons, he wants to let the output speak for itself, and if the amount of NBA players currently wearing his sneakers is any indication, his sneakers will continue on strong even while he’s stepped off the court.
We caught up with Kobe at the La Triennale di Milano design and art museum, the last stop of his Europe tour. Read the full interview below.
What are you thinking going forward with Eric Avar and other designers? Will you continue to play an integral part in the shoes designs?
Yeah, I think the challenge grows more so. We set the standard now for years to lead up to this point. Now, you have to continue to integrate, continue to push boundaries with designs and innovations that make sense. You don’t innovate and design just because.
Each shoe that you’ve made, you had always tailored it to fit your needs as a player on the court for that season. Now that you’re retired where will that inspiration or purpose come from?
It all starts with the product to help you perform better. With the background I have, understanding the game I can always put myself in the shoes of the athlete. What product do I think will help them perform; to have the greatest potential. That’s what I’ll continue to do. So, yeah all the shoes that I made, I started with me saying okay I feel this, or I feel that, tweak this or tweak that, but if you look at the innovations that I’ve made, they are not specific to only guards who are 6’6, they’re innovations that go across the board. So if you’re just checking the boxes, and it just works for me personally, we’re not innovating enough. It must be able to go across the board.
In terms of storytelling you’ve always always used your competitive nature and on court stories to inspire your aesthetic designs. Now where will the creative outlet come from?
Same place it always does. It’s me just thinking, brainstorming, drawing inspiration from nature and things like that. We just sit around, Avar, the team and we just talk like this. We just start brainstorming and the stories naturally just come. The stories have to be based more on the innovation for product. So I refuse to just do the easy thing, which is to just continue telling stories about me as a retired athlete, we’re going to focus on the product, the product is the star. Now, how do we tell stories about the innovation of the product that then can relate to human nature. So kind of just reversing those things. Before we started with the athlete and then connected innovation to that story, now we’re starting with innovation and connection that with human nature.
What sneaker do you think will become that one legendary shoe, like Jordan’s XIs?
If I have that, then I haven’t done my job. Because I try to make each shoe timeless in and of itself. The same shoe you may be attracted to because it moves your emotion in one way, or the way the innovation that we put on the shoe is what you’re more comfortable in. He may be more attracted to a different shoe because the innovation here. So if the shoe is based off of that, then we have done our job. If it is based off of Kobe, the player, we have not.
With the other things you want to work on the storytelling, the productions that you mentioned before, is that going to be about you?
No, no, no. I grew up reading the Iliad in Latin at 10 out here. I’m a big believer in mythology and fantasy and creating worlds, worlds that mirror the world that we’re walking in today, and having kids learn through those stories.
Do you see your shoes as design monuments? Kind of like the art you see here in this museum?
It’s funny. Art to me is things that are timeless. Great art is timeless, so hopefully we’ve innovated enough so that you can put on, any one of my shoes on here today, 10 years from now, 15 years from now, and they feel just as good. To me art is creating something is timeless.