2003 was undeniably a forgettable year for Kobe Bryant. On the court, his game absolutely exploded during the 2003-2004 season en route to fourth NBA Finals appearance in five years. Off the court though, the obvious event we all remember is the arduous and flat out frightening sexual assault case that Kobe, his family, and all of his fans endured – a case which was later dropped after his accuser declined to testify, choosing rather to take a financial settlement in a civil suit.
Vanessa Bryant and Kobe’s loyal fans are not the only ones who stuck with the Mamba and rode out the media circus. Nike, true to their omnipresence around the world, stood by him too even though the ink was still drying on his freshly signed contract when the allegations against him were brought to public light.
It is often said that one of the most fundamental practices of business is taking risk, not averting it. Nike took that risk with Bryant and I think the history between the two sports icons speaks for itself.
Let’s start from the beginning with the Nike Zoom Huarache 2K4.
This is where the collaborative relationship between Kobe and Nike Directing Designer, Eric Avar, began producing some of the sickest basketball shoes of the last decade.
“He can be extremely quick, but at the same time he can be extremely explosive and powerful. Early on, we just figured that his product had to be versatile, and it really had to cover off all ends of the spectrum. It had to be the best of everything, like Kobe’s style and his game. That was the thinking with the 2K4”, said Avar.
The simplicity that team Kobe was aiming for is on full display through a clean leather based upper, a perforated Neoprene tongue for breathability, a reinforced toe cap, an external TPU heel counter, a low to the ground midsole, Zoom Air technology, and a simple strap on the collar for ankle support and stability. A back-to-the-basics approach that shifted attention more towards performance and playability acted as the springboard for igniting Nike’s renewed dominance in the basketball sneaker market.
Kobe himself revealed later on that the Huarache 2K4 was the first shoe that ever gave him the feeling that they were a pure extension of his feet on the court. That is a rather huge compliment for one of the world’s absolute best players to be saying about the first sneakers he ever endorsed for Nike.
Bottom line, Kobe’s career with Nike couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for both sides. With all of the PE Lakers colorways that Kobe was rocking night after night, the Zoom Huarache 2K4 series still remains as one of the most popular performance kicks of the 2000s.
[Original Release: 2004; Weight: 14.4 oz.; Players: Kobe Bryant / Ron Artest / Paul Pierce / Chris Anderson / Manu Ginobili]
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