The Undeniable Truth About Kobe Bryant
KB24 takes the concept of a signature shoe to a new level.
He already had 57 points, scored on an array of midrange jumpers, acrobatic drives to the basket and spotless free-throw shooting. He had already bested MJ’s double-nickel (perhaps the only scoring record he knew of at the Garden going into the game). A Lakers win rested on a double-digit cushion with the clock winding down, pulling the curtain overtop of the festive alright-we’ll-stop-hating-and-just-for-tonight-admire-you vibe that hung over MSG for him.
Then Kobe Bryant showed us all what was up.
Taking the ball on the elbow at the three-point line, Mamba goes right and then hesitates, creating space between him and Wilson Chandler, who played the role of the stuff-happy pylon on the play of the night. Kobe could have just shot it right there from about 15-feet out, like he had been whenever he wanted all night whenever he got an inch of room from his defenders. Instead, he pump-fakes and watches Chandler fly past, then pivots back to his left for a wide-open, gorgeous leaner that falls through the bottom of the net like it was the most natural thing in the world. The last two free throws that came shortly after that shot, in my mind, were a reward, based point 59’s degree of difficulty.
In the last few weeks, I’ve had that play on repeat in poor man’s slow motion, (rapid clicks on the play/pause button on YouTube). Pause and play at the right time and you hear the announcer calmly call the pivot and then lose his mind a little when the ball drops through. You hear the jaws of the Garden faithful collectively hit the floor on the release of the shot and you see Pau Gasol’s body language spell out disbelief as he starts to make his way back up the court (or maybe he just wanted the ball). It’s mesmerizing.
The play brings us into a world where the minute takes on a substantially greater meaning. To me, points 58 and 59 spoke for the entire 61-point night, and that 61-point night in turn became a per-48-minute definition of Kobe Bryant himself. Finally, at the ground level of this world of over-analysis, gift-wrapped in varsity maize laces, sits the Zoom Kobe IV.
A lot of athletes have a signature shoe. They’re always in said athlete’s appropriate team colors and they usually have the athlete’s number on the tongue or heel of the shoe. Maybe throw in a shout out to your neighborhood, or design it after your favorite car and that’s it. Sometimes though, a shoe comes along in the athlete’s career at just the right time and the two mesh up perfectly. Whether the Most Polarized Ever realizes it or not when he laces up his sneaks this season, he’s wearing the physical manifestation of his legacy as a professional basketball player.
If the Kobe hate-o-meter were coded like the Terror Alert Level, it would have been at red from ’03–’06. Today though, most of the bloodthirsty haters seem to have downgraded to orange. There may still be a strong dislike, but it’s been overpowered by a begrudging acceptance of Kobe’s on-court greatness.
Kobe’s newest shoe falls into the same category. You may still have your personal biases against No. 24 but if you don’t at least try this shoe on, you’re depriving yourself of one of the greatest sneaker experiences of your basketball-playing days.
The positive impressions start with the first time you hold the shoe in your hand. Weighing 11.6 ounces, the ZKIV is Nike’s lightest basketball shoe ever. If this sounds familiar it’s because I said something similar in my review of the Hyperdunk this summer (check the woah effect). Comparatively, the Hyperdunk, which has its elements all over the ZKIV, weighs 13 ounces.
Kobe’s shoe takes in the Flywire and Lunarlite Foam technologies, which were key to the Hyperdunk’s success. Basically, Flywire uses thin but strong nylon to hold the foot in place. Lunarlite Foam will take the energy your foot gives off when you’re playing and rather than absorb it, will return it to you.
The most noticeable and in my opinion over-hyped feature of the shoe is that it’s a low cut. Of course, lots of other players (Steve Nash, Gilbert Arenas more recently and even Joe Dumars, Scottie Pippen and John Stockton to name just a few going further back) wore low cut shoes on the court. And for the record, they were lower than the ones that Kobe is wearing this year (AND 1’s Tai Chi low is also cut lower than the ZKIV, to the best of my memory). There were a lot of things I noticed about this shoe while playing in it. The slightly-below-the-ankle cut wasn’t one of them.
On my first wearing of the shoes at a pickup game, I was running up the court as a teammate ran point. He coughed the ball up just over half, and I ran over to help out. The guy redeemed himself before I got there though and came away with it, so I did a quick stop and start to head back into the front court. It was there on a dusty gym floor that once forced me to run a ridiculous looking semi circle in a struggle to not slip in a transition play, that I gained my appreciation for the shoe. It’s responsiveness is exceptional. My mental reaction to it wasn’t too different from watching Kobe hit that shot on the pivot.
Like I said, put your love or hate for Kobe aside when it comes to this shoe. If the thought of wearing his Lakers colors irks you that much, you can hit up NikeID and design a color more suited to your own team or a team that you follow. You could even take advantage of the personalization option on the site to write something disparaging about your least favorite player. Just saying.
Count the three signature shoes Kobe had with adidas back in the day (the Top 10 Equipment 2000 was ridiculously cool), even throw in the Huarache 2k4 and 2k5 that were initially meant for him and then line up his Nike signature sneaks, and in my mind, the ZKIV stands alone in terms of performing as high as it is lightweight.
Just like Kobe has had that Neo-like realization (2:30 onward in the clip) of his ability within his current Lakers team and is playing the best basketball of his career, the shoes on his feet this season are in an identical position. The undeniable truth that fans have had to face about Kobe in the past year and a half, rests on his feet this season as well.
Nike Zoom Kobe IV
Key technologies: Flywire, Lunarlite Foam, Zoom, full-length phylon midsole
Price: $120 US, $179 Canadian.