There it was one day, nice and clear, in the middle of a soccer match: an epiphany. Kobe Bryant was gifted with a thought while watching the beautiful game. Soccer players wore incredibly low-cut boots on the pitch. The height of their boots gave their ankles much more natural range of motion. Bryant wanted something similar for his on-court sneakers. It wouldn’t even take two decades for the realization to pay off. By the middle of the 2010s, lows on basketball courts were common, and here in the 2020s, the majority of players wear them.
But that doesn’t mean it was easy. A reinforced wall of doubt and skepticism stood in between Kobe and his desire back in the mid-2000s. Not many understood the vision, and far fewer were willing to welcome the future of basketball sneakers.
The prevailing knowledge was that low-cut sneakers would be unsafe. Players wore mids and highs because of the perception that the extra height safe-guarded their ankles. But clunky and heavy sneakers, mixed with tight tape jobs and bulky ankle braces, were actually way more dangerous. The secret lay waiting in ankle strengthening stretches and proper heel lockdown.
Bryant and legendary Nike Basketball designer Eric Avar believed in the future so much that they burst through the wall and arrived on the other side with the low-cut Kobe 4. They refined that concept with the Kobe 5. Bryant won back-to-back championships with those. And with nearly two straight calendar years of basketball played in those silhouettes, the ever-meticulous Bean gathered up all of his findings. And it was the Kobe 6 that became the masterpiece.
Even lower than the 4 and the 5, the 6’s foundation used Nike Zoom cushioning in the heel, a Met Zoom Air unit in the forefoot, a Phylon midsole and a carbon fiber shank. The upper was triple-layered. Under the surface, a standard mesh interacted with Flywire cables. Flywire, also seen on the Kobe 4 and the 5, is what allowed Avar to go lower. The cables were placed strategically in spots where the foot endures extreme stress, and their durability let Avar shed a ton of unnecessary materials.
Above the mesh and the Flywire, Bryant introduced the basketball world to the land of snakes. The Kobe 6 coincided with the debut of his Black Mamba alter ego. Always inspired by nature and the animal kingdom, Bean had found a kinship with the highly venomous killer from sub-Saharan Africa whose venom helps it make easy work of mice, birds, squirrels and, yes, even humans. Bryant wanted everyone to know that he was the top of the top, the most unforgiving and feared player in the NBA. The final layer of the Kobe 6’s upper was made of a faux-snakeskin material.
Kobe’s mind made the connection between soccer and basketball—two of his great passions—and millions of people followed. The 6 has become the most coveted of his already highly sought-after line. Colorways flooded in and continue to do so.
After all these years, the epiphany’s light continues to guide the way.