Let’s flash it back to 2009 when the basketball industry was in hindsight, giving birth to what I call, “The Low-Top Revolution”…
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Kobe Bryant and the rest of the NBA took flight in the original Nike Hyperdunk during the 2008 Summer Olympics. USA gladly showed the world it’s dominance and regained its rightful place as the best team on Earth with Gold. Kobe Bryant scored 20 points and 6 assist against Spain leading to the historic win. During the games, Nike Basketball was getting ready to debut Kobe Bryant’s fourth signature shoe, in which later he would wear to win his fourth championship trophy.
Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that the majority of the league was wearing high-tops sneakers on court. Shoes like the Nike Sharkley, Nike Zoom Soldier III, and even Kevin Durant’s first sneaker the KD 1 were all high collar. From a design standpoint, this was the norm so we can’t blame those who never desired to go low. Everyone was accustomed to this status quo, until Kobe himself challenged the design team over at Nike to change the game and go low-top. Lead designer, Eric Avar, gladly accepted this hurdle and created a masterpiece silhouette, the Nike Zoom Kobe IV. Little did they know, they were at the helm of changing the performance basketball scene with this model.
Nike at the time was developing two new technologies that would drive their company to greater heights, Lunarfoam and Flywire. Lunarfoam was a new cushion system that delivered ultimate comfort and impact protection while still maintaining its responsiveness. It took a while to perfect this as the cushion quickly bottomed out after several wears. I remember playing in the Kobe IV and Hyperdunk and in about a month or so, the ride wouldn’t feel as good anymore, but still decent for play. After a couple years, Nike went on to establish Lunarlon which is now a staple in the industry. It is used in just about every category, form basketball, soccer, running, and the rest. The other new tech was Nike Flywire. Flywire cables surrounds the foot from all angles offering supreme lockdown and support while keeping the shoes lightweight. The problem with leather and heavier synthetic was that it was heavy and most of the time, not flexible enough for the foot. It also kept our feet from breathing making us sweat more than we need to already. The side panels on the Kobe IV show the Flywire cables as it keeps the foot sitting atop the foot bed during play. Also, the molded internal and external counters work in tangent as a system providing the best basketball experience at the time (and to this day to some). It was a breakthrough for Nike Basketball and essential for it’s dominance in the market today.
On court, the performance of the Kobe IV was new to me at the time, but it felt great. Not only was the grip and comfort on point, but the cushion felt completely new. Never was I so mobile while running and cutting to the rim. My ankles had a wider ranger of motion and the freedom felt great. There were times where I doubted myself, but the ankle support from the padded collar and heel counters gave me enough assurance in my game. You also have a Zoom Air unit in the heel that gave a great deal of response for the hardwood. The unit wasn’t as thick found in other Nike shoes at the time, Zoom Soldier 3, Lebron VI, Huarache ’08 and ’09, but if you wanted a lightweight package in low form this was it. Sizing of the Kobe IV was great as well. Playing in them for several hours didn’t give me any discomfort as it felt natural around my foot, almost like an extension of my body. If only the shoe could retro a lot sooner than later, as it’s a mission to find them in retail form online.
What makes the Nike Zoom Kobe IV revolutionary is that it drove Nike and other brands to step up their game. It changed the landscape for performance basketball forever. Sure, it wasn’t the first low-top sneaker ever made, but they brought it back under the spotlight. Shoes like the Air Jordan XI low and Reebok Question Low’s were never really seen on court for serious NBA players. Also, rather than focusing on layers of materials and heavy cushion like Air Max, EVA, PU foams, thick leather and synthetics, Nike cemented themselves as the innovators of this
industry. This Low-Top revolution inspired NBA players such as DeMar Derozan, JR Smith, Nick Young, and many more to wear lows during their games on court. A lot of players now will tell you they prefer the low-top experience than highs. And you got people like me who prefer lows as well, but also don’t mind playing in mids. If you’re one of those people who still doubt the low-top look, try it. Just Do It. Be open to giving it a shot and who knows, you might pick a pair up yourself. I challenge you to check out what your favorite team has on their feet and you’ll be surprised how many wear lows compared to a decade ago.
Nike Basketball and Kobe Bryant have gone back to high-top form with the recent Kobe 9 and 10 models. After going low for five years, they went back to high collar not because of the Mamba’s recent injuries, but for the sake of a challenge. The same challenge that Kobe took on when he questioned mid and high tops is what got him to go back to into highs. It’s all a cycle. A process. The strive to become better.
What separates Kobe Bryant from other signature players is the constant push to challenge himself and go against the grain. I believe this is what’s missing from companies who try to build their brand and push performance boundaries. Establishing a product not for the sake of just doing so, but to be different excel in what they can do. Thankfully Eric Avar and the rest of their design team opened their minds to this and created one of the best signature sneakers in history.