This is a regular feature in which we take a look at recent sneaker releases.
The NBA returns on Sunday, which also happens to be Christmas, and lots of players are going to be wearing special Christmas-themed sneakers for the occasion. This fairly new tradition reminds me of 13-year-old girls getting special red and green (or blue and white!) elastics for their braces every December, but perhaps we should embrace abject corniness from NBA's biggest stars. They are, after all, the ones stuck working on Christmas Day.
Among this year's Christmas shoes, the LeBron 9 looks quite cheery, as do Amar'e Stoudamire's Nikes—but the fascinating one is the Nike Zoom Kobe VII. That object you see above is not, in fact, a purple leopard (or cheetah?) with green trim or even a green shoe with purple cheetah (or leopard?) skin on it. It is the new Nike product for Kobe Bryant.
This is no sneaker, however. This is a "system." The "Nike Kobe VII System Supreme" is a system and not a sneaker because it comes in three parts: An "ATTACK STRONG" insert, an "ATTACK FAST" insert, and, of course, a boring, regular old sneaker base that happens to be covered in a purple cheetah/green Grinch pattern. The interchangeable inserts, Nike explains, allows players "to switch out the cushioning and ankle support to match their style of play." The ATTACK FAST insert, shaped something like a sock-flipper, is lightweight yet supportive, so that you can be FAST; the ATTACK STRONG insert is more of an ankle sock, and is intended for STRONG players who need to get "intense and physical in the paint." Altogether, the system will cost $180.
If Kobe gets to play on Sunday—he tore a ligament in his wrist and is currently listed as "day to day"—the VII debut will surely beat out the other girls' braces. This particular shoe system has been in development for a long time. Back in November 2007, when Esquire's Mike Sager followed Kobe around for a dozen hours over the span of five days, the Lakers star was already wearing Nike systems on his feet:
According to his specifications, Kobe's shoes have been designed with a special alloy band inside the arch to cut, he believes, hundredths of a second off his reaction time. For the same reason, he's asked Nike to design a sock-and-shoe system, maybe something like pro soccer players have. That fraction of a second he loses when his foot slides inside the shoe is the time it takes him to blow by a defender, he says.
Nike's commercial for the Kobe VIIs seems to claim, if wordlessly, the same thing. Kobe's "reaction time" is not so much about the athlete's fanatical work ethic as it is the fact that these Nikes have three parts to swap around and lots of what I like to call Random Rubber Or Plastic Accoutrement (RROPA). According to Nike's very fancy infographics, the VIIs contain at least seven RROPAs:
• Flywire technology,
• A cast Polyurethane outer shell,
• A Phylon midsole carrier,
• A glass reinforced composite Shank Plate for torsional rigidity,
• An engineered, high-top, sensory cuff,
• A triangular traction pattern for durability, and
• An outrigger.
The essence of the VII's RROPA is that it will make you ATTACK FAST or STRONG (caps-lock theirs), like a cheetah (or a leopard). It will also, judging by the commercial, be a total pain in the ass. Kobe spends almost the entirety of the "Adaptation" spot switching his sneaker-parts from FAST to STRONG or back again. (Wouldn't it be easier to just wear two different pairs of shoes?) Adaptation can take time.
The dangerous-feline theme comes at an odd juncture for Kobe, who long ago styled himself as the "Black Mamba." When he's wearing the VIIs on Sunday, Kobe will be more of a cheetah than a snake—"Different animal, same beast," the commercial proclaims—which is happening at a new transitional point for Bryant. He's getting divorced, another life experience for a player who has turned his accumulated experiences and distractions into an official part of his branding. From Sager's 2007 piece:
Kobe's logo, which you will hear more about in the coming years, is called the Sheath. It is drawn to resemble the sheath of a samurai's sword. The sword is the raw talent, Kobe explains. The sheath is the package it's kept in—everything you go through, your calluses and your baggage, what you learn.
The Sheath—goodness, the Sheath, really—adorns the top of the new shoe's tongue, in case anyone had forgotten about any of the calluses or the baggage. Kobe's carried the fine sharp blade of his raw talent through a lot of injuries during his remarkable career. He's also carried it through that time he allegedly ATTACKed a woman at a Colorado resort, when his marriage was only two years old.
The VII should have been Kobe's ninth shoe with Nike, but he signed his first endorsement deal with the company in June 2003—a month before a 19-year-old hotel employee accused him of sexual assault. The Huarache 2K4 would have been Kobe's first Nike, but they put the shoe out without his name on it and delayed his debut by a couple years.
Whether Kobe is a cheetah or snake, the underlying concept is the same. From the official Nike release:
The Nike Kobe VII also tells a predator story that's inspired by Kobe's predator-like instinct. Predator patterns comes to life in the cast polyurethane outer shell as a "skin" simulating the look of three predator patterns mixed together – the Leopard, Great White Shark and Black Mamba. This raised skin pattern lives on each shoe.
So it's a leopard, then. And after seven rounds of Kobe-themed Nike products, the company and the star have no reservations about packaging him as a "predator." Why would they?
"It's all about being able to adapt," Bryant says in the new Nike commercial.