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Year of the Mamba: Nike unveils the new Kobe kicks

November 30, 2012|By Adam Tschorn
  • Power 106 radio host Big Boy, Kobe Bryant, Nike's Jeff Spanks and Erick Goto at the unveiling of the Kobe 8 shoe, shown at far right, in Los Angeles.
Power 106 radio host Big Boy, Kobe Bryant, Nike's Jeff Spanks and Erick… (Nike Inc. )

At a press conference in Los Angeles on Thursday, Nike and L.A. Laker Kobe Bryant revealed the latest incarnation of the basketball player's namesake athletic shoe -- the Kobe 8 System -- a reptile-inspired, mesh-upper sneaker that in a U.S. men's size 9 weighs just 9.6 ounces.

That shaves nearly 4 ounces off the last iteration of the shoe, which may not sound like a lot -- until you realize Bryant estimates he runs 4 1/2 miles or more over the course of an average game.

That was just one of the interesting factoids to come out of the Nov. 29 media event, held on the 32nd floor of the AT&T building on South Olive Street, a vantage point which offered a bird's-eye view of nearby Staples Center, where many of those miles are logged.

Over the course of the question-and-answer session, which also included two members of the design team that helped bring the shoe to life, Jeff Spanks and graphic designer Erick Goto,  Bryant revealed that he wears a brand new pair of shoes to each game -- and salts the one-and-done pairs away.

"I only recently started saving them," he said. "I used to give them away to family, friends, whoever."

Bryant also shed some light on how he and the design team start the inspiration process for a new shoe.

"We'll get in a room and talk about random things," Bryant explained, "Like something we saw on Animal Planet, or the Discovery Channel, that kind of stuff."

In the case of the snake-inspired look and feel of the Kobe System 8, that even meant a field trip to the Oregon Zoo for Spanks and Goto, so they could observe the assorted reptiles up close.

The resulting shoe has plenty of reptilian references -- both the weave of the mesh upper and the knit-in black-and-sulfur-yellow "mamba print" pattern mimic a snake's scales, and a snake graphic curls around the geometric logo on the shoe's tongue.

To end up with Nike's lightest basketball shoe to date, the design team used the combination of that all-mesh upper, a mid-sole cushion made from a super-lightweight foam dubbed Lunarlon and a 1-mm-thick rubber outsole.

The $140 black-and-sulfur colorway of the Kobe 8 hits U.S. retail Dec. 20, with a python-inspired color combination launching in China on Jan. 12 and in North America on Feb. 2 -- just in time to mark the Feb. 10 celebration of the Lunar New Year. (Not coincidentally, based on the Chinese zodiac, 2013 will be the Year of the Snake.)

Although Bryant wore his new featherweight kicks to work for the first time at Thursday's Lakers practice, he isn't revealing when, exactly, they'll make their official NBA game debut. 

"It won't be this Friday's game," Bryant said, referring to tonight's 7:30 p.m. tipoff against the Denver Nuggets. "It'll be next week."

But eagle-eyed sneakerheads glued to the set for a first glimpse at the goods shouldn't be looking for the black-and-sulfur color combination pictured above.

"We're doing what I call a shadow version." 

Color us intrigued.

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