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Kobe 9 Elite launch event recap, and discussing the science behind the high-top choice

Feb 9, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT

NEW YORK — Nike Basketball launched the latest signature shoe for Kobe Bryant on Saturday, and the Masterpiece colorway of the Kobe 9 Elite sold out in minutes, despite the $225 price tag.

The demand is understandable.

The shoe’s eye-catching design is like nothing we’ve seen for basketball, integrating the company’s Flyknit technology that was previously used for running shoes along with a high-top cut that’s the highest on the market.

At a recent launch event in Manhattan, Bryant appeared and spoke a little bit about the technology, and five colorways were on display that will all be releasing in the coming months. I got a chance to speak with Kelly Hibler, Nike’s VP of Global Basketball Footwear, about some of the elements that went into the design process.

“Kobe said when we started, we needed to make sure it would stand up to the rigors of the game,” Hibler said. “He is no compromise for what he wants to do on the court, and it took a lot of work to figure out how to make it just right for him, and if it wasn’t for him we never would have gotten here. And that’s why it feels the way it does, because we needed to be able to provide that support for any basketball player.”

The high cut of the shoe is a unique look, and a change from the way basketball shoes have been progressively getting lower over time. The choice had nothing to do with Bryant’s Achilles injury, as these have been in the works for well over 18 months. Instead, there was some science behind the decision.

“The beautiful thing about being able to work with Kobe is having the dialogue about what he needs,” Hibler said. “When we started with Flyknit, we talked about how we could build the feel of a low-top, like he had been playing in in the 8, and provide additional support. We’ve never been able to give him that tight kind of fit around the ankle, that proprioceptive feel with another construction. So what the innovation of Flyknit allowed us to do was deliver both, but the question was how we got there. The innovation allowed us to get there, and then we played with science basically to figure out what the right height was to know exactly how high up to go.”

Proprioception is pretty in-depth stuff, but essentially it’s receptors in the tendons and muscles that send signals to the brain. So, when an ankle, for instance, feels supported, it sends a feeling of comfort to the mind which can put an athlete at ease.

“The notion has always been historically that if you don’t have a high-top, you don’t have enough support,” Hibler said. “The true science proves that the support comes [a bit lower], so he didn’t need a high-top to get the support he wanted. There’s also science that says with pressure around your ankle, that feeling, that’s what the proprioception is. It sends signals to your brain that makes small moves in your ankle that gives you that added stability.”

After the launch event, 24 of us (likely not a coincidence) were transported to a high-end private school, where we would get to demo the shoes for ourselves. As always, Nike spares no expense for these types of experiences, and when we arrived there were lockers full of basketball gear for us to change into, a brand new Nike FuelBand SE for us to track just how hard we played, and of course a pair of the Kobe 9s.

Before the physical part began, we were treated to a Q+A session with Bryant’s (and Michael Jordan’s) personal trainer, Tim Grover, who then put us though a workout consisting of conditioning and basketball drills that left me sore for the next five days. Finally, we were given some time to play in the shoes, which felt as light as the Kobe 8s, but with that little bit of added support. The high-top feel was distracting initially, but it’s so light that after about 15 minutes you forget it’s even there. And the cushioning is the same used in the 8s, so it provided a nice comfortable ride for the entire session.

The design cycle for footwear is such that Nike is already working on the Kobe 10s, which obviously are a year away from releasing. Hibler wouldn’t get into specifics, of course, but said that the way the Kobe 9 turned out made the team aware of the wealth of possibilities that exist.

“We built a basketball shoe that we couldn’t have envisioned when we started,” he said. “And it’s opened doors for us to do all kinds of other things. I can tell you this: You’ll be surprised.”

Kobe 9 Launchslideshows
  1. sportsfan18 - Feb 9, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    Kobe is obviously paid nicely by the shoe company for this and he has been and will continue receiving healthy checks from them.

    He’s done well over the past decade and a half with many endorsements other than his shoe deals too.

    When Kobe’s two year contract is done and he’s received those monies, he’ll have earned over $327 million from basketball salary alone ( and he’ll play one more season I’m sure as long as his body allows it) plus he’s earned a lot more via endorsements.

    He’ll continue earning money from endorsements after he retires too.

    All told, Kobe will earn well OVER a half a billion dollars from basketball (yes, his endorsements are due to that because if he was a school teacher somewhere he wouldn’t be receiving that money).

    So, while he’ll earn OVER a half a billion dollars, why did he have to still be the highest paid player in the league for the next two seasons? He doesn’t need the money and the Lakers will have a more difficult time trying to achieve a championship which is what Kobe says he wants and plays for. The team says this too yet neither of them put a championship front and center.

    • asimonetti88 - Feb 9, 2014 at 5:59 PM

      Half a billion dollars. Not bad. Way to hustle, Kobe.

    • kb2408 - Feb 9, 2014 at 7:27 PM

      Oh, please, the LAKERS weren’t winning a title over the next two years anyway! LBJ and Melo ain’t walking through the door of the Staples. And signing anyone else wouldn’t have mattered. So, why not reward an iconic figure for almost two decades of greatness? Had they low-balled him and he left for another franchise the LAKERS would’ve been left with no Kobe, an angry fan base and a bunch of players nobody would’ve paid big money to go see. And had he won a title with another team it would’ve been in a mutiny in L.A.!! Those high priced court side seats that the majority of fans pay for just to watch Kobe would’ve sat empty. With a top 3 pick this season (perhaps no.1 overall) and free agency in 2015-16, the LAKERS will be back.

      • sportsfan18 - Feb 9, 2014 at 9:43 PM

        I agree completely that they won’t win a title within the next two years either. That isn’t the point. The point is that whatever there chances are, and they are small, they could have been BETTER had Kobe only been making say $12 million a season vs. his roughly $24 million per season.

        My point is that the Lakers chances would improve if they had another $12 million or so to improve their roster, their depth, to strengthen their bench, to have better quality #6 and #7 players on the roster.

        Now, they still would not have won the championship but their chances WOULD be much better if they had another $12 million give or take to spend on better quality players.

        And my point was that Kobe does not need the money. He’s earned his money, I’m not saying he hasn’t. He’ll continue receiving endorsement monies long after he retires too (yes, it will slow down but I’d certainly take it if you know what I mean).

        And Kobe had said on many occasions that he plays for a championship. That’s what it’s about. Well his taking the salary he did (while having all the money he already has) goes AGAINST his words saying that championships are what it’s about.

        He can’t and no one with a sane mind can say that the Lakers would not have a better chance at a title with another $12 million or so to spend on strengthening the roster than they’re going to have due to this.

        The team, the Lakers organization is about championships they say. Yet agreeing to pay Kobe that amount (yes, Kobe will still make the organization more money than the $24 or so million they pay him, that is NOT my point, my point is championships) means they will have very long odds to win a championship during the next two years.

        I just find it amusing that both Kobe and the Laker organization both claim championships are what it’s about and yet they both agree to something that severely hampers their goal of winning one.

        Kobe KNOWS he’s at the end of his career. He doesn’t have two seasons to waste (as I agree with you when you said and I quote “the LAKERS weren’t winning a title over the next two years anyway!”) so I don’t get why he’s OK with having a weaker cast of teammates around him than what could have been by him taking a bit over a third of the teams salary cap.

        He wants a championship, he’s at the end of his career and can’t waste seasons but then, with as much money as he has already, he chooses a few more million ($10 to $12 million isn’t that much to him) over better odds at a championship.

        That’s what my point is. I don’t understand his words and the teams words compared to their actions is all.

        LBJ wanted a title and he took less to go to the Heat. Not many may know this, but Chris Bosh has made the exact same amount as LBJ for their entire time on the Heat so far in salary.

        D. Wade is making just a tad less than both of them. All three took less money, but they have two championships and still have a decent shot at more.

        Melo and LBJ came into the league at the same time. Melo has earned more money for his career than LBJ. Melo makes more this year, he did last year, the year before etc…

        So, Melo with his larger salary has what? Zero MVP’s, Zero championships etc…

        The guy who took less money, LBJ has 4 MVP’s and 2 titles and counting.

        I guess since Kobe already has 5 titles, it wasn’t as important to him.

        I bet if Kobe had zero titles, he would have only taken a few million per season and told them to get the best teammates they could.

        I’m interested in seeing what Melo will do this summer. Will he take the mega bucks from the Knicks and stay? Or will he do what LBJ did years ago and take less money and try to win a title?

      • kb2408 - Feb 10, 2014 at 1:12 AM

        Dude, you completely missed the point. The LAKERS rightfully so aren’t going to throw money away on inferior “fringe” stars that won’t lead them to a title anyway. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that when they gave Kobe that contract they knew LBJ wasn’t coming to LA. The next two years are nothing but a farewell tour for one of the NBA’s all time greats. The LAKERS are going hard after Love and another top free agent in 15-16 and we will have a top pick in the next draft. I know they win a lot but they can’t win it every year! Kobe’s legacy and place in history is secure whether he has 5 rings or 6.

      • kb2408 - Feb 10, 2014 at 1:17 AM

        One more thing, don’t portray LBJ as a saint and all about winning because he signed for less money in Miami. That was not too difficult to do when he had a 100 million dollar shoe contract BEFORE he played his very first game.

  2. fearthehoody - Feb 9, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    Sad part is there are fools who will buy these . Even worse, majority will be those who can’t afford them but hey, its America! Why not live out of your means??

    • savvybynature - Feb 9, 2014 at 7:04 PM

      The sad part is that the “reporters” who went to this shoe launch were probably given, and probably accepted, all that Nike gear the article references, including an advanced release pair of the shoes. In any other type of journalism a reporter would be fired for accepting junkets like this.
      So, of course people who can’t afford these shoes will buy them, in no small part because the media will do their part to hype up these products in order to continue getting freebies and protect their access.

    • kb2408 - Feb 9, 2014 at 7:08 PM

      And why is it any of your business? What’s also sad is those that think they have the right to judge others. Personally, I would never spend even a $100 on a pair of gym shoes. But that doesn’t give me the right to question someone else that chooses to do so.

  3. norcal031 - Feb 9, 2014 at 5:03 PM

    Basketball shoes the past 15 years have gotten sooooooooooooooo ugly. I mean just eyesores. I would never wear any of Kobe’s’ shoes. They are disgusting. What happened to the shoe makers???? It seems like when I was in younger that’s when shoes were the best. Jordan 9,10,11,12,13,14. The Air Max Uptempos, the Air Penny’s I still have and are in perfect condition. The Pippen Air Max I mean even the J Kidds and the AI answers were sick but now…….too much color and odd lines everywhere……

  4. antistratfordian - Feb 9, 2014 at 6:55 PM

    Here’s the “science” behind the high top choice: Low top back edge = unwanted achilles prodding. Okay, high tops then?

  5. stadix093 - Feb 9, 2014 at 7:36 PM

    I’ll wait for the low tops

  6. obmig - Feb 9, 2014 at 8:07 PM

    I don’t trust Nike or Kobe anymore. When the low tops came out the Science showed that it was a wise idea. Kobe has been injured on and off most of the time in them. Now the Science shows that high tops are the right choice, but it has nothing to do with the injuries Kobe got wearing the low tops. I would be more comfortable wearing chucks at this point.

  7. seanb20124 - Feb 9, 2014 at 8:07 PM

    Ever seen the people in line for a shoe release?

  8. 00maltliquor - Feb 10, 2014 at 1:03 AM

    From one extreme to another. Kobe goes from rocking low-tops to the highest of high-tops.

  9. daddyghi - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    enough of this science bulls**t! Kobe already said it before… he was working out with Pacquiao one time and liked Manny’s high top shoes, so he asked Nike to make one for him…

  10. mightbegoingtohellforthis - Feb 10, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    Sad that this site removed my comment about how much they sell for vs the cost and labor force used to produce this shoe. Thanks for the commercial you corporate shills.

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