Long before social media and NBA players were getting recognized for their on-court sneakers, Kobe Bryant‘s sneaker free agent run in the early 2000s was one to remember. Bryant, who began his career with adidas, spent the 2002-03 season with no sneaker contract and wore a myriad of brands from Nike to Reebok to Converse and even AND1 before Nike signed him to a four-year, $40 million dollar just a month after the brand signed an 18-year-old kid by the name of LeBron James to that famous seven-year, $90 million contract.
Bryant was seen in different player exclusives of the Huarache 2K4 and 2K5 during his first two years and wouldn’t receive his first signature shoe till ’05. He and legendary designer Eric Avar, who played a key role in bringing Bryant’s ideas to life, brought a new meaning to performance models and exceeded expectations with innovation.
January 22, 2006. On a Sunday night at STAPLES Center, Kobe Bryant erupted for 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, making it the second-most-points-in-a-game performance in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain. This was also the night Bryant, who Nike signed in 2004, donned his first signature shoe, the Kobe 1, with the Swoosh after being a sneaker free agent.