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Q&A: Kobe Bryant talks Nike Kobe 9 Elite, upcoming colorways, return to Lakers

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Kobe Bryant took part in a special event at the Nike Vault on Sunday that was attended by the artists that worked on pieces inspired by the Nike Kobe Prelude Pack along with members of the Westchester High basketball team to talk about his latest signature shoe, the Nike Kobe 9 Elite. Bryant also answered questions about the progress of his rehab and if Laker fans can expect him to return on the court this season.

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Released over the weekend, the Nike Kobe 9 Elite is a dramatic departure from Bryant’s signature line. After almost single-handedly changing the perception of low-cut basketball shoes starting with the Nike Zoom Kobe 4, Bryant has pushed the boundaries of what is possible from a performance and aesthetic standpoint with every passing iteration. With the Nike Kobe 9 Elite, however, the shoe features a much higher cut than previous modeals with a new material, Nike’s Flyknit technology, that has never been used on a basketball shoe before.

From listening to Bryant talk, it seemed like he has wanted to go high-cut for some time; he was just waiting for technology to catch up to him, and now with Flyknit he is now able to execute on his vision of redefining the high-top basketball shoe.

The following are Kobe’s answers from the Q&A session:

On when we can see him back on the court and if he’s able to train:

“Injuries doing alright. Slow. The process is slow. It’s frustrating because it’s out of your control. My plan hasn’t changed; I’ve been going about it every single day and trying to be better. That’s my job. My job is to get my butt out there on the court to play.”

“All I’m able to do is cycle. First week was cool, second week was a good workout, third week you need some other s***, but you have to stick with it.”

“[My return is] completely out of my control. I really got to sit here and just wait until this thing heals up and then go out there and do what I do.”

On the red stiches on the back of the Nike Kobe 9 Elite:

“Yeah, so the stiches are symbolic of my ruptured Achilles. We always want to tell stories with these shoes and that’s what [the stiches] symbolize. I’ve met so many people who had ruptured Achilles, like I met about five the other day and they all had a story that they wanted to tell and it was sort of a bonding moment between us who have ruptured their Achilles [laughs] because only we can understand; it is the worst feeling.”

On the implementation of Flyknit and Lunar in his shoes:

“Well, Lunar has always been a big part of my shoes. It gives you the ability to have great flexibility, minimizes weight. And with Flyknit, we wanted to go [high-cut] because when we did the low [starting with the Nike Zoom Kobe 4 to the Nike Kobe 8] people were like ‘you can’t go low’ and then when it caught on, we said ‘let’s go high.’ Let’s redefine what a high shoe should be and how it should feel and how it should perform. The high is very restrictive, so we wanted highs that played like lows. And while [Flyknit] technology has been incredible in the running shoes, we couldn’t carry that over to basketball yet. We put in a lot of work.”

“Flyknit is incredible in how it morphs to your foot. It does an incredible job of really hugging your foot and we’re trying to get to a place where your foot and shoe act like one.”

On the artistic angle of the Nike Kobe 9, the Prelude Pack and inspirations surrounding it:

“The idea is to redefine what inspires you. The idea is that I’ve gotten to this space is because I’ve had a lot of muses in my life [like Pablo Picasso and Leonardo Da Vinci]. People that I look up to and draw inspiration from like how they prepare and how they focus on their particular field because the common denominator is the attention to detail, the hard-work, the relentlessness. It’s this psychotic thing that [his muses] shares. So the key to this project is to give an homage to some of those people that I’ve drawn inspiration from and allows me to share those feelings with those people because it touches me in a different way just like how it would touch you in a different way because you come from a different [life] experience.”

On other players wearing the Nike Kobe 9 Elite, like Nick Young and Amar’e Stoudemire:

“They have the complete freedom to wear whatever they want. It was one of the first things when I first started with Nike was [I told them] I don’t want any restrictions about [other players] being able to wear my shoes to a game. The more the merrier and it just means that we’re doing the right thing and the shoe is doing well. I don’t have this ego where somebody can’t wear my shoe; it means we’re doing our job [when other players wear my shoes], you know what I mean? I’m pissed when you’re not wearing them [laughs] because it says a lot about you [laughs].”

On any conversations he might have with fellow signature athletes LeBron James and Kevin Durant about their signature shoes:

“We share ideas a lot, actually. I enjoy [the business side] probably more than they do, but we’ll talk about it a lot and we come up with crazy ideas, I come up with some pretty crazy ideas. They can’t steal that though [laughs], you know, like they can give me one or two more years and then they can go low.”

On upcoming Kobe 9 Elite colorways:

“There’s a lot of muses to come. There is going to be a Michael Jackson [colorway] to come, there’s my favorite Jordan [the Air Jordan 3] of all-time and we’re going to take the elephant print on that…”

On how much of the business side factored into his decision to go high-cut for the Nike Kobe 9 Elite:

“I always focus on what I need; it has start there, what I need in order to perform. I really don’t care if people don’t like the direction [of the shoe], it has to start with yourself. So you then you see what else is out there and what others have done and if you look at a high-top and innovations there, I think people are doing high-tops wrong. They’re very restrictive and heavy and clunky. So why not doing something that’s a little bit different and create highs in a new way in the same way that we did in [redefining] the low.

Kobe then took questions from the players at Westchester High, one of the more well-known basketball programs in the Los Angeles and who wear special player exclusive versions of Kobe’s shoes.

On what college he really would have gone to:

“If I really thought about it, I would have gone to Carolina. Because when I came out, Vince Carter was a year ahead of me and he was considered the top 2-guard in the country and they had Rasheed Wallace so it would have been great going up against Vince in practice… it’s all about competition to me.”

What is his mindset going into games and his pre-game routine:

“Take care of business and focus on execution. Sometimes you want to be around your [teammates]… for the most part I do my homework, prepare and when the time comes, I make the adjustments, and you go out there and execute.”

On his plans after his playing days are done:

“Doing some of the stuff I’ve been doing already, like pushing the [Kobe] brand and the product.”

On what exactly is the "Mamba Mentality:"

“It’s a non-stop curiosity to be better… just continue to learn how to get better and a thirst for knowledge and a constant thirst to learn and always asking ‘why?’ and looking for solutions to those problems…”

Before the session ended Bryant gave this piece of advice to the Westchester players:

“If I can leave you guys with one thing, it’s that you have to challenge yourself. I think that nowadays it’s not cool for you guys to want greatness, because greatness is uncomfortable to a lot of people. It isolates you quite a bit, you know? Because as a group, people are more comfortable being mediocre, so it puts the peer pressure on you to be mediocre… and that it’s not ok to want greatness. I’m telling you that you got to do what you need to do, the hell with everybody else. If they don’t share the same confidence and want in you to be great, don’t associate with them. You ain’t got time for that. You associate yourself with people who want greatness for themselves. You learn from those people, you don’t learn anything from mediocrity, absolutely nothing.”

The Nike Kobe 9 Elite is available for $225.00 a pair. The first colorway, “The Masterpiece,” is currently sold out, but the next in the series will be the “Maestro” that Bryant was supposed to wear to the 2014 NBA All-Star Game that will be available on February 14, 2014.

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