After paying millions just to get out of his deal with adidas, Kobe had an interesting 2002-03 season in which he was not allowed to sign with another company for the year. Kobe proceeded to wear just about every relevant brand in the era outside of adidas before signing a reported $40 million+ deal with Nike in the summer of 2003. Before Kobe’s official signature line, Bryant rocked the Zoom Air Huarache 2K4 for the 2003-04 season.
This would be a trying year for Bryant, as he was embroiled in sexual assault allegations. Nike stuck with Bryant despite other endorsers pulling out. The negative press was so tasking that Kobe developed his “Black Mamba” persona to compartmentalize his off-court and on-court life.
The Black Mamba brought versatility on the court, which was the main point of emphasis on the Zoom Air Huarache 2K4 from designer Eric Avar. Previous iterations of Nike Basketball sneakers separated quick play from explosive play, but the Huarache 2K4 looked to meld the two. Lightweight Phylon foam and responsive Zoom Air cushioning played to Kobe’s quick game, whereas the leather uppers and ankle strap provided containment typically reserved for larger players.
Speaking of larger players, one of Kobe’s most memorable plays occurred with the Huarache 2K4 on Bryant’s feet. Dwight Howard was only six games into his rookie season before Bryant absolutely posterized him with a dunk that a fan would later have tattooed on his leg.