kobe bryant at kobe 9 elite launch event

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


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

Report: Pistons monitoring Markieff Morris situation

Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris
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Markieff Morris made a lot of noise this summer about being unhappy in Phoenix and wanting out, after the Suns traded his twin brother Marcus to the Pistons as part of a salary dump. He openly demanded a trade, and said on the record several times that his long-term future is not with the team. He’s changed his tune since training camp started, once he realized he has no choice but to play for the Suns unless they decide to trade him. But according to the Detroit Free Press‘ Vincent Ellis, there is interest from the one team he would be guaranteed to want to play for:

Markieff’s unhappiness with the Suns started when they traded his brother, so he would obviously jump at the chance to reunite with Marcus. And they don’t have much in the way of power forward depth beyond the other Morris twin and Ersan Ilyasova, so it would be a good fit from a basketball standpoint. But with the brothers’ felony assault charges pending, reuniting them on the same roster might not be the best idea, and it also opens up the possibility of having to trade one of them in the future and the other one being unhappy. So far, the Suns have shown no inclination to trade Markieff, but if that changes, the Pistons are an interesting destination to keep an eye on.

Popovich to Aldridge: “Welcome to the Spurs. Go sit” out practice.

LaMarcus Aldridge
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Gregg Popovich’s habit of resting key players at times has become the norm around the league as more and more studies have shown it helps players perform at higher levels plus helps reduce injury risk. Still, Popovich is the poster child.

New Spur LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t used to this but got introduced to it in a very Popovich way, reports Jeff McDonald at the Express-News.

LaMarcus Aldridge missed his first workout of training camp today with leg tightness. Or rather, the Spurs — being the Spurs — held him out for precautionary reasons.

“We sat him out,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He didn’t want to do it. I said, ‘Welcome to the Spurs. Go sit.’”

He might as well have added “get used to this.” Aldridge is going to get some rest this season. Not as many as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, but he’s going to get some nights off.

Remember, Aldridge is a guy who played through a torn ligament in his thumb last season because he thought the Blazers could make noise in the playoffs (and they might have had Wesley Matthews not gotten hurt). He’s not a guy used to being told to sit and rest.

It’s his “Welcome to the Spurs” moment.