The Deep Rooted History of UNDFTD x Nike Kobe Launches

By Ian Stonebrook

Kobe Bryant’s upbringing spanned Italy and Philadelphia, but his storybook career rendered him LA’s own. Since signing with Nike in 2003, Los Angeles footwear purveyor UNDFTD quickly became integral in the Swoosh’s story as it pertained to Kobe.

Over the course of a decade and a half, the brand, the baller and the boutique have consistently collaborated on kicks, colorways and launch events. Each time, the detail and theatrics foreshadowed what was next for Nike Basketball as authored by Bryant.

In the beginning, Bryant’s Laker laden Huarache 2k5 collaboration previewed PEs being key in Kobe’s footwear story and love for LA. Later on, a DeLorean led launch of the McFly Hyperdunks saw Bryant in the driver’s seat for the future of performance basketball. In recent years, Kobe Protro PEs exclusive to UNDFTD have served as Bryant’s stamp of approval on the new stars of Nike Basketball.

As we celebrate this very memorable Mamba Week, this year registers as much different in sentiment but the same in story. Since 2004, UNDFTD has been the premier retailer for exclusive Kobe kicks and remains at the heart of Bryant’s footwear legacy even in his passing.

 

2004 // UNDFTD x Nike Zoom Huarache 2k5

When it comes to performance basketball, Kobe Bryant claims kings in three categories he rarely gets credit for: Player Exclusives, Collaborations and Christmas Day kicks.

The UNDFTD x Nike Zoom Huarache 2k5 was all three in one. While the Black Mamba awaited a signature sneaker of his own namesake at Nike, the Huarache revival was owned and led by Bryant. After sporting PE pairs of the OG Flight Huaraches and later leading the Huarache 2k4 in team tones and laser renditions, Christmas Day 2004 saw the arrival of the Nike Zoom Huarache 2k5.

Worn by Bryant in a Staples showdown against Shaq and the Heat, the debut of the Huarache 2k5 fittingly came in Lakers tones to signify the Black Mamba as the sneaker’s leading man. On the court, the Hollywood story was Shaqa Claus delivering coal as the Heat won 104-102. Not to be individually outshined, Kobe absolutely balled out with a 42 point performance.

While the Lakers took an L, UNDFTD shoppers caught a major W if they were lucky enough to score Kobe’s 2k5 PEs previewed that day. Limited to 25 pairs and packaged in a mahogany woodgrain box, these prized PEs featured Kobe’s signature and numbered detailing on the box with the date of the game stamped on the midsole. Unlike GR editions, Kobe’s signature also appeared on the tongue of this take.

Limited launches and local fanatics would make this introductory UNDFTD x Kobe launch one for the record books, paving the way for plenty of heat to follow and bringing boutiques into the basketball space.

 

2008 // Nike Hyperdunk “McFly”

The Nike Hyperdunk had a lot going for it.

Designed for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and introducing Flywire support and Lunarlon foam cushioning, the OG Hyperdunk was the brand’s biggest statement on the basketball court of the new millennium. Captivating casual and serious hoopers alike, the shoe sold in both hemispheres and appealed to all positions. While every Nike sponsored country in the Summer Games got their own colorway, no one defined the shoe more than Kobe Bryant.

Setting the stage for viral marketing on a major brand level, Kobe’s ‘Oh shit, did he really just do that?’ hop over an Aston Martin fanned the flame for the already redhot Hyperdunk. Before he headed to Beijing to bring back gold for the Redeem Team, the Black Mamba chose to handle business at home first.

That business? Shoe business that was one fateful stop at UNDFTD LA.

Pulling up to a crowd of locals who had braved the July heat for 24 hours of city camping, Kobe Bryant arrived at UNDFTD’s “McFly” Hyperdunk launch in a DeLorean straight out of Back to the Future II. The first ten fans in line got to meet Kobe personally, with Bryant dapping up locals, posing for a group pic and signing the shoes that were limited to just 350 pairs worldwide.

Of those 350 pairs, 100 hit UNDFTD in Santa Monica. Of those 100 pairs, ten were signed by Kobe himself. To this day, the surprise appearance serves as an ideal example of how to add energy to a performance pair, storytell with an event and bring out of the box themes to a basketball shoe.

 

2018 // UNDFTD x Nike Kobe I Protro

 

As Kobe Bryant won two more championships and two gold medals, the fandom for the Laker favorite only grew in LA. From 2008 to 2018, there was a drought so to speak on UNDFTD x Kobe sneaker collabs, but tees and accessories still showed up as did fans.

Following Kobe’s retirement tour in 2016, the Black Mamba started storytelling the next chapter of his life while revisiting the past. The Nike Kobe I Protro revised the collectible cache typically associated with retro sneakers, refitting Bryant’s signature models from the past with slight modernizations that would prove playable in today’s times.

While OG Kobe Is saw collaboration from Premium Goods and Nort, the Kobe I Protro brought it all back home via a slew of styles from UNDFTD. Nodding to today’s top stars, shop history, and Laker lore, a wide range of UNDFTD x Nike Kobe I Protros popped up in store and on court over the course of 2018 with the energy mounting at that year’s All-Star Weekend in LA. 

Fans flocked to UNDFTD locations in and outside of LA for the launch of Kobe I Protros in 2018, with lines wrapping around the block at Nike’s Makers of the Game Pop-Up Shop at ASW. Later on, camo colorways would be released on Mamba Day, cementing the importance of the athlete and making it more than just a shoe holiday.

Over the course of the 2017-18 season, the likes of Devin Booker, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo and others popped up in the UNDFTD x Nike Kobe I Protro. The ultimate sign of approval, LeBron James laced up the “Yellow Camo” pair for his first appearance in a Lakers uniform. The future of the game was in good hands and the city had something to smile about.

Even in retirement, Kobe was LA’s favorite son. Even in retirement, UNDFTD was Kobe’s favorite store.

 

2019 // UNDFTD x Nike Kobe IV Protro

Huarache and Hyperdunk silos worn by Bryant shifted the styling of Nike Basketball, but the Nike Kobe IV shifted the shape. 

Sporting the same Flywire panelling and Lunar cushioning of the red hot Hyperdunk, the Kobe IV pushed the envelope even further by dropping the top and introducing a low top look to the superstar’s signature line.

The risk in cut foreshadowed the future as the whole league adopted low top Kobes, including big men usually known for bulky high tops. By the time the Nike Kobe IV Proto would roll out a decade after the OG’s debut, the game would be positionless and low tops would be the industry standard.

Inspired by the league’s next generation of talent and Bryant’s Black Mamba moniker, city centric shades took over a range of UNDFTD x Nike Kobe IV launches on Bryant’s birthday in 2019 with the noir follow up finding its way to SNKRS just shy of a month later. 

From a storytelling standpoint, this collection continued to see Kobe showing love to the game’s next wave of talent while getting help from his old buddies at UNDFTD.

 

2020 // UNDFTD x Nike Kobe V Protro

Mamba Week 2020 is decidedly different than those before. Following the tragic loss of Kobe, his daughter Gigi, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Alyssa Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, John Altobelli, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan in a helicopter crash, the tone is different but the sentiment to be better is even stronger.

The UNDFTD x Nike Kobe V Protro “What If” Collection is the crown jewel of Nike’s seven day celebration of Bryant. The newly minted Mamba Week pays tribute to Kobe the player and Kobe the person, with the Swoosh donating $1 million each year to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation. The two pairs of Kobe V Protros produced by UNDFTD are an homage to Kobe’s famous Draft Day arrival but in different fashion than before.

One pair references the 12 teams that passed on Kobe in a collage colorway of sorts, framing each franchise’s famed tones in the most premium materials the model has ever seen. The second pair in the set is a more traditional take on the Charlotte Hornets that drafted and traded Kobe, once again wearing white and teal but this time upping the ante with luxurious finishes and going gold on the branding.

As Nike and UNDFTD continue to keep the Kobe Bryant legacy alive, one has to pay respect to how both parties also lifted him when he was still with us. Bryant and Nike were always asking to push the envelope in regard to innovation and storytelling, while UNDFTD was always there to serve and salute the Laker legend to his most faithful fanbase.

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