Twenty-five years after one of Kobe Bryant’s most career-defining moments, Collectable brokered a fractional sale of the sneakers that represented a turning point in his Hall of Fame journey.
While it’s typically the heights of Kobe Bryant’s iconic 20-year NBA career that are most celebrated, he often credited one of his lowest points with helping to fuel the competitive fire that defined his approach and made him one of the greatest to ever lace them up.
In the very first NBA playoffs of his prep-to-pro rookie season in 1996-97, Bryant looked to take the next leap as a player. The Los Angeles Lakers were facing elimination against the Utah Jazz and in need of some late-game heroics on the road in Salt Lake City.
Robert Horry had been ejected, Shaquille O’Neal had fouled out, and the score was locked at 89-89 towards the end of regulation.
With a chance to drain a go-ahead basket to seal a Laker win, Bryant calmly dribbled beyond the half-court line with seven seconds ticking away on the clock, before accelerating past the three-point arc and pulling up for a jumper as the buzzer sounded.
As the game shifted to overtime, he’d go on to airball three more jumpers in the five minutes of extra time, bringing the Lakers’ season to a close as the Jazz pulled out a 98-93 home win to claim the series.
“It was an early turning point for me in being able to deal with adversity, deal with public scrutiny and self-doubt,” Bryant told reporters in Oakland years later. “At 18 years old, it was gut-check time. I look back at it now with fond memories of it. Back then, it was misery. It helped shape me.”
It was the same silhouette he had unveiled in a bold purple, black, and white colorway months earlier at All-Star Weekend, during his Dunk Contest winning mix made of windmills and a straight-on, between-the-legs dunk.
That spring, he also debuted the two key colorways of the EQT Elevation heading to retail later that year – a home white and black edition and a road-friendly black and white look.
Worn in two road games during the Lakers’ opening-round series win against the Portland Trail Blazers, Bryant would go on to lace up the black-based pair in all three away games against the Jazz for a total of five documented wearings.
With Utah opening the second-round series at home, it was the Delta Center’s visiting locker room ballboy Preston Truman who first asked Bryant for his game sneakers before the schedule shifted to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4.
Likely wearing prototype pairs ahead of the model’s upcoming Fall ’97 launch, Kobe held off, saying he still needed the shoes for any additional upcoming games.
“This is an important fact because it indicates that these sneakers saw extensive multi-game use by Kobe during his first postseason,” said Collectable CEO Ezra Levine. “It is entirely possible that this was the only road pair of sneakers Kobe wore during the 1997 Playoffs.”
After Game 5 – even with the difficult conclusion of his season – Bryant stuck to his word. He penned his four-letter name and jersey number on the inner heel of each shoe in gold and handed the kicks off to Truman, who has held onto the shoes ever since.
Exactly 25 years later, Collectable’s Private Sales division has brokered a fractional sale of that size 14 pair of the Adidas EQT Elevations worn by Bryant in Game 5.
Now, Truman and one private collector will split fractional ownership of the EQT Elevations on Collectable.
“I heard about Collectable through my longtime buddy who is big into cards, trading and buying,” Truman told Boardroom. “I thought it looked like a fun way for people to own a piece of history from a big game or moment, and I was curious to see what the interest would be in such a cool shoe from a game Kobe talked a lot about as his career went on.”
Truman will co-own the shoe with a private collector under the unique format, with the private collector holding an undisclosed percentage and Collectable securing and storing the pair. The arrangement between Truman and the private collector also allows the opportunity for each party to offer their shares to the broader public in a traditional fractionalized IPO format at a later time.
For Collectable, the private fractional ownership format will introduce a new option for collectors and investors of coveted items.
“We are building an additional fractional [path] in providing smaller, private, regulated fractional sales,” outlined Levine. “The structure allows collectors to partially monetize their collectibles in a seamless transaction with a tighter shared ownership group. The arrangement also allows flexibility for both parties. We have seen strong interest in this option for discreet collectors.”
For Truman, the coveted collectibles are not his only brush with greatness. He previously possessed Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” Air Jordan XIIs from the 1997 NBA Finals, that fetched $104,765 at auction in 2013.
While he’s spoken often of his love for the Chicago Bulls and his many interactions with Michael Jordan, Truman developed a deep appreciation for Bryant and collected several pairs of his game-worn sneakers.
“I actually have more of his stuff than most, because I developed a relationship with him early,” he said.
The two both began their NBA paths during the 1996-97 season. At the time, only two ballboys were allowed in the visiting locker room at the Delta Center, meaning the first-time ballboy in Truman was often on call for any number of tasks needed by opponents. If Michael Jordan suddenly wanted apple sauce, Truman was racing up to the concourse to track some down and potentially landing in the good graces of the game’s biggest star.
Each and every game, he’d try and strike up a conversation with players when the circumstances allowed.
“I was able to get to know Kobe, and every time he’d come to town, he’d usually leave me a pair of shoes, without even asking,” he said.
“We got to know each other on a personal level. We’re the same age. We’d be talking about girlfriends or what I was doing in college, since he wasn’t having that experience.”
Reflecting back on the closing moments of that Game 5, with the roar of Jazz fans yelling “Airball!” drowning out the arena, it’s the image of a bewildered Bryant that Truman can’t seem to forget.
“It was crazy watching him come back to the huddle,” he said. “I was handing him towels, and he was even saying, ‘Man, what the hell is going on? This isn’t real.’”
Bryant went on to shoot 4-14 from the field and an empty 0-6 from deep in his 28 minutes of play.
“You could just tell that ate at him,” continued Truman. “Back in the locker room after the game, he was asking where he could go shoot. He wanted to go shoot that night. The season had just ended. I had never seen that before. Most players can’t wait to get to their vacation. This guy was like, ‘Where can I get to, to shoot? Right now.’”
As Bryant revealed years later, he actually did go and shoot that night, but only after the Lakers’ team plane made it back to California.
“I went straight to Palisades High, that night, as soon as we landed,” he told reporters in 2016. “I went straight to the gym … and I was there until the sun came up.”
That session late into the night marked the start of an offseason workload of shooting and weightlifting that would establish the foundation of his ascent in the very next season, his first of 18 All-Star Game appearances.
“I was back there the next day, the next day, and then the next day after that,” added Bryant.
For many around the league, including former Laker exec Jerry West – the man who pulled off a Draft day trade to bring Bryant to Los Angeles – it was the shortfalls of the Utah game that they’d keep coming back to when looking back on Kobe’s career of greatness.
“I really felt that was the defining moment in his career,” said West. “If somebody would’ve shot an airball on our team, and then shot a second one, they weren’t going to shoot a third one. He was fearless. I think that’s one of the things that spurred him to greatness. He wasn’t going to allow himself to fail.”
When thinking back to the pair of EQT Elevations that he’d stashed away for over two decades, for Truman, it’s about the moment of inspiration that the game represented for Bryant ahead.
“That ‘Mamba Mentality’ he developed, that all of us competitive people use in different aspects of life now and in his memory, stemmed somewhat from that game,” he said.
Like all Bryant fans and those fortunate enough to interact with him over the years, dealing with his passing has introduced a heavy sense of grief over the last two years.
“I still feel loss nearly every day with Kobe. He was the nicest guy and fiercely loyal,” added Truman. “We had such a cool connection.”
Rather than pinpoint a specific interaction or conversation with the visiting Laker from his ballboy days with the Jazz, it was the relationship that endured well after his locker room attendant tenure had ended that meant most to Truman.
“When I told him I was moving on from being a ballboy in 2000, he gave me his publicist’s phone number and told me to call if I ever needed tickets or anything else,” he recalled.
As he’d find out, it wasn’t some empty keep in touch gesture from Kobe.
“Seriously, for the next 10 to 15 years, he got me tickets nearly every time he was back in Salt Lake and several times in LA when I was visiting,” said Truman. “He always was so gracious and met with nearly every one of my good friends and family. He took pictures with them, signed autographs, and always took five to 10 minutes to catch up after games. I miss him dearly and am so thankful to have known him.”
With the game-worn pair of EQT Elevations now stored and secured by Collectable, Truman plans to extend his ownership of a piece of Bryant history for years to come, tying back to one of the most defining games of Kobe’s career.