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The Nike Kobe 8 Returns: Why Now & What’s Next?

This fall, the next new Protro pair from the Black Mamba and the Swoosh is set to arrive. Boardroom breaks down the business behind the highly anticipated bring-back of the Nike Kobe 8.

What do Ja Morant, Tyrese Haliburton, and Jordan Poole all have in common?

Speed, youth, and flair all come to mind. But look closer — or perhaps lower — and another attribute aligns. Despite all leading the way for new-age guards, each often plays in old sneakers.

Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton wearing the Nike Kobe 8 as a member of the Sacramento Kings (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The common model for each end-to-end highlight machine? 2012’s Nike Kobe 8.

Designed by Eric Avar for the late, great Kobe Bryant, the performance pair pushed the envelope for what a basketball shoe could be. In doubling down on the soccer-inspired style of the Nike Kobe 4, the evolved idea birthed a court classic that was even lower and lighter than the industry standard.

Heading into 2023, Ja will lead his first signature shoe, but his peers will continue to honor the past. As reported by Sole Retriever, the Nike Kobe 8 Protro will debut this fall.

Not only is this amazing news for shifty guards at all levels; it’s a massive announcement in that it marks the first new Protro pair since the Bryant estate reunited with the Swoosh in 2022.

So, why does the Kobe 8 revival make sense from a basketball and business standpoint?

Let’s explain.

Weapon of Choice

When the Nike Kobe 8 debuted in November 2012, Kobe Bryant’s body was breaking down even if his competitive spirit remained at an all-time high.

Surpassing Shaq but still chasing Michael Jordan as far as NBA titles were concerned, the quest for six rings required dragging an already injury-plagued veteran cast past the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, and an ascending Western Conference.

Entering the 2012-13 season at 34 years of age, Bryant was still scoring 27 points a night and competing at an All-NBA level. Still, he needed an edge.

Every edge he could get.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

“I’m always focused on improving my game, to perform at my best,” Bryant said when unveiling the Kobe 8 in 2012. “By shaving fractions off the height and weight, it allows me to play faster with more control. I want to feel like I’m moving at the speed of light.”

While such statements usually come off like force-fed brand-speak, this was very much true of Bryant both at the time (and essentially all the time).

Tasked with chasing an arriving Russell Westbrook — a lightning-in-a-bottle combo guard ten years his junior — the game was getting faster even if Bryant was getting older. In order to stay equally relevant and dominant, both Bryant and his shoes needed to be lighter.

Ditching the bulky modular cushioning of the prior season’s Kobe System — you’re welcome — basketball’s best innovator got back in the lab with Avar, sharpening his sword for battle.

A classic case in reduction, the two titans of footwear brought Bryant’s base even closer to the hardwood.

Weighing in at a mere 9.6 ounces, the pinchy Flywire of the Kobe IV was replaced with soft and snug Engineered Mesh across the upper. Beneath the surface, a pillowy pad of Lunar foam first seen on the Nike Hyperdunk was revamped into a drop-in insole, bringing Kobe so close to the court he could practically feel the paint.

When considering the bulky build of 2012’s Nike LeBron X, which weighed in at a massive 14.1 ounces, or even the high-top cut of that holiday season’s Nike KD V, the Kobe 8 was on-brand for Bryant but still against the grain relative to where his sponsor stood.

“You need confidence to be able to push the boundaries,” Bryant told Nick DePaula back in 2009.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

In earnest, this shift started in ’09 with the Nike Kobe IV. Some would say it was fully realized three years later with the Kobe 8.

“We kind of developed a theme for my shoes,” Bryant continued. “We always want to push the boundaries of lightness and speed.”

For the better part of a decade, Bryant and Eric Avar dug deep to pull learnings from basketball, boxing, science, and soccer as a means to create the best performance pairs ever made.

“This is what I do,” Kobe explained to DePaula.

“I sit down with Avar and we come up with all these concepts. What I want in this shoe, the technology, and so forth. They’ll go into the lab and they come back with the technology and the design of the shoe per the inspiration that I’ve given them.”

On the Kobe 8, the brief was to implement Engineered Mesh across the upper for the first time on a basketball shoe. The result was a seamless, breathable fit that not only hugged the foot, but took well to color.

Over the course of the Kobe 8’s original retail run, celebrated styles like the “Mambacurial,” “Pit Viper,” “Easter,” “What the,” and two “Christmas” colorways championed sneaker culture’s love of storytelling while still handling business on-court.

And though Bryant long loved a good narrative, he had no problem handing over that as an assignment for the busybodies in Beaverton.

“When it comes to the color schemes, I tell the designers, ‘You guys just go have a good time and knock yourselves out,'” Bryant said. “The hard part has already been done. Now, I want you guys to just have a good time. They have a blank canvas to trick it out.”

Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Due to Nike’s keen ability to tell nuanced stories through sneakers, over 30 original Nike Kobe 8 colorways exist.

This gives the brand a deep reservoir to pull from when rolling out Protro pairs, as well as an abundance of aftermarket information to forecast which styles garner the most interest today.

However, an early leak indicates it will establish an all-new motif set to lead the pack into its next era.

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Back for the First Time

Since Kobe Bryant’s passing in 2020, his sneakers have become beloved by fanatics and collectors of all ages, origins, and interests. However, when Kobe was playing, it was mostly die-hard hoopers that truly championed his shoes.

As always, this was by design.

Though Kobe covered the likes of GQ and Complex over the course of his playing days, fashion started and stopped for the Black Mamba once he hit the court.

In an era where the likes of LeBron James and even an ascending Stephen Curry chased denim via signatures meant to look cool off-court and in any number of hallways, how much thought did Kobe give to street wearability?

“Actually, none,” Bryant told DePaula. “That’s never even something that’s crossed my brain. This shoe, I personally wanted to play in. Whether it [works] well off the court or not, is really irrelevant to me at the time.”

Throughout 2022 and soon in 2023, the Bryant buzz is still felt strongest by ballplayers, but ultimately transcends all notions of culture and clout.

For the Kobe 8 Protro rollout, an icy white-on-white pair is said to lead the launch. Perhaps more importantly, it is reported to be the first Protro pair to release in full-family sizing per the request of Vanessa Bryant.

While all this is exciting, early pricing intel proves even more curious. According to Sole Retriever, MSRP leaks place starting retail rates at $120 for adults and $90 for children.

Notably, the original Nike Kobe 8 cost $150 in adult sizing, with certain styles on resale marketplaces like StockX fetching hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Justin Ford/Getty Images

In recent years, low-top basketball shoes hovering right around $100 have been the sweet spot for Nike. Though it’s likely the Nike Kobe 8 Protro will actually cost closer to $200 at retail given what we’ve seen from recent retros from the line, the eighth installment proves palatable for re-release not just where playability is concerned, but also cost of production.

Ten years after its arrival, the Kobe 8’s key components of Engineered Mesh and Lunarlon Foam are positioned much cheaper on the brand’s totem pole. Right now, the Nike Giannis Immortality 2 — a takedown of Antetokounmpo’s Freak signature series — sports said styling on the upper and retails for only $85 in adult sizes, scaled down to $75 and $65 for kid and crib sizes.

Under the hood, the Kobe 8 proves even more efficient as the brand has evolved. Lunarlon foam appears mostly in lifestyle takes of the Air Force 1 or street soccer shoes priced right around the $100 range.

Taken together, all of these elements equate to a shoe that’s low in production cost and high in demand.

Since starting the Protro series, skipped-over styles include the leather-bound Kobe 2 and Kobe 3. Both appear to have less interest and more cost. Additionally, the highly touted high-top Kobe 9 and Kobe 10 rely on Flyknit fabrication, a technology that now lives mostly in Nike Running and Soccer, gracing products that start at far above $200.

With the Kobe 8 Protro, Nike has a chance to carry over original components at an accessible cost while still being able to update the performance technology as the series originally intended.

Drop-in Nike React soles and Zoom Strobel set-ups have become standard and celebrated amongst modern models in their basketball line, appeasing the new wave of hoopers and core Kobe fans. These materials already exist in abundance on factory assembly lines.

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

By pairing basketball’s most obsessive athlete with sportswear’s most daring designers, the Nike Kobe line changed the guard where hardwood heat was concerned. It’s an enduring impact that’s showcased across today’s landscape of dynamic guards, including the likes of Poole, Haliburton, and Morant.

From Flight Huarache retro releases to Protro pairs, the Kobe story at Nike will continue in 2023 and beyond. It’s one that began 20 years prior, forming one of the most progressive partnerships in sportswear history.

“I’m telling you, it was like when Harry Potter landed in Hogwarts,” Bryant told DePaula. “He was home. I’m always around a bunch of people who are competitive and just as passionate about the sport as I am.”

It’s a fire felt by ballers back then, today, and likely for many years to come.

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