ORLANDO, Fla. — Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, an assistant coach with the Lakers, looked at his sneakers while standing on the court. His eyes fixated on the logo atop the tongue of the white and black low-top shoes, the sheath that’s become synonymous with Kobe Bryant.
It might seem like a little thing, but a lot had to happen for Kidd to be here, inside the NBA bubble, wearing one of his favorite pairs of shoes. He packed four pairs for the team’s trip.
“When you’re on the other side, you never want to wear the enemy’s shoe. That’s an old-school thing for me. If Kobe saw that, he’d think, ‘Oh, he idolizes me. I’ve got him,’” Kidd said.
The reason why Kidd wouldn’t wear the shoes before is the reason why so many are wearing them now, Bryant’s signature kicks becoming the unofficially most popular shoe in the bubble. At the Lakers’ practice Tuesday, at least 13 players, coaches and staff members wore Bryant‘s shoes.
Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among the nine who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, pushing the Lakers franchise into a very public mourning for one of the NBA’s icons.
“When you think of the Lakers, you think of Kobe. You don’t think of anybody else. You think of Kobe Bryant,” Anthony Davis said Wednesday while wearing his own signature shoe that’s part of the Bryant line. “And for guys to, not just on the Lakers but around the league, to wear his shoes and continue his legacy, for Nike to continue his legacy, it’s amazing. … I fell in love with them, and I want to be able to continue to push his legacy for as long as I can.”
Dwight Howard, who feuded with Bryant during a failed pairing in 2012-13, wore purple, black and gold versions of a Kobe 5 re-release during Tuesday’s media day. His return to the Lakers last year was a surprise considering how he left, but when he got back to Los Angeles, he had a message.
“I was wearing them before anything even happened with Kobe. I had talked to Rob and told him I wanted to wear all Kobes this year,” Howard said. “I just, for some reason, didn’t want to wear anybody else’s shoes.”
Bryant’s never too far from the Lakers, even inside the bubble. The team breaks huddles with Bryant’s “Mamba” nickname. The Lakers are undefeated this postseason wearing the special black jerseys he helped design. There’s a tribute patch on their jerseys.
“For me, it’s the jerseys,” Davis said. “For me, it’s being here, being a Laker. Every time I put on the Laker uniform, we say ‘Mamba on three’, we talk about Mamba mentality, we talk about Mamba shots, Kobe, all those things. That’s what gets me thinking about it.”
And then there are the shoes, the ones they wear and the ones on the feet of the players they compete against.
“What he’s done for this league, he was a role model for a lot of us growing up. Just like kids wear Jordans or LeBrons, Kobe is the same way,” Denver forward Torrey Craig said. “I just think a lot guys are wearing them now out of respect for him.”
For some players, lacing up the style of shoes Bryant himself once wore allows for a brief moment of reflection, a glimmer of memories before they refocus on the game in front of them.
And for the people who still are deeply wounded from the loss, the shoes mean more.
“It’s a tangible reminder, a representation of Kobe and Gianna’s spirit being with us and with this team. And that’s powerful. Anytime in life where there’s tragedy, you have to hope that beauty will come out of that in some form,” Pelinka said.
“And it’s in these little things where you have to find inspiration — because it’s still incredibly saddening. We know Kobe and Gianna would want us to carry forward in strength because that’s what they both were. And these things can help catapult us.”