Inside Kobe Bryant’s incredible Dia de los Muertos-themed sneaker launch

WP

LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant's latest signature sneaker launch was low-key by industry standards. There wasn't an unveiling of a crazy new design, there were no live musical performances, and multiple colorways of the new sneakers weren't on hand to display.

But the idea to hold the event on Día de los Muertos in a small gallery space in downtown L.A. was a perfect way to introduce what's next in Bryant's sneaker line from Nike Basketball, the Kobe A.D.

“It’s a concept that kind of came to me years ago,” Bryant said. “Thinking about the end of my career, and it almost feeling like a death because I’ve been playing basketball for so long. It was my life for a while. So to walk away from that kind of has that death experience, right?

“The basketball player is now done. It’s retired. So now we have to move on to the next phase.”

As soon as you entered the gallery, the Día de los Muertos theme was impactful immediately. The room was dark and lit only by candles, as slowly paced classical piano music played softly in the background.

The lights on the floor were in the formation of a basketball court, while the back of the room featured risers with Bryant's memorabilia laid out among the many lit candles.

“It’s an appreciation of the light and the dark,” Bryant said. “You can’t have one without the other. It’s life and death, and finding the beauty in both of those things. I felt like this would be the perfect time to launch this idea and this philosophy, because we do have to appreciate both.

“You’re a little worried and a little afraid when the end is coming, but if you can find the beauty in the end, then I think you’re much better off for it.”

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It was Bryant's idea to ditch the numbering convention that has been in place for the previous 11 models of the Kobe line of sneakers, and the A.D. (After Death) moniker made sense to him after feeling like he's “passed away” from the game.

The low-top silhouette isn't drastically different than what we've seen in Kobe's line in recent years, and it's a subtle overall design with the only sign of flash coming in the form of a reflective piece around the heel.

“This shoe is really about the efficiency of the design,” Bryant said. “It’s important that the design, the aesthetic of the shoe, matches the innovation and the technology of the shoe. So in this shoe, we were looking for really clean lines to match a sports car, for example. The way a sports car hugs the lines on its turns, the efficiency that it’s looking for to get around a track faster than the opponent. It’s important that we mirror those lines in the design.

“If you see the design, the lines are not rounded, they’re very streamlined. You also see it’s almost like a hand-stitching feel, where you feel like you’re the one that’s building these lines and controlling these lines.”

Bryant is all about pushing innovation and improving performance with every new sneaker in his line, and prefers a clean, efficient look over a more fashion-forward design. Because the focus on performance is a top priority, Bryant explained why releasing a retro line of his sneakers isn't something that's of personal interest.

“It has to hold true to the player,” Bryant said when discussing his design choices. “For me, I always start it from a performance standpoint. Retro business, for example. Just simply doing a retro business for me makes no sense because that’s not true to the brand. It has to be centered and anchored in innovation and in performance. And then from there, we can build everything else on top. So it must be true to the athlete — if the athlete is fashion-first, then the product must be true to that.”

The Kobe A.D. is set to release on Nov. 22 at a price point of $160.