words // Nick DePaula
photography // Steve Mullholand
Context: To help celebrate Kobe Bryant's 35th birthday this week, we'll be taking a look at a handful of the earliest Nike sneakers he's worn, with a new shoe each day.
With Kobe Bryant now part of the Nike Basketball family, Eric Avar and the team of developers he was working with in the Innovation Kitchen aimed to provide him with a more modern piece of performance footwear rooted in light weight, support and minimalism. "It wasn't a pure Flight shoe, it wasn't a Force shoe and it wasn't an Uptempo shoe; it was just a shoe unto itself," explains Avar. It drafted back to Tinker Hatfield's original Flight Huarache, as the 2K4 would incorporate a similar ankle area cutaway, but it also took on a more streamlined and simplistic aesthetic based on the needs of Bryant. "He's an extremely dynamic and versatile player," says Avar.
"He can be extremely quick, but at the same time he can be extremely explosive and powerful. Early on, we just figured that his product had to be versatile, and it really had to cover off all ends of the spectrum," he continued. "It had to be the best of everything, like Kobe's style and his game. That was the thinking with the 2K4." From there, Avar designed the shoe to incorporate a collection of proven components that would help in the goal of making the shoe a dominant performer.
The upper was comprised of a simple leather base with a toe cap for reinforcement, and the heel was locked in place with the help of a TPU external counter. A breathable, perforated Neoprene tongue lined the shoe, and the strap along the collar added an extra sense of security and fit. "We used Zoom Air, kept the midsole heights low to the ground and used a simple, almost one-piece upper," notes Avar. "It was very lightweight, very minimal and just what you need."
While the Zoom Huarache 2K4 became a staple shoe on the feet of nearly all of Nike's collegiate and professional level athletes, it was quite a departure for the brand, as during recent years before it, they often relied on more visible and mechanical cushioning elements in their flagship and most featured models.
It was for good reason that the brand shifted away from previous cushioning systems like Shox or Tubular Air, as the hope with the 2K4 was that its simple nature and no-frills approach to performance would lead to its overall playability being the focal point of the shoe and not a specific technology, gimmick or seasonal theme.
"The 2K4 was designed around the best of all worlds," says Avar. "At the time, there was a lot of visible technology going on, and we envisioned this being much more [of] a simple, modern product grounded in classic elements. At the time, some of the classic elements of basketball shoes were getting lost." Right from the start, the 2K4 was a huge success, as its classic lines translated well for team product at the college level, and yet the more flashy and personalized Lakers colorways Kobe Bryant was wearing took on a buzz of their own.
The 2K4 served to be an excellent starting point for Kobe Bryant's footwear coming from Nike, as it would lay the foundation for the contoured fit, responsive cushioning, lateral stability and attention to detail that Bryant's line would later become known for. "He said that the 2K4 was one of the first shoes that he felt like was an extension of him," Avar reveals. "That Nike had captured the essence of his performance style. That's manifested itself in some of his other product that we've done and certainly in some of the future product that we're working on."