Two NBA stars debuted their latest signature sneakers on Wednesday. Kobe Bryant launched his ninth signature shoe with Nike, while Dwyane Wade's shoes from Chinese brand Li-Ning were introduced in North America for the first time.
Although Bryant's last five signature shoes have been low-tops, the Kobe Elite 9 unveiled by the Los Angeles Lakers guard is a higher-cut shoe that might be confused with a pair that a wrestler wears. The feature that sticks out the most might be in the back, where nine short red lines are spread out along the heel to mimic the sutures from his recent Achilles surgery.
"It's a symbol of the story we're trying to tell," Bryant told ESPN.com. "It's a constant reminder of where I came from. From that night after I hurt myself and I expressed my anger in my Facebook rant to the state I'm in now. I wanted something I could draw inspiration from. Everyone doubts I can't come back and do it again and here I am."
While there has been speculation Bryant would come back for the first time this week, he didn't commit to a date on Wednesday.
Sneaker fans on social media seemed to love or hate the shoe, something that doesn't come as a surprise to Bryant, who has always been a polarizing figure.
"You have to move the needle," Bryant said. "You want people to [behave] that way. You want them to have an emotional reaction as soon as they see it. You want it to create conversation and debate and challenge how people think."
The shoe is the first basketball shoe that uses Nike's FlyKnit technology, which allows the brand to make the entire upper part of the shoe in one piece. Not only does it make it cheaper to make the shoe, by reducing waste and labor, but it also makes the shoe lighter and feel more connected, Bryant said.
"I've always challenged Nike to build me something that conforms to my foot," Bryant said. "That is literally one with your foot. FlyKnit does that remarkably well and keeps the weight to an absolute minimum."
The Kobe Elite 9 hits store on Feb. 8, 2014, at a cost of $225.
While Bryant was loudly launching his ninth version, Wade's shoe, the Way Of Wade 2.0 Overtown, quietly dropped on a specially created website on Wednesday afternoon. It was the first fruits of a partnership between the Miami Heat guard and Chinese brand Li-Ning since Wade left Nike's Jordan brand before last season.
"It took a while to get going," Wade said. "We wanted to gauge interest. We knew we'd be loved in China, but we wanted to test out the U.S. and slowly bring the shoes to the States."
Wade said one of the reasons he left the Nike umbrella -- he also had signature shoes under its Converse brand -- was because he didn't truly get to design his own shoes.
"The truth is that with a brand like Jordan, you kind of get the shoe that you get," Wade said. "They have a machine that they are confident in and they give you what they think works. I wouldn't have left for Li Ning if I didn't get more control. We had a totally clean canvas here and we put in a lot of work."
Although Wade may not have many years left in the prime of his career, he said he believes the brand can come along by practicing patience.
"We're not ready to be put on the shelf in stores right now because we don't want to underpromise and overdeliver," Wade said. "But we are different, too. We don't want to be compared in stores with a Jordan retro or a LeBron XI. We're set on making this an international brand, not just a Chinese brand."
The 2.0 Overtown retails for $150 and is exclusively sold online.