When James Harden signed his landmark 13-year Adidas shoe deal worth well over nine figures in 2015, the expectation was that he was committing to the brand's #3StripeLife mantra for the remainder of his career.
As the Houston Rockets took the floor for their first post-trade deadline game earlier this week at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Harden's on-court footwear immediately caught everyone by surprise. He was wearing Reebok.
Players around the league have worn a variety of Kobe Bryant's signature shoes from his 20-year career over the past two weeks, but Harden dug deep, linking back to one of the most frenzied windows of Bryant's sneaker legacy, his 2002-03 sneaker free agent season.
Immediately recognizable thanks to a purple toe cap and the model's classic honeycomb-patterned Hexalite material, the Reebok Question pair Harden laced up originally was made exclusively for the Lakers star during the gap year between his Adidas and Nike deals.
Featuring a No. 8 in place of Allen Iverson's familiar No. 3 along the heel, the sneakers were eventually released in 2013 as part of a limited-edition two-pair set at Packer Shoes, alongside a similarly rare, green-accented Reebok Question once made for a high school-aged LeBron James.
Thanks to Adidas' acquisition of the Reebok brand for nearly $4 billion in 2005, both brands have long fallen under the "Adidas Group" portfolio of companies, making for a loose loophole that allowed Harden's footwear tribute to have the brand's blessing.
It marked the first time since the spring of 2016 that Harden wasn't wearing his own signature shoe on the court. That lone exception was coincidentally made for his final matchup against Bryant, in what would be the Lakers legend's third-to-last game of his career. Harden wore a silver retro pair of Adidas' The Kobe sneaker against one of his childhood idols, narrowly besting Bryant's 35 points with a 40-point effort of his own.
Over the past two weeks, Harden's teammate P.J. Tucker also pulled out a variety of Bryant tributes, wearing everything from limited colorways of his debut 2006 Nike signature shoe, to alternate looks of his All-Star Game sneakers that never made it to the court.
After Harden wore one of the most memorable models from Bryant's sneaker free agency season, Tucker pulled out one of the first player-exclusive pairs that Nike made for Kobe upon signing him during the summer of 2003, an Air Flight Huarache Retro in a home Lakers colorway. (Tucker wore the black away version already this season; only a handful of pairs of each are thought to exist.)
The sneaker champ also managed to mix in a regular rotation of other heat, like a rare white-and-snakeskin Air Jordan XI made only for Drake's "OVO" crew of friends. Pairs have been listed for as much as $13,000 online.
The league's most unpredictable sneaker free agent, Montrezl Harrell, has been making the most of his tribute footwear since Bryant's death. After wearing a handful of hand-painted pairs to honor both Kobe and his daughter Gianna, Harrell returned to his stash of Bryant's Adidas-era models in recent games.
Though Bryant first wore the Adidas KB8 during his second season in the NBA, the sneaker has been retroed numerous times in the two decades since. Arguably one of the brand's most recognizable modern models, the shoe is notably seen in a variety of now-classic images of a fresh-faced and afro-rocking Bryant facing off against Michael Jordan in his first All-Star Game -- and Jordan's last in a Bulls uniform -- at Madison Square Garden in 1998.
Harrell's burgundy-hued and cork-accented retro KB8s were launched by Adidas during Bryant's final season, an ode to his then-used "Vino" nickname as his game aged like a fine wine toward the end of his career.
All season long, Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale has gained recognition for his custom kicks, working in tandem with artist Andrew Lewis, one of the more polished paintwork pros across the industry. His latest pair celebrated the two fallen Bryants in classic Lakers colors, with detailed font work and lettering throughout.
"Man, this pair was definitely a hard pair for me to create," Lewis said. "The world lost a legend and a future legend far too soon in Kobe and Gigi."
A script "Mamba Forever" is found underneath each shoe tongue, while Gianna's No. 2 replaces the No. 24 typically found on the heel panel of the Kobe 4.
"Tons of subtle and not so subtle details are packed into this pair, from the Kobe portraits to the subtle 'Mamba' and 'Mambacita' pattern behind them," Lewis said. "I tried to pack this shoe with as much meaningful detail as possible to properly honor them both."
After wearing Nike and Adidas shoes earlier in his career, Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet has been making the most of his rise in the league. He landed a multiyear shoe deal with AND1 earlier this fall, as his profile and play continue to grow and improve.
This weekend, he's slated to appear at his first shoe launch with the brand, as he helps to release the AND1 Attack 2.0 later Saturday at Toronto's Yonge Street Foot Locker store. The NBA champion is already working on a future signature shoe with the company, as he looks forward to helping the iconic streetball brand most known for its mixtape tour make a return to the league.
Check out the best sneakers spotted around the league in this week's overview, and be sure to vote for your favorite pair in our poll below. For real-time updates on sneaker culture and NBA kicks, follow @SneakerCenter on Instagram.