It’s hard to imagine now, but just a few short years ago there was nobody wearing low-tops on the basketball court. For years, the basketball universe was under the impression that you had to have a mid or high top to protect your ankles from sprains and breaks. Since the olden days of models like the Converse Chuck Taylor, adidas Superstar, and Nike Bruin, the low-top silhouette had only been seen sparingly on the court since roughly the mid 1980s. There were a few exceptions—most notably Michael Jordan wearing the Air Jordan XI Low IE for a few games in 1996—but somewhere in between, the high-top became protocol, worn by pretty much every basketball player at every level of play.

It wouldn’t be until 2008 that the low-top would make its return as a formidable on-court option, when Kobe Bryant and Nike designer Eric Avar changed the basketball sneaker game with the Zoom Kobe IV. A grand departure from his previous model, the Zoom Kobe III, the Kobe IV broke new ground in basketball shoe design, proving skeptics and non-believers wrong. The low-top basketball shoe didn’t snap your ankles, and it would be here to stay. This next installment in our look back at Kobe Bryant’s 20 Year Sneaker Legacy is the most impactful chapter of his footwear legacy of all: the rise of the low-top.

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