The Holy Grail for most marquee athletes is to have a signature sneaker, complete with their name, brand and desired look. In no place is that more readily displayed than the NBA, where names like LeBron, KD and Kyrie own the sneaker space. Still, that’s rarified air, as only a handful of players get the honor.
While many around the league are left to settle for nondescript player editions, DeMar DeRozan has taken a different approach. A Los Angeles native who once lived and died with every Lakers game, he’s latched on to the Kobe Bryant collection and has become the torch bearer for one of Nike’s best basketball shoes.
DeRozan’s superior shoe game has caught the eye of sneakerheads everywhere, and he was kind enough to take some time away from his off-season to talk about his dedication to the Kobe sneaker line and SI’s Top 100 list:
DeAnate Prince: Do you remember the first pair of Kobe’s you ever bought? Were they the Crazy 8’s or a later version?
DeMar DeRozan: Yeah, I was into the adidas back when I was young, with Kobe being my favorite player and wanting to wear the Crazy 8’s. It started from there and just transitioned over once he went to Nike and started wearing Huaraches.
DP: Is that your favorite Kobe of all-time?
DD: That’s a tough one. I’d probably have to go with the Kobe 9s or the 3s. I loved them because they were so different. He always had the conventional low top, but I loved those and played in them a lot this year and they’re still one of my favorites.
DP: Were you always all in on wearing Kobe’s during your NBA career? Or was there a specific year that you switched over?
DD: This goes back to my high school days, during my junior or senior year. I think I was the first person to have the Nike ID Kobe’s and I had them in my high school colors. I had a whole bunch of them, and I made it a thing then to wear a different Kobe every game. Even then I used to wear a shoe and then throw them in the crowd. I wore them in college, too. Now that I’m in the league, I want to wear a different Kobe, I want to show off my colorway, my selection of Kobe’s.
DP: When he retired I remember you talking about how you emulated him. How much of a presence was he in your initial love of basketball and dedication along that journey?
DD: I think he was highly instrumental. You’re growing up as a young kid and finding things to be passionate about, being six or seven years old and starting to think about what you would like to do. I just gravitated to Kobe and always told myself I wanted to come out of high school because he did it. He played a big part.
DP: I saw that you said Kobe gave you advice before you entered the NBA. Was that high school?
DD: I played against Kobe a lot when I was in high school during the summers, even in college, just being that guy in L.A. coming up. He always gave me advice here and there and even the smallest things stuck with me. I watched every single thing that Kobe did, every game, every move. He made ma a student of the game.
DP: If you don’t mind sharing, what was the best piece of advice he gave you?
DD: I think the best advice he gave me came a couple of years ago when I got hurt. I tore my groin and I was talking to him and he helped me become mentally stronger while not physically being able to play basketball. And it was something that gave me a different outlook on the game and taught me to dissect every angle in the way that he did, and it gave me a better window into how he approached every single game, every single practice, every single film session.
DP: If I’m not mistaken, you said Kobe’s 81-point game was your favorite moment of his career. That’s an interesting choice for a member of the Raptors.
DD: Yeah, it’s pretty funny. I remember watching that game and jumping up on the bed going crazy. I didn’t watch the highlight, I didn’t see it the next day. I vividly remember watching the game until the last second on the clock ran out. People think he just ran off 80 points, but the Lakers were losing by like 20 that game and Kobe willed his way back into it. For me to be able to witness that was crazy.
DP: I’ll sneak in one Raptors question while we’re on the subject. With Kyle Lowry going into free agency, will you recruit him?
DD: Last go around when he was up for free agency, I never once called him and said what he should do. He’d tell you himself. I’ll take the same approach. At the end of the day, he has to make the right decision for himself and his family. No matter how close we are, I never fool with that part of it. When you have a family and that dynamic comes into play, you have to do what’s best for you. He has to be able to live with whatever decision he makes, and as a friend I just have to support him.
DP: Back to the sneakers, one of my favorites from your collection were the Olympic Kobe 11s. Did you help design those or did Nike just bless you with them?
DD: It was something that was just sort of handed off. I’ve always been instrumental in introducing Kobe colorways, I was that No. 1 guy when it came to anything Kobe. I always wanted to represent him in the best way possible, and there’s always been that mutual respect between me, Kobe and Nike.
DP: You had your own version of the shoe, the Compton Kobe A.D. What was the story behind that?
DD: We talked about doing the shoe and using my most memorable moment from Kobe’s career. We focused in on when I was seven years old and Kobe played against Utah. Watching that playoff game, I damn near wanted to cry. I’m watching one of my favorite players and they were killing him for shooting airballs. I remember his teammates’ body language, the crowd making fun of him.
But that didn’t stop him from wanting that next shot. He still wanted the ball and it showed me a lot. That carried over to when I played—don’t worry about a miss, you have to be resilient and don’t let anything break you. For me to go from being a kid watching that moment to playing against him in his final All-Star Game was crazy.
DP: I see Isaiah Thomas has been wearing a lot of Kobe’s shoes and receiving advice from him. Is he trying to challenge you in the sneaker space?
DD: I think it’s great. If you look at Jordan, you have Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, all these guys that represent the Jordan Brand. Jordan hasn’t played since the early 2000s and you still have guys in their own signatures. To see another legend like Kobe walk away from the game with guys like myself and Isaiah still representing that line, I think it’s a cool thing. Hopefully it continues to grow. At the end of the day, the only person to have a better Kobe sneaker game than me is Kobe himself.
DP: Do you think the Kobe’s could become the next legacy brand?
DD: Without a doubt, I think it’s on that path now. You had the fade to black package, you had the prelude package—not too many guys have that extensive a collection of shows. He has 10 pairs of shoes that you can retro already.
DP: I have to address this since there was a lot of talk about your spot in The Crossover’s Top 100 NBA players list. Since you were No. 46 in our rankings, what’s your 46th favorite basketball shoe?
DD: I don’t know if I have a 46th favorite basketball shoe, I probably can’t get past 10. I’ll throw something out there, though. How about the Nike Air Force One.
DP: Seriously, was it annoying that Top 100 storyline lasted as long as it did? Or did it serve as motivation?
DD: It was a little bit of everything for me: motivation, frustration, everything you could think of. I know for a fact there are not 45 guys who work half as hard as I do. It’s different when you’re the guy out there competing. A lot of people in the NBA don’t even take the game serious, or take the same approach that I do.
So at the end of the day, all I can do is worry about myself and take every negative out there on the court with me and make it into a positive by using it as motivation. That’s what that was for me. It’s always frustrating when you accomplish certain things and then see something like that. I didn’t want to cry about it, I just wanted to react to it with my actions on the court.