It’s Gotta Be the Shoes
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BOSTON, June 7, 2008 -- When Ronny Turiaf entered the league three years ago as a lowly second-round pick he approached Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant with a question. Instead of asking him, “Can I have your autograph?”, the request was more like, “Can I wear your signature?”

As in Bryant’s signature sneaker, the Nike Zoom Kobe.

“I asked him if I could wear them when I first got into the NBA and ever since then, I’m the first one to have them,” Turiaf said.

“It’s cool,” Turiaf added, before revealing that he gets his Kobe sneaker supply for free.

During Saturday’s shootaround, four of the Lakers - Pau Gasol, D.J. Mbenga, Vladimir Radmanovic and Turiaf - were wearing the Nike Hyperdunk, Kobe’s most recent signature shoe. Lamar Odom has also been known to wear the Hyperdunks from time to time. He told’s Mo Wang prior to Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, “I got my Kobes on, so I’m going to come out with that killer mentality, the shark mentality, to go out and try to put this team away tonight.”

Add in Bryant himself wearing the Nike Zoom Kobe III, and you have six of the 15 players on the roster wearing the same signature line of sneakers.

The Hyperdunk made news a couple months ago thanks to a clever viral video produced by Nike depicting Bryant slapping on the shoes, getting down into his defensive stance and leaping clear over an Aston Martin that is speeding right at him.

Turiaf is in the video as well, celebrating like a kid on Christmas morning after Kobe completes the special effects aided jump.

Asked about the video, Turiaf said, “It’s great.

“We always have a good time and that’s a side of Kobe Bryant that not many people get to know and realize. I think it was pretty fun to see him outside of a basketball setting and we definitely had a blast shooting the commercial.”

An NBA player wearing the shoe of another player is a sign of respect. Every year, dozens of NBA players wear Air Jordans not just because they like the sneaker, but because they want to be like Mike.

"Do the Lakers wear the Hyperdunks because they want to be like Kobe?

‘Well, they all have an interest in jumping over cars,’ Bryant joked."

As if Bryant didn’t have enough Michael Jordan comparisons on his plate already, here’s another one: While Kobe has five teammates wearing his sneakers now, at least seven former Bulls – Randy Brown, Jud Buechler, Scott Burrell, Ron Harper, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley and Scottie Pippen – wore the Air Jordans when MJ was in Chicago, and Phil Jackson would even lace them up in practice every once in a while.

Do the Lakers wear the Hyperdunks because they want to be like Kobe?

“Well, they all have an interest in jumping over cars,” Bryant joked. “It intrigues them, so they wear the shoes.”

Bryant then shifted to serious pitch man, “What we try to do is just make sure it's extremely comfortable for the other players that want to wear them,” he said. “We try to make the best shoe possible, best shoe on the market, then other players tend to enjoy them.”

It may seem trivial to tally the number of Lakers wearing their teammate’s shoe, but it’s a rarity in this league.

The Denver Nuggets’ feature two marquee names in Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony who both have their own signature shoe, only nobody else on the Nuggets besides A.I. wears his Reebok Answer XI Zune and there isn’t anybody on Denver’s roster that rocks the Air Jordan Melo M4 other than Melo.

Turiaf and Bryant both wear the Zoom Kobe II.
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LeBron James is the unquestioned leader of the Cleveland Cavaliers and one of the most exciting players in the league, but look at the footwear causing the squeaks on the Cavs’ practice court and you’ll only find one pair of Nike Zoom LeBron V’s – on James’ feet.

(Quick aside: At the 2006 NBA All-Star Saturday night in Houston, Steve Kerr was competing in the Haier (then RadioShack) Shooting Stars competition as the San Antonio “legend” along with Tony Parker of the Spurs and Kendra Wecker of the Silver Stars. Kerr forgot to pack sneakers for the trip and had to borrow his 13 year old son’s Zoom LeBron IIIs. When James saw Kerr wearing his sneakers he said, "Steve Kerr might not miss a shot today. Look at those shoes he got on." Turns out James was prophetic, as Kerr, Parker and Wecker went on to win the shoot out.)

That isn’t to say that Bryant is the only player in the league to have his teammates wear his shoe. The Washington Wizards’ Antonio Daniels and DeShawn Stevenson both wear Gilbert Arenas’ GilIIZero. After Kobe and Gilbert, however, you’d be hard pressed to find another player who has teammates who wears his shoes.

Longley and Jordan both wear the Air Jordan XII.
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The pool of players in the league with signature shoes is shrinking. In the 1990’s it seemed liked every team had a player on it with his own shoe. Now the distinction is reserved for the top-tier stars like Dwyane Wade (Converse Wade 3.0), Tracy McGrady (adidas T-MAC 7), Chris Paul (Air Jordan CP), Amare Stoudemire (Nike Air Max STAT 360), Shaquille O’Neal (Dunkman), Yao Ming (Reebok Hexride Yao Ming) and Kevin Garnett (adidas Commander KG).

Speaking of Garnett, you won’t see anybody on the Celtics on Sunday during Game 2 wearing the Commander KG besides ... you know where this is going ... KG.

Mbenga told me that Bryant gives two pairs of his sneakers to all of his teammates whenever a new design comes out. The 7-footer decided to wear Kobe’s shoes during games rather than a heavier sneakers designed for big men simply because, “It’s comfortable.”

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