The story starts all the way back in June of 2003 when Kobe Bryant decided to take his talents elsewhere and sign a deal with the swoosh. Apart from the massive $40 million check that he cashed for signing with Nike, Kobe was gifted a pair of Air Jordan 3 Laser Lows that were handcrafted by the one and only Mark Smith, the VP of innovations and special projects at Nike. Mark Smith not only played a role in this project, but he was a part of hundreds of additional projects at Nike and many of those have not been released to the public, including being the mastermind of the Nike laser era with the help of his incredible team.
Fast forward over 20 years, nobody really knows the whereabouts of this exclusive 1 of 1 sneaker. The sneaker has only been seen in pictures; 3 images to be exact! This project was a once in a lifetime opportunity to honor the Black Mamba Kobe Bryant for Kobe Day 2023. The motivation for the “Dream Team” project started back over 2 years ago with a simple conversation. However, it wasn’t until 6 months ago that we were able to talk to Mark Smith which put us all into motion. Once we had the blessings from Mark Smith and a bonus image it was time to assemble a team of masterminds to honor Kobe in the best way possible while also making the one and only Mark Smith proud.
THE EARLY STAGES
Flashback to 2 years ago… Brian Apodaca and Vick Almighty began their conversations about recreating this sneaker and how it would be an absolute dream. Vick had done work for Brian prior and had grown an incredible friendship with the OG Sneakerhead himself. 2 years later Vick Almighty has the opportunity to work side by side with Dank & Co on a crazy Frankenstein scrap sneaker build. During that build Jake laid his eyes on a sample Jordan 3 Low that Ballin Twin was lucky enough to have in his collection. With one look and the statement “We should build one of those,” the Dream Team was back on the radar. 6 Months ago, Brian was able to contact the mastermind, Mark Smith himself to discuss the project and once we had his blessing, and an additional image the planning was in full swing. After countless hours of internal brainstorming, team meetings, after hour conversations it was time to build the whole team and get to planning.
The Dream Team consisted of 4 individuals with a tremendous amount of skill. Vick Almighty of course led the force with his incredible skill of sneaker customizing, construction and deconstruction. While Brian Apodaca, the OG Sneakerhead came in clutch for the ideas and his knowledge of the laser era. Next, we needed Jake from Dank & Co, Jake can build just about any sneaker from scratch. Finally, Julian who is the all-time master at laser engraving and art direction. The team was built and once the project was on the schedule, we went into 7 full days of shooting and execution…. 7 days doesn’t mean that 9-5 shifts; these were over 12–15 hour days EVERY DAY!
The challenges of this project were endless, but the reward was worth more than any of these challenges. The main challenge was that there were ONLY 2 images ever released of this sneaker on the internet. Luckily, we were able to receive one extra image from Mark Smith, but still with only 3 images to ever surface this would be one of the hardest projects of Vick’s career.
Outside of the challenge with images, the sneaker itself had the most intricate filigree design that I have ever seen. This pattern would take days to recreate using the laser engraver. Not to mention when using a laser engraver, you only have 1 shot to make it perfect on that leather; one wrong move and you have to start over every time. There was a lot of room for error on this portion of the project, but luckily, we had not 1 but 2 laser engraving masters on the team.
Once we got through all of that the next challenge was the build itself. Vick Almighty states that one huge challenge would be building the template for the Jordan 3 Low using a normal Jordan 3 Last. Luckily the OG Sneakerhead Brian is one of the BIGGEST Sneaker collectors in the game and had a rare 1 of 6 Jordan 3 Low sample for us to use as a reference for the overall shape of the sneaker.
There’s something special about the number of details on this sneaker. When we first laid eyes on the original design it was important for us to determine our approach. The sneaker not only featured the laser engraved filigree all over the uppers, but the tongue was one portion of the sneaker that the world had never seen before. Mark Smith stated in our call that the shield on the tongue was to represent the “warrior that Kobe Bryant was on and off the court. While the 8 ball on the side represented the number 8 that Kobe wore on the court for the first decade of his career before changing the infamous number 24. Overall, the design of this sneaker had to really embrace Kobe’s “Mamba Mentality.” The Jordan 3 Laser Low goes down as one of the most detail-oriented sneakers ever created, but hey when you are creating a sneaker for one of the best to ever play the game it has to be top notch! All of those details were important when we went into the design. The main point of this project was to honor Kobe Bryant as we head into Kobe Day 2023. Something this beautiful takes time, over 500 hours were poured into this project from start to finish. Including planning, conceptualization, creation, editing, and more.
The sneaker itself was built from scratch; we had the leather, a donor sneaker and 2 of the best sneaker customizers in the game to make this come to life. Luckily Mark Smith gave us a little insight on what leather he used to create the original design and also some of his best projects. Although the majority of the details were completed by the laser engraver there was still more that went into it.
When building a sneaker it takes a lot of steps, pristine accuracy and a whole lot of patience. As mentioned before the last was built for a typical Jordan 3, so creating that into a low form came with a lot more precision.
The laser engraving era was one of the most detail-oriented eras of Nike and unfortunately a lot of those masterpieces never got released to the public. However, there are many samples that we have had the pleasure of seeing and these are beautiful. Now we celebrate this incredible era and the genius work of Mark Smith and his crew 20 years later!
The laser engraving era started with testing… A lot of testing! However, the coolest thing about it is that every pair is a little bit different due to the complications of laser engraving. The team around this era consisted of not only Mark Smith, but some huge names such as Mike Desmond, Chris Lundy, Tom Ludecke and Maze. This era wouldn’t have been possible without the creative geniuses that we just listed.
This started with a few different silhouettes; the classic Air Force 1, Dunks, and the Cortez. Stay tuned for our next video where we showcase some of those incredible designs that never got to see the light of day. Coming to YouTube on 9/9.
Why did you choose this shoe to honor Kobe?
We selected this shoe to honor Kobe Bryant, because it was one of the rarest sneakers ever created. In addition, I thought it would be really cool to recreate a sneaker that was gifted to him 20 years ago when he signed with Nike. Another huge part was the details; the shield on the tongue I thought really represented Kobe well. I just hope we made him proud with this one-of-a-kind project.
Would you have done anything differently?
“Of course, when you do a big project, there are always opportunities to do something differently next time. If I would have had more time, we for sure would have sanded down the last to give the sneaker a better overall shape.” - Vick Almighty
What was your favorite part of the project?
“Having the chance to talk to Mark Smith after the project. I am beyond excited that I had the opportunity to thank him personally for all of his contributions to the project. Mark has been someone that I have looked up to years and it was incredible to have a chance to let him know how much he has inspired me and helped me in my career as a sneaker customizer.” - Vick Almighty
Will there be another dream team project?
100% we already started planning the next one! Stay tuned for what we cook up in our next rare sneaker creation.