When Kobe Bryant’s ninth signature sneaker, the KOBE 9 Elite, was unveiled, the event was billed, “Where design meets art.” While Nike’s marketing department may have oversold art, they undersold its technology. “As a designer or artist, you can’t set out to create a masterpiece,” Nike’s Creative Director and VP of Innovation, Eric Avar says, despite Bryant’s challenge. “I would never refer to anything I’ve worked on certainly as a masterpiece, or even a work of art that way.”

Avar has crafted all of the previous KOBE models among others, but feels this incarnation is the best and most innovative. The KOBE 9 Elite’s foundation is a Lunarlon sole providing a lightweight, responsive base. The upper is built from Nike’s Flyknit and Flywire technology, allowing the foot it’s natural range of motion, encased in a supportive, durable and flexible covering. Flynkit was used to create a one-piece engineered upper made from single strands of yarns, this is the first time it has been used in a basketball shoe. “The first thing he wanted was a high-top shoe that played like a low-top,” Avar says. “So the collar is dynamic, it allows for that range of motion, but gives you that proprioceptive feel. I personally think that’s the best of both worlds and is honestly just a good performance solution for basketball.”

The sneaker shares more similarities to a boxing boot, than it’s predecessors; Bryant specifically referenced the movement of Manny Pacquiao as inspiration. “He was very reflective,” Avar says. “His life, his career, certain artists, musicians, people who have influenced and inspired him through the years and that’s what were trying to weave into the design.”

With the KOBE 9 Elite, it’s clear the design needs were met, perhaps even exceeded. However on the art side… well as they say, “art is subjective.”