OK. It's been a while. And I apologize. It won't be this long between visits again—I promise

I'm here today to talk about a new new shoe that ain't even out yet. The Nike Zoom Kobe 2. Which isn't even one shoe. It's three. Let me explain.

Nike flew me (and a dozen or so other sneakerhead journalists) out to L.A. last weekend for the official unveiling of the ZK2. And a big part of it, of course, was explaining its hydra-headed nature. The way Charles Williams, Nike's product line manager for basketball, explained it is that Nike wants to provide Kobe with an entire ARSENAL of weapons. Meaning shoes, plural. Meaning different shoes for different tasks. There's going to be the "normal” Zoom Kobe 2, a "Strength” model (slightly heavier, way more heavy duty) and a "Lite” model (lighter weight, the most responsive). All three models will share the same chassis (midsole/outsole) and cushioning, and be released in staggered fashion (the base model in April, the Strength in May, and the Lite in October). Prices will be $130, $140 and $150 respectively.

The photos you see here do NOT include the Lite shoe, as it is still in development. What we can tell you now is that they're aiming for a 13-ounce shoe (a full two ounces lighter than the "regular” ZK2) with no Velcro closure and lots of vent holes. The Lite is described as a "fourth quarter/playoff” shoe, and despite the 10/1 release date, I wouldn't be surprised if Kobe was wearing a version of it come playoff time.

The "regular” ZK2 (the shoe with the single strap across the ankle) was created to be a lighter, lower, more cushioned, more responsive shoe than its predecessor. A tall order. Nike delivered by using "Free” (articulated Air) tech in the midsole/outsole, and "Considered” (one-piece leather utilizing stitching rather than glues) tech all-around. Less padded than the Zoom Kobe 1, the ZK2 is more similar to the Huarache 2K4, which Kobe has cited to be his favorite Nike basketball shoe. But it has more cushioning, with an 8mm Zoom Air bag in the forefoot and a new 18mm Zoom Air bag in the heel. "Mike [you know] was one of those guys who helped us understand how Zoom worked,” says Williams. "These have three times as much Zoom.”

Kobe himself addresses us on the new product, appearing post-practice in a black hooded sweatsuit and a pair of crispy white Air Force 25 Supremes. He says a lot…quickly. "I always like something that's sleek, that's creative, that's precise…I don't like overdoing it…I wanted a lot of cushioning, but I wanted to be one with the floor, like the 2K4…I'm always pushing for the lightest possible shoe…when it comes to colors and materials, I tell the designers ‘have fun with it'…you just have to improvise, take your talent and let it flow.”

He talks about the Strength separately, explaining that the inspiration for it came to him when he was watching a documentary on killer whales "on Discovery or Animal Planet or something.” "They attack together, in unison…Size, speed, power.” Looking at the shoe's black and white color scheme, it makes sense.



He also mentions that he (like Jordan before him) wears a fresh-out-the-box pair every game. "There's something about taking [a fresh pair] out the box and lacin' ‘em up, smellin' 'em.” He laughs. "It's the same feeling I had when I was a kid.”

It'll be interesting to see how it works, releasing three separate signature shoes for one athlete during the same season (although the Lite shoe won't hit stores until near the start of the '07-08 season). After all, they never even did this for Jordan.

I'll be back with more soon. Promise. Stay tuned.