After 18 years, the marriage between Kobe Bryant and Nike Basketball is done. Byant’s widow Vanessa said the contract between the Swoosh and the late “Black Mamba” expired last week, and she had no desire to re-up with Nike in the foreseeable future.
“Kobe and Nike have made some of the most beautiful basketball shoes of all time, worn and adored by fans and athletes in all sports across the globe. It seems fitting that more NBA players wear my husband’s product than any other signature shoe,” she told ESPN. “My hope will always be to allow Kobe’s fans to get and wear his products. I will continue to fight for that… “I was hoping to forge a lifelong partnership with Nike that reflects my husband’s legacy. We will always do everything we can to honor Kobe and Gigi’s legacies. That will never change.”
Last year, businessman Shervin Pishevar said that he met with Bryant in 2019 and discussed the Black Mamba leaving Nike to form his own sneaker line, but Pishevar was accused of clout chasing in light of Bryant’s death. However, Vanessa’s nonrenewal of the Nike contract lends some credence to that story.
Sean “Paper Chasr” Williams, co-founder of the podcast/marketing company Obsessive Sneaker Disorder, explained the impact of Bryant’s line of sneakers to Vox Media, particularly for the real ballers. “NBA players and people on the street and college and rec ball league and everybody alike — Kobe’s shoes performed,” he said. “They did well on the court. They did exactly what they were supposed to do, and there was always a high expectation of performance for Kobe Bryant sneakers, and he never let people down. Michael Jordan sneakers can’t even say that.”
Nike released its own separate statement to ESPN, which read, “Kobe Bryant was an important part of Nike’s deep connection to consumer. He pushed us and made everyone around him better. Though our contractual relationship has ended, he remains a deeply loved member of the Nike family.”
The Bryant estate owns the rights to Kobe’s signature and the “Mamba” logo, so it should be straightforward with regard to those icons being used for other items and memorabilia post-Nike. Kobe’s “Sheath” logo, however, is co-owned between Nike and the Bryant estate; therefore, its future will likely demand more negotiation, or it may be left behind with Nike altogether.
According to Complex‘s Brendan Dunne, sales of Kobe’s footwear were suffering prior to his death, and Nike has only one more shoe planned for release. But Kobe’s tragic passing has turned some of his older sneakers into collectors’ items.
And a few NBA players themselves are making it their goal to nab whatever Kobe shoes they can before they are all phased out for good. Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said, “I’m going to try to get a couple more pairs before they stop selling them,” when he found out the news. Pope’s teammate Talen Horton-Tucker made his own public announcement at Monday’s post-game conference after facing the Utah Jazz. “I’m putting a call out to everybody right now,” he said. “Whoever can get me any Kobes, I need them.”