The names Kobe Bryant and Nike have been synonymous for a generation. Is it possible that the long-time love affair between Bryant and the shoe brand giant was about to come to an end? A new report suggests that Bryant had been mulling putting an end to their partnership in the months before he and daughter Gianna died tragically in a helicopter accident.
Kobe Bryant and Nike
Bryant’s first partnership with Nike happened in 2005, after the rising star parted ways with Adidas. Bryant first signed a deal with Adidas in the mid-90’s, but that partnership was relatively short-lived after an awful signature lined spelled the beginning of the end. As Bryant’s star was rising on the court in the early 00’s, and he began joining the ranks of basketball G.O.A.T.s, Bryant’s shoe reputation was growing as well.
Although there was skepticism in the beginning that Bryant’s endorsement of and partnership with Nike would sell shoes, it turned out that he really did. Bryant’s Nike lines were some of the most popular in sports shoe history, and his lines became legendary. Unlike many sports stars, Bryant was closely involved in the design and creation of his Nike brand shoes. It seemed like a match made in heaven and bound to continue – but what was really happening?
Kobe Looks to Create Solo Mamba Brand?
Insider shares, “In a Twitter thread published early Tuesday morning, American venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar — a co-founder of Sherpa Capital and one of the masterminds behind Uber — revealed that he had met with Bryant in December 2019 to discuss plans for the new company. Pishevar noted in the thread that Kobe was not satisfied with the trajectory of his relationship with Nike and ‘what he was about to do in business was going to eclipse his sports career.'”
Pishevar’s tweets read, “I met with Kobe Bryant in late December 2019. Kobe wasn’t happy with Nike and was going to leave it in 2020. Kobe was going to start Mamba, a shoe company owned by players. He passed away weeks later. What he was about to do in business was going to eclipse his sports career.
These were the designs my team did to show him that day for an independent Mamba shoe company. Here’s calendar details. There were witnesses to the meeting and Kobe’s plans like Gina Ford, who manages Usain Bolt.”
The second tweet shows concepts of a futuristic and very Bryant-esque shoe.
2/ These were the designs my team did to show him that day for an independent Mamba shoe company. Here’s calendar details. There were witnesses to the meeting and Kobe’s plans like Gina Ford, who manages Usain Bolt. pic.twitter.com/PgsIDt0P0E
— Shervin (@shervin) December 29, 2020
Is There Truth to the Rumor?
Per Insider, “Pat Benson, who wrote Kobe Bryant’s Sneaker History (1996-2020) after years of reporting on the NBA and sneaker industry, told Insider that it was ‘very likely’ Bryant was prepared to leave Nike.
‘It’s shocking because Kobe was Nike’s golden goose and habitually toed the company line,’ Benson said. ‘Many of his fans were upset with Nike’s handling of his signature line following his retirement. It feels redeeming that Kobe was unhappy about it too.’
‘It’s certainly going to make things awkward with Nike in the future,’ he added. ‘But it adds to the beautiful complexity of Kobe. Always pushing the envelope.'”
Also coinciding with Bryant’s alleged plan to separate from Nike was a resurgence of the concept of Black athletes and performers taking ownership of their profits, rather than letting the industries continue to mishandle their legacies. It’s possible Bryant saw his own shoe brand as an opportunity to strike a blow for Black-owned companies, and creating a player-owned company that he could drive from the ground up supports that speculation. This movement has continued through Bryant’s death, raised anew after The Weeknd was snubbed by the Grammy’s nomination board and performers took to their platforms to talk about how the industry continues to profit off Black performers while diminishing their accomplishments. Is this part of why Bryant wanted to strike out alone, if so? It’s possible. Bryant also had concerns over the sport brand giant’s handling of his legacy.
Pishevar elaborated in a reply to one of his tweets, “He wasn’t happy with Nike’s marketing and promotion commitment to Kobe’s line. And the sales of his shoes were anemic and he blamed Nike. He retained tight control because he didn’t trust Nike’s judgment in design.”
With experts agreeing that it seems likely Pishevar’s assertions about Bryant’s plans are true, it’s time to evaluate the impact of the stunning revelation. Is this something other athletes should be considering? Is it time for brand giants like Nike and Adidas to stop holding so much ownership of the creativity and brand legacy of athletes and performers? Kobe Bryant, at least, apparently thought the answer to this was yes.