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Was Kobe Bryant Looking to Leave Nike?

Nike produced one of the most beloved signature sneaker lines for the late Kobe Bryant. But a thread on Twitter by Virgin Hyperloop co-founder Shervin Pishevar suggest the baller was ready to leave the athletic footwear company to start his own.

“I met with Kobe Bryant in late December 2019. Kobe wasn’t happy with Nike and was going to leave it in 2020,” Pishevar wrote on the social media platform. “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.”

Further along in the thread, Pishevar said Bryant was displeased with how Nike marketed and promoted the Kobe franchise. “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,” Pishevar wrote.

Additionally, Pishevar shared images of footwear designs that he revealed his team did for Bryant for his potential Mamba shoe company. (Pishevar stated there were witnesses to a December 2019 meeting with Bryant for this endeavor including Gina Ford, a representative of Usain Bolt.)

Nike declined FN’s request for comment.

With Pishevar’s tweets creating chatter on social media, sports industry insiders such as Darren Rovell of The Action Network have publicly criticized both the timing of and the reasoning for posting the thread.

“Can we chill with this? Kobe, like all athletes, was willing to explore at the end of a deal. He took a damn pitch meeting. The shoe wasn’t his shoe idea. That’s all it was. Let’s not make this like it was a far down the road project. It wasn’t,” Rovell wrote on Twitter.

Although this news is fresh, similar topics have been discussed recently with people close to the baller. The wife of the late basketball legend, Vanessa, wrote on Instagram Stories leading up to Christmas that she heard fans were having a hard time buying the Kobe shoes online and that she reached out to Nike “for fans to have a better opportunity” to get them.

Throughout the year, Nike delivered several iterations of Kobe shoes, which all sold out quickly after release. Some of the looks that hit retail in 2020 include Kobe 5 Protro PEs for Demar DeRozan and P.J. Tucker, a Kobe 5 Protro collaborative pack with Undefeated and the highly-coveted Kobe 6 Protro “Grinch” that dropped via the SNKRS app on Christmas Eve.

Bryant died on Jan. 26 in a Calabasas, Calif., helicopter crash, which was first reported by TMZ Sports and confirmed by the L.A. County Sheriffs department. He was 41.

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