This week, sneaker fans witnessed the end of an era: Kobe Bryant’s deal with Nike expired.
The athletic giant confirmed Monday that the partnership with the late NBA icon was over. Following the news breaking, his wife, Vanessa, stated via Instagram Stories that her hope was to “forge a lifelong partnership with Nike” and that she will continue to fight for Kobe’s fans to get his products.
Recent actions from the beloved athlete’s estate could serve as an indication that Vanessa Bryant is preparing for that fight. This week, Nice Kicks uncovered and shared on social media recent trademark filings of Kobe Bryant LLC. Among the filings were “Play Gigi’s Way,” “Mamba and Mambacita” and “Kobe 24 Kobe Bryant,” among several others.
These filings all mention use for footwear.
This activity has started to refuel chatter of the baller’s plans to start his own footwear company, rumored to be called Mamba, which surfaced on social media in December 2020. If this were to eventually happen, though now without Kobe, industry insiders are skeptical about its prospects.
“It’s difficult to promote a brand without an athlete to front it. Certainly, the dream he had around creating his own shoe line was a legitimate one — and might have worked — but it is difficult to get that same enthusiasm just because it was an idea that he had,” explained Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser for The NPD Group Inc.
Famed sneaker collectors believe a new brand is inevitable, but opinions are mixed on whether or not it could take off.
“Vanessa seems intent on honoring Kobe’s wishes and creating Mamba would feasibly do just that. If Mamba moves forward, I think we would ultimately see a line under that umbrella dedicated to Gigi as well, geared specifically toward female basketball sneakers, which would be really cool,” explained sneaker influencer and multimedia host Tamara Dhia.
James Platt, longtime footwear collector and creator of The Sneaker Savant trading cards, isn’t as optimistic.
“From all indications, it looks like it’s going to be a new brand, and I don’t have high hopes,” Platt said. “Most brands thrive and build loyalty through years and years of heritage — like Nike and Adidas — so when I think of new athletic brands, it’s not something I’m really checking for.”
“I’ve purchased Adidas Kobes before and probably would again, but as for new models, I don’t think I would for myself. I’d have to see what they come with,” Platt said. “The majority of what I buy comes from something that elicits an emotional response, and that’s mostly stuff from when I was younger. I likely wouldn’t purchase anything that I don’t immediately associate with what Kobe wore on the court, but that could all change when the product drops.”
As for Dhia, her fandom of the basketball legend isn’t tied to a brand.
“Kobe’s footwear is synonymous with Nike at this point, so it’s a hard pivot to imagine them not in partnership,” Dhia said. “However, any diehard Kobe fan will make the move as long as the new venture is on par with quality and design.”
She continued, “I love Kobe and Nike together. I do hope they reach a new agreement that Kobe’s estate is happy with. But admittedly, I would be really interested to see where Mamba could go as an independently owned company. If it’s successful, it could potentially change the game and inspire other athletes to start following suit.”
Beyond the launch of a new brand, Platt hasn’t ruled out Nike producing Bryant’s beloved footwear without using the athlete’s logos or the Kobe name — which wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.
Prior to Nike, the Los Angeles Lakers great was an Adidas athlete, and the relationship yielded several signature sneakers. Years after the deal came to an end, Adidas released his signature models without the original “KB” name, instead using Crazy 8.
“I think similar to Adidas, the Kobe line will live on in a toned-down form. I’m assuming the shoes will still release, but logos and names will have to be changed or removed,” Platt said. “I don’t think [Nike and Vanessa are] going to make good. From what I’m hearing, there were 12 full Kobe releases ready to begin releasing here shortly. Sounds like a few might release, but the rest are likely scrapped.”
However, Powell doesn’t expect Nike to go in that direction.
“The brand owns the design. If there are logos that they co-owned, and as I understand it, the logo on the tongue was co-owned by Nike and Kobe, they probably couldn’t use that without permission. But could you make the same shoe without the logos on it? Absolutely, you could,” Powell said. “But what would be the benefit to that? It’s beyond me. These shoes didn’t sell in commercial numbers, so why wish a backlash from the consumer, a backlash from the estate? I don’t see Nike doing that.”