BEAVERTON, Ore. — In a surprise announcement late last month, the Kobe Bryant estate said that it has reached a new long-term deal with Nike, ending nearly a year of tense negotiations and officially restarting the Kobe-Nike product line.
The news was announced simultaneously on March 24th by the $34 billion-dollar sports apparel company and philanthropist Vanessa Bryant, the late basketball legend’s widow.
“We’re excited to announce our partnership with Nike is going to continue,” she said on social media.
“I know this is an inspiring moment for my husband and daughter's global fans, and I am very appreciative of each and every one of you!”
Bryant first signed with the company in 2003, following the first three of his 5 NBA championships, and his last 5-year contract expired last year.
Following Kobe’s death in a January 2020 plane crash, Vanessa Bryant had entered into talks to establish a lifelong Nike deal—like those enjoyed by LeBron James and Michael Jordan—but execs were still unwilling. Further disagreements resulted in her refusal to grant the company permission to produce new Kobe products at all, effective April 2021.
Though the new deal has not been said to be in perpetuity, it brings an end to rumors that Vanessa might establish an independent brand or enter into a partnership with another brand. (Kobe was originally signed to Adidas early in his career, before making a switch.)
Upcoming products under the partnership will also feature the legacy of Gianna “GiGi” Bryant, who died alongside her father and seven others. She will be honored with the company’s first shoe under the new deal, the Kobe 6 Ponto “Mambacita Sweet 16”—in honor of what would have been her 16th birthday next month.
A devout Catholic like her husband, Vanessa Bryant noted that the deal will also be a charitable one, with “100% of the net proceeds yearly for Gianna’s shoes” going to the family’s Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which provides sports programming for children in underserved communities.
Additionally, one of the partnership’s first joint projects outside of commercial matters will be the development of a youth basketball center in the family’s native Southern California.
In their announcement, Nike sang the praises of Kobe—one of their longest partners in the sponsorship sphere, and arguably their most popular sponsoree globally.
“With Nike, Bryant left a game-changing lineage of basketball shoes and embraced opportunities to spread his love of sport from Greater China to North America,” they said in a press release.
“More than two years after Bryant's passing, his legacy, on and off the court, continues to resonate.”
The company’s president and CEO, John Donahoe, added that Kobe’s impact encouraged children around the world to pick up the game, but also extended beyond basketball and sports altogether.
“Kobe Bryant means so much to so many of us, not just NBA fans but globally beyond the game,” he said.
“Together with Vanessa, we hope to honor Kobe and Gigi by championing a new generation for many years to come.”
Throughout the Nike hiatus, Kobe products have continued to be worn by various NBA players across the country this season, including those sponsored by other brands, and also by millions of fans around the world.
In her Instagram post announcing the news, Vanessa Bryant paid tribute to this ongoing phenomenon of “Mamba Mentality”.
“I am so proud that my husband's shoes are still the most worn by players on NBA courts and that the demand for his shoes remain[s] so desired by his fans around the world.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).