Kobe Bryant’s widow puts size 14 hole in Nike shoe sales

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Kobe Bryant continued to sell shoes for Nike three years after his retirement. He sold even more a year after his death. Today, Vanessa Bryant made a decision that is shaking up a multi-billion dollar shoe industry.

What Vanessa Bryant did could cost Nike tens of millions of dollars, but ultimately put a popular shoe line back in the hands of fans rather than profiteers.

Kobe Bryant started supporting Adidas

Kobe Bryant’s first shoe deal was with Adidas, after which he struck a long-standing deal with Nike. Bryant’s widow Vanessa chose not to renew the Nike contract last week. | Frank Micelotta / Getty Images

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Kobe Bryant was 18 when he entered the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers straight out of high school. Even before his debut, Bryant signed a six-year contract to wear and endorse Adidas shoes. In his fourth season in the NBA, Bryant was already averaging 22.5 points per game, and he hasn’t slipped from that number for the next 13 seasons.

Along the way, he made many other deals with big companies including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Nintendo. Many abandoned Bryant following a rape charge in the summer of 2003. Nike, with whom Bryant had signed after his contract with Adidas expired, did not let him go.

Nike has suspended its advertising campaign until criminal charges are dropped, but The Associated Press noted the reappearance of her photo in commercials from July 2005. The relationship was a financial boon for both parties. Even in retirement, their arrangement remained in place, and the Bryant shoe line remained among Nike’s most popular.

A surprising decision after a shocking death

The basketball world was stunned in January 2020 by the death of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash that also claimed the life of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. With the memories of Bryant’s magnificent career – 25.0 points per game and five championship rings – still fresh on their minds, fans gobbled up any Los Angeles Lakers-related memories they could find.

Existing shoe inventory vanished from Nike’s online storefront within hours, and more NBA players than ever started wearing their Kobe shoes. Devin Booker, DeMar DeRozan and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are some of the players who still wear Kobe models.

Naturally, Nike postponed a deployment that was planned shortly after the helicopter crash. However, Vanessa Bryant would have been frustrated in recent months that the shoes that have been on the market since have been released in limited numbers and gobbled up by dealers. And the shoes produced are predominantly in adult sizes like Kobe size 14 rather than children’s sizes.

It came to a head this week as Vanessa Bryant revealed that she did not renew the contract with Nike after it expired on April 13. But that doesn’t mean the end of a Kobe Bryant shoe line.

“My hope will always be to allow Kobe fans to get and wear his products,” she said in a statement. “I’m going to keep fighting for this. Kobe products sell out in seconds. That says it all.

What does this mean for Kobe Bryant fans?

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Nick DePaula, who covers the industry for ESPN, reported that Nike is now likely blocked from future releases of Kobe Bryant shoes and clothing. Vanessa Bryant owns the rights to the “Mamba” logo, although the “sheath” logo on the tongue of the sneakers is owned by Nike.

Less than two months before his death, Bryant reportedly met with a design agency to discuss a potential plan to design and roll out a line of Mamba shoes, an indication that he was ready to go it alone.

Now it’s up to Vanessa Bryant to determine the next move. Her decision to leave Nike suggests that she will either affiliate with another major manufacturer or keep the brand in-house by outsourcing production. Either way, there will likely be a shortage of Kobe Bryant shoes for at least a year.

Lakers goaltender Talen Horton-Tucker, who wears Bryant’s sneakers exclusively in games, launched a plea after the Lakers suffered a 111-97 loss to Utah Jazz on Monday.

“It’s a bit unfortunate, but I guess I have to find something now,” he said. “I’m appealing to everyone right now. Whoever can get me Kobes, I need them.

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