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Nike Loses Kobe Bryant License As Talks Fail

The estate of basketball legend Kobe Bryant declined to renew its deal with Nike this month as talks between the parties fell apart, according to an exclusive report from Complex that was later confirmed by Nike.

Unless something changes, that could end the long-established relationship between Bryant and Nike. Potentially, Bryant’s estate could also partner with an outside footwear firm on a new range.

In fact, Bryant originally signed a deal with competing shoe company Adidas at the beginning of his NBA career in 1996, and signed on to Nike seven years later. Bryan became one of Nike’s most important brand ambassadors, appearing in several ad campaigns and jointly releasing 11 sets of basketball sneakers with his branding. Even though Bryant retired in 2016, Nike continued to release co-branded products, and also released products after his tragic death in a 2020 helicopter crash.

While Kobe products regularly sold out, Complex wrote that sources revealed sales had declined after his retirement and before his death. “Bryant, they say, was a low priority at Nike’s basketball division at the time, his shoes not warranting the marketing attention the brand was giving to its active NBA stars with signature lines like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James,” said the Complex story.

It also said that, “in a tweet posted in December 2020, venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar said that Bryant wasn’t happy with his Nike deal before his passing and wanted to leave the brand. Pishevar said he’d met with Bryant in December 2019 to discuss the Lakers legend’s plan to start a player-owned, independent sneaker company called Mamba.”

That said, Nike continued to release Nike Kobe products as recently as last week in the form of the Grinch Kobe 6, a shoe first released in 2010 that was re-released via Nike’s SNKRS app on April 13. That was, coincidentally, the fifth anniversary of Bryant’s last game in the NBA, and the last day of his deal with Nike.

Since Complex broke the story, Nike has come out with a statement that confirms their agreement with the Kobe Bryant estate has regretfully been terminated. “Kobe Bryant was an important part of Nike’s deep connection to consumers,” said Nike. “He pushed us and made everyone around him better. Though our contractual relationship has ended, he remains a deeply loved member of the Nike family.”

ESPN also reported on the story, saying the Bryant estate was upset over what it saw as a limited product range and a marked absence of shoes in kid’s sizes since Bryant’s retirement. Nike had reportedly presented an extension offer that was not in line with the estate’s expectations of an ongoing “lifetime” structure, similar to deals that had been offered in the past to Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

However, while the agreement has terminated, a statement from the basketball star’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, appears to keep the door open to new talks.

“Kobe and Nike have made some of the most beautiful basketball shoes of all time, worn and adored by fans and athletes in all sports across the globe,” said Bryant. “It seems fitting that more NBA players wear my husband’s product than any other signature shoe. My hope will always be to allow Kobe’s fans to get and wear his products. I will continue to fight for that. Kobe’s products sell out in seconds. That says everything. I was hoping to forge a lifelong partnership with Nike that reflects my husband’s legacy. We will always do everything we can to honor Kobe and Gigi’s legacies. That will never change.”

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