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The importance of Kobe Bryant's brand for NBA players

Why the agreement reached between Nike and the Bryant family has made happy especially the athletes of the most spectacular league in the world

The importance of Kobe Bryant's brand for NBA players Why the agreement reached between Nike and the Bryant family has made happy especially the athletes of the most spectacular league in the world

When the rumors started to spread last week that Vanessa Bryant and Nike had finally found an agreement to continue the line with Kobe's name, which had stopped at the end of the contract in April 2021 after 18 years, many NBA players, from Devin Booker to Ja Morant to Karl-Anthony Towns used their social profiles to express all their enthusiasm. It's no coincidence that it's the younger, superstars-in-the-making who are happiest about this return of the Kobe on the shelves. Firstly because being in the league for only a few years they haven't managed to accumulate enough pairs for the rest of their professional careers, and above all it shows how much a generation has been so influenced by the figure and mystique of Kobe that they can't imagine taking the court without his shoes on their feet. Last year two players then on the Los Angeles Lakers, Talen Horton-Tucker and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, during a press conference asked who had some Kobe to sell them. And in a recent interview DeMar DeRozan, wing of the Chicago Bulls, confessed that he had to suspend the tradition of giving away his shoes to the fans at the end of the game when he realized that he could be left without them.

In fact, Nike Kobe's relevance is not measured by the number of shoes sold, their presence off the parquet or their collaborations with famous fashion houses. Compared to other Nike signature shoes, the line designed for Kobe has always focused on sports performance rather than the aesthetics of Instagram or endorsements of rappers. Since Bryant switched from adidas to Nike in 2003, his signature shoes have become synonymous with performance and attention to detail. Since the Nike Zoom Kobe II, the first one designed directly with the Black Mamba, more and more of his teammates and opponents have chosen them for their basketball evolutions. According to a study by Baller Shoes DB during the 2021/22 season 90 NBA players regularly use Kobe on the court, clearly the most used signature shoe with the Kyrie Irving signature shoe in second place with 50. The most used models are the Nike Kobe Protro V and VI, two of the most innovative silhouettes of the Swoosh brand, launched respectively in 2009 and 2010, and still effective.

During last year's shortage, given the discontinuation of production of new sneakers, prices skyrocketed, with players turning to secondary markets to secure a pair of gaming sneakers. According to ESPN journalist Brian Windhorst, many have purchased on platforms such as StockX, GOAT or eBay models in sizes 14 and up at over $800, easily going as high as $5,000 for limited examples of Kobe's. Lakers star Anthony Davis expressed all his frustration in not being able to find anywhere a pair of Kobe's in size 18 for his feet, pointing out that Bryant is a role model for all athletes across the league and that everyone wants to wear sneakers with his logo. 

Despite the success among players of Kobe's line, the relationship between the purple and gold superstar and Nike has not always been the best, and it was rumored that shortly before his untimely and sudden death he was thinking of leaving the Swoosh company to found his own brand. The reasons were mainly to be found in the fact that Nike has never decided to invest in Kobe's brand as it did with those of Micheal Jordan or LeBron James, tying them to the brand with huge lifetime contracts. A situation that was obviously complicated after Bryant's death and that his widow Vanessa had to face during the tragedy, not always finding on the other side the transparency that would have been due in such a moment. The rift of the relationship was consumed also because of the treatment reserved by Nike to the shoes and the merch after the tragic Kobe's death, with various releases first withdrawn and then released with the dropper to monetize the moment. The backs of the most celebrated models, such as the Kobe VI Grinch, were made available on SNKRS in extremely limited quantities, with the effect of going sold-out in seconds and then being resold at astronomical prices.

Notably, Nike had decided to release the Protro VI "Mambacita" against Vanessa Bryant's wishes, only to cancel the release after negative reactions on social media. "The Mambacita sneakers were not approved to be produced. Nike did not send any of these pairs to me and my girls. I don't know how someone else has their hands on the shoes I designed in honor of my daughter Gigi and we don't. I hope these shoes weren't sold," Vanessa had said at the time. Now the "Mambacita" will be the first sneakers released after the signing of the new contract, also spiritually closing a circle that all Kobe fans was hoping to see completed. All proceeds from the shoe will be donated to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, the Bryant family's non-profit organization dedicated to helping young athletes who come from more disadvantaged conditions, thus continuing Kobe's work that began after his retirement. 

To think that the shoes most used by NBA players would disappear from the market was something unimaginable, and after almost a year of negotiations, Kobe's widow and the Oregon giant have found an agreement that will immediately put the sneakers of the line back into production. Bryant's importance in the NBA has never been limited to the court, where he dominated for twenty years with his inimitable ferocity and relentless jumper, but in how he was able to shape generations through his mentality, branded as "Mamba Mentality". A legacy that even after his death continues to motivate NBA players to constantly improve, pushing themselves to the limit both as athletes and as competitors, perhaps with a pair of Nike Kobe on their feet.