Nike Draws Criticism for Mamba Week—But Is It Justified?

Some felt that Nike's Mamba Week sneaker releases were too limited and hard to get. Here's why it's more complicated than that.

Nike Kobe V Big Stage Protro
Complex Original

Image via David Cabrera/Complex Original

Nike Kobe V Big Stage Protro

Nick Young was not happy with "Mamba Week," Nike's celebration of the late Kobe Bryant last week, which consisted of limited-edition product releases and community activations. Young, a former Los Angeles Laker and friend to Bryant, was not in the minority—much of the social media conversation around the sneakers and jerseys Nike released criticized the brand for producing too few units or making them difficult to buy.

They should have been easier to get for people who really loved Kobe, Young said on Twitter. Resale markets should have prevented people from flipping them just for profit, he added. 

These Kobe’s week pack should’ve been earlier to get for ppl that really love and appreciated him and not for the ppl who got them just to make a profit ... I believe if all these resale site didn’t allow ppl to resale them , you will see the right ppl with them
Nike y’all know Know the whole world is a Kobe fans and y’all making Kobe week limited that’s crazy .. rerelease pls for the real Kobe fans they not spend 2k for resellers this drop isn’t for them

In the days following Bryant's birthday on Aug. 23 and "Mamba Day" on Aug. 24 (so named for its alignment with the two jersey numbers he wore, eight and 24), these kinds of complaints were frequently leveled against Nike. People accused the brand of using the moment for profit, despite the fact that it had made a $1 million donation to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation. The passionate critiques that Nike should not be releasing limited-edition product around Bryant were understandable, but also shortsighted.

Nike Kobe 5 Big Stage Protro Toe Heel

The typical sneaker industry timeline from when a product is conceived to when it's released is 18 months. Bryant died in January, just seven months ago, so it's not reasonable to expect that Nike created the retro Nike Kobe 5s it dropped last week in the wake of his death. In fact, a source at the brand tells Complex that the product was originally intended for Bryant's anticipated induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame this year. These were not sneakers designed and produced after his death.

The production dates displayed on the tags inside the shoes confirm this. The "Big Stage" Kobe 5 Protro, a remix of a Nike Kobe shoe from 2010, was made between August and September of 2019, per info on its tag. The two pairs from the extremely coveted Undefeated collaboration pack were produced between February and May of 2020.

The inspiration behind the Undefeated pairs—they evoke the teams that passed on him in the 1996 NBA Draft—makes more sense considering their initial intent as retros around his Hall of Fame induction. Nike had planned to tell the story of Bryant's first chapter as a professional before commemorating his ultimate acknowledgement. Nike did produce the Undefeated set after Bryant's death, but the plan around the shoes was set before he died. Could the sportswear company have scrambled to produce additional pairs after his tragic passing?

The spread of COVID-19 this spring stymied supply chains worldwide, so it's difficult to imagine that the brand could have shifted to produce an extra 100,000 pairs. Plus, anything relating to the posthumous release of Bryant's sneakers requires approval from his estate, meaning Nike cannot create retros on a whim.

Undefeated x Nike Kobe 5 'What If' Pair

It didn't help the reception of Mamba Week that Nike released most of the Kobe retros (along with a special Black Mamba Lakers jersey) through its SNKRS app, a marketplace known for frustratingly immediate sellouts. Anytime a limited shoe goes on the app, the stock is bound to disappear quickly; after that, speculation about bots compromising the launch will follow.

"You probably didn't get em," said journalist Mike Sykes in a widely circulated video from last week, "because they were sold out in minutes. And that's because there were resellers who were using pre-programmed bots to scoop all of them up, take them to the secondary market, and sell them for five times what they were worth at retail." 

Nike does use anti-bot mitigation on its SNKRS app, but given the general lack of transparency around releases, it's difficult to tell how effective it is. And this sort of frustration is common around hyped footwear, the success of which is predicated upon the delicately tuned balance of supply and demand, but not universal. By contrast, Union's release of its latest Air Jordan collaboration on Saturday generated far less salty responses, partly because the store filtered out bots by making customers answer an unexpected question on its website to secure the shoes. Those Jordans also lacked the emotional angle of the Kobes, which some felt Nike should not be selling via limited drops in the wake of his death.

Where does Nike go from here? There's no indication that Kobe retros won't continue, and it's not likely the brand will continue to make every successive release so scarce. One suspects that the chorus of negative feedback online reached Nike execs, given the magnitude of the Mamba Week marketing event, so it's on the company now to avoid alienating Kobe fans with future drops. What does Nick Young suggest?

"Rerelease [please]," he wrote on Twitter, "for the real Kobe fans."