UPDATED 4/19, 8:55 p.m. ET: Nike has issued the following statement on Bryant’s departure: “Kobe Bryant was an important part of Nike’s deep connection to consumers. 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.”
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The estate of Kobe Bryant did not renew the late basketball icon’s Nike deal this month, sources tell Complex. The move signals what could be the end of the long relationship between Bryant and Nike unless the two parties can agree to a new contract. Bryant’s latest deal with Nike expired on April 13, 2021, according to sneaker industry sources.
Nike did not have a comment for this story. The brand does have more Kobe shoes scheduled to drop in 2021, which sources say will be the last of his Nikes to release for the time being.
Bryant inked a deal with Adidas at the start of his professional career in 1996 and signed to Nike in 2003. He became one of the most important Nike endorsers in the ensuing years, appearing in countless advertisements and releasing over 11 signature sneakers. Nike continued to release shoes for Bryant even after his retirement in 2016.
It has also released shoes after his tragic death in January 2020, bringing back old models as retros. These sneakers have regularly sold out in the wake of his passing, which rekindled desire for the Nike Kobe line.
Sources tell Complex that after his retirement and before his death, sales for Bryant’s Nike shoes were flagging. 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.
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. His tweets recalling the meeting included mockups of a shoe for the proposed Mamba brand.
The latest Nike Kobe launch was an exclusive-access restock of the “Grinch” Kobe 6, a shoe from 2010 that came back for the first time in December 2020. Limited pairs were made available only via Nike’s SNKRS app on April 13, 2021. The day marked the five-year anniversary of Bryant’s last game in the NBA and also, according to sources, the last day of his deal with Nike.