The future of Kobe Bryant’s Nike line is in limbo and the uncertainty has added a new wrinkle to an already complicated sneaker legacy. The late NBA legend’s estate failed to reach an agreement to renew his deal in April, effectively ending an 18-year relationship, one of the strongest talent-endorser bonds of its kind. While the exact circumstances of the deal not being renewed weren’t made public, statements by Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, allude to frustration with the availability of Bryant’s sneakers and the difficulties faced by fans trying to buy the shoes. Now, we could be down to the last few Nike Kobes that will ever release, and the shortage in supply combined with speculation over the future of the line has caused their resale value to skyrocket.
Aside from Michael Jordan, no player has had as much input on their signature sneakers as Kobe did. The tales of him working side by side with designers like Eric Avar, dialing in every last minutiae, are numerous. This is the sort of passion Kobe was known for, one that could be felt watching him play, studying his story, and listening to him speak. It’s an infectious quality that spilled over to his fans, a rabid yet respectful following who are still coping with the loss of a legend.
Kobe loyalists have been emotional—and rightfully so—especially when it relates to his Mamba-related product. Ever since Bryant’s passing in January 2020, there’s been a rush to get his shoes and apparel, and there was an immediate uptick in resale value. Shoes that were attainable at retail prices months prior were now marked up three and four-times their original value. Some resale shops temporarily refused to sell the sneakers. Nike’s releases slowed, likely due to the combination of COVID-19 delays and uncertainty with how to continue honoring Kobe. It was a difficult position to be in: if the brand couldn’t get enough product out in a timely manner, consumer frustration would continue to mount, yet if Nike was quick to drop a ton of shoes, it could be seen as an unethical cash grab. There have been around a dozen Protro (the name for Kobe’s beefed-up performance retro sneakers) releases since, although none of them were plentiful in quantity.
“My hope will always be to allow Kobe’s fans to get and wear his products,” Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, said in an April statement shortly after the news of the deal ending became public. This is a desire Vanessa has mentioned before, writing earlier that month that she was “continuing to try to find ways to get Kobe products directly in the hands of his biggest fans.” Her sentiments echo the frustrations of fans who have been unable to purchase the shoes at retail, an issue amplified by the end of the Nike deal.
Darryl Glover, a Kobe enthusiast who runs the @kb824 fan page on Instagram, says April’s news reignited an upward trend in resale prices.
“With the scarcity model that Nike employs, which makes it difficult for anyone to get shoes, the line discontinuation is upsetting for those of us who are genuine, hardcore fans,” Glover says. “We are now looking at very unreasonable and unfair resale prices… It’s been bad since the evening that he passed away. The news of the Nike deal ending just re-surged the aftermarket prices, just as it seemed like the resale value on certain Kobes was starting to come down.”
There’s data to support Glover’s frustrations. eBay tells Complex that sales for Kobe’s Nike sneakers increased 400 percent following April’s announcement. eBay searches for his Nikes jumped 298 percent after the news, hype that extended beyond his fan-favorite Protro line and saw a considerable jump in interest for Kobe’s post-career A.D. models and the budget-priced Mamba Fury.
Other platforms are seeing similar spikes. GOAT, which is partnered with Flight Club, tells Complex it saw an immediate increase of more than 300 percent in Kobe sales after the news of the deal ending broke. Despite the jump, GOAT Group sneaker historian Alex Wang says the demand has cooled off somewhat in the weeks since.
“Kobes will remain an asset and increase in value over time, especially as Nike’s official partnership with the Kobe brand comes to an end, and as overall awareness of his brand and legacy continues to grow,” Wang says.
On StockX, the year’s most popular Kobe is far and away the “Grinch” Nike Kobe 6 Protro, a 2020 rerelease of Bryant’s 2011 Christmas Day sneakers. As of publishing, the platform lists almost 15,000 sales of the shoes over the last 12 months, more than double the next closest style. A closer look shows that prices for the “Grinch” jumped on April 19 (the day news broke of the deal ending) by an average of around $100, with some sizes seeing an increase of over $200 by the following day. They’ve plateaued around there since, with larger sizes going for around $600 currently.
Much like the predicament Nike faced keeping up with consumer interest following Kobe’s passing, there are different angles at play here. On one hand, the post-endorsement sales figures paint a clear picture of just how high the demand is. People are willing to pay more than ever to own Kobe’s footwear. In turn, the rising prices are merely a market reaction as supply begins to dwindle. With fan fervor already at a peak, Nike struggling to get product out quickly enough, and the bombshell announcement that the signature line could be finished altogether, a perfect storm was rumbling for resellers. But where does one draw the line between profit and morals?
“The moment the news came out in April, there was a spike in demand so sellers had the luxury of raising prices knowing that people were going to put out for them because of the news,” Glover says. “So yes, sellers are fulfilling a demand in the marketplace, but they are definitely taking advantage of the huge increase.”
Glover feels making more pairs wouldn’t only make fans happy, it would be what Kobe wanted and part of what Vanessa has tried to push for. “[Outrageous prices] are definitely not what Kobe would want and Vanessa tried to convey that, bargaining for more availability,” he says.
Only a handful of already manufactured Nike Kobes remain unreleased, and it’s still unclear exactly which of these pairs will end up hitting retail. The “Mambacita” (aka “Mamba Forever”) Kobe 6 style is one, a colorway designed to pay tribute to Kobe and Gigi that features the Mambacita logo (owned by Vanessa) on the heel. The sneaker made headlines last week when Vanessa called out early leaked images of the shoes on her Instagram, stating they were not approved for sale and that her family hadn’t received them yet.
“I wanted [the Mambacita shoe] to be sold in honor of my daughter with ALL of the proceeds benefiting our @mambacitasports foundation but I did not re-sign the contract with Nike and decided not to sell these shoes,” Vanessa wrote, adding that they weren’t even approved to be made. “Nike has NOT sent any of these pairs to me and my girls. I do not know how someone else has their hands on shoes I designed in honor of my daughter, Gigi, and we don’t. I hope these shoes do not get sold.”
The source of at least some of the “Mambacita” shoes that ended up on Instagram accounts and since-removed resale listings is said to be London retailer Footpatrol. The shop allegedly sent the sneakers to winners of an entirely different Kobe raffle by mistake, although it begs the question how Footpatrol received the unapproved design in the first place.
Last week, there were several sales upwards of $2,000 listed for the “Mambacita” Kobe 6 on resale platform StockX before the page was removed the evening of June 4. The sneakers have appeared on eBay, although the marketplace has been swift to remove listings thus far. Flight Club and partner GOAT listed product pages for the shoes last week, although no sales were recorded and they were taken down after Vanessa’s statement.
While negotiations continue to play out, there are a few different possible outcomes. Glover hopes Nike and Vanessa will be able to reach a deal that allows the brand to release enough Kobes for his fans to purchase. There’s also the possibility that they won’t come to an agreement and the nearly two-decade Nike Kobe legacy will come to an end.
“Kobe’s products sell out in seconds,” Vanessa wrote in April. “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.”