What does this mean for collectors?
The news hit NBA players the hardest Monday night. Lakers players Talen Horton-Tucker and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who both wear Kobes during games, immediately put out the bat signal for more pairs of their favorite shoes. “Whoever can get me any Kobes, I need them,” Horton-Tucker said in a recent postgame press conference.
But even those who don’t rely on the shoes to do their jobs were bummed out by the news. “It’s sad that it’s come to this point at all,” says writer and former SLAM magazine editor Russ Bengtson, who’s slowly been selling off his massive sneaker collection while holding onto his Kobes. Bengtson initially avoided selling his Kobe sneakers because he didn’t want to be part of “the opportunistic profiteering that happens when people die unexpectedly.” News of Kobes going out of production will only serve to fuel resale prices higher.
Bengston notes that Vanessa is clearly thinking about more than a single short-term sneaker deal and more about Kobe’s legacy as a whole. “We will always do everything we can to honor Kobe and Gigi’s legacies,” Vanessa said in her statement to ESPN. “That will never change.”
And Kobe’s legacy with Nike is massive: not only does his name sit atop a best-selling franchise but “the current direction of Nike Basketball in general [has] been driven by a lot of Kobe’s insights into how a basketball shoe should work and what it should look like,” Bengston says, he hallmark innovation obviously being the low-top performance shoe that’s now widely worn by NBA players.
Will there be non-Nike Kobe-branded shoes and apparel?
Before his death, Kobe was reportedly working on starting his own shoe brand. The entrepreneur Shervin Pishevar tweeted in December of last year, “I met with Kobe Bryant in late December 2019. Kobe wasn’t happy with Nike and was going to leave it in 2020. Kobe was going to start Mamba, a shoe company owned by players.” That’s one possible option. The estate can also choose to enter into a deal with a new brand; Kobe worked with Adidas in the past. Key to any new deal is the fact that the Kobe Bryant estate holds the right to his Mamba logo and signature, according to ESPN.
However, those hoping for a reunion between Nike and Kobe shouldn’t lose all hope. “At this point I don’t think the Kobe-Nike split is permanent,” Bengston speculated. He noted that Kobe’s collaborator at Nike, Eric Avar, would likely be best positioned to carry on the legacy of the late player’s sneaker line. More than that, he had a tough time imagining a Kobe Bryant sneaker line free of the obsessive attention to detail that was Bryant’s defining trait: “I can’t imagine Kobe’s estate endorsing another brand—or launching its own line—without Kobe being here to provide his direct input.”