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Kobe and Nike Gave Basketball 17 Years of Sneakers

Mamba forever.

That’s what Nike Inc. tweeted Sunday in the wake of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant’s tragic death Sunday in a Los Angeles-area helicopter crash that also killed eight other passengers, including daughter and budding basketballer, 13-year-old Gianna. Bryant was 41.

Throughout a 20-year professional basketball career played exclusively with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant, who gave himself the “Black Mamba” nickname, amassed a legacy spanning MVPs for the regular season, playoffs and All-Star Game; scoring records in the form of an 81-point barrage in 2006 versus the Toronto Raptors (second-highest ever); and five diamond-encrusted championship rings.

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant wears his new Nike sneakers against the Phoenix Suns at America West Arena in Phoenix. Bryant wore Adidas until the start of the 2003-2004 season.

Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant wears his new Nike sneakers against the Phoenix Suns at America West Arena in Phoenix. Bryant wore Adidas until the start of the 2003-2004 season.

In his final game on April 13, 2016, the Philadelphia native set another record, piling on 60 points in a 101-96 victory against the Utah Jazz, the most for a player of his 37-plus years.

And he did most of it wearing Nikes.

A 13th round pick in the 1996 draft, Bryant signed a six-year Adidas endorsement deal worth $48 million but decamped for a five-year, $40 million to $45 million Nike contract in 2003, that in the ensuing 17 years has given sneakerheads dozens of basketball shoes that, to this day, command strong prices on the bustling resale market.

Mark Parker, then president and CEO of Nike Inc., looks on as Kobe Bryant handles a Hyperdunk shoe during a news conference, in Beaverton, Ore. Nike Inc. The pair introduced the Nike Hyperdunk to the media at Nike's world headquarters.

Mark Parker, then president and CEO of Nike Inc., looks on as Kobe Bryant handles a Hyperdunk shoe during a news conference, in Beaverton, Ore. Nike Inc. The pair introduced the Nike Hyperdunk to the media at Nike’s world headquarters.

Bryant endorsed and lent his influence to a series of sneakers, from the Hyperdunk shoes to the Zoom Kobe. As of press time, sneaker IPO platform StockX featured hundreds of listings for Bryant’s sneakers, from the electric green Kobe 6 Grinch (lowest asking price: $2,499) to the Kobe 11 Elite Low Black Mamba Collection Fade to Black, which last sold for $1,700, an 89 percent spike, according to the site.

Demand for the legend’s signature shoes is predictably spiking. “Following the tragic news of Kobe Bryant’s passing, there was a surge in interest in products related to the basketball legend, including some of his most noted sneaker collaborations,” a StockX representative wrote in a statement to Business Insider. “The increased interest is a testament to his impact both on and off the court.”

If Chicago Bulls supernova Michael Jordan set the standard for basketball shoes and their enduring role in sparking sneaker culture, Bryant and his outsize influence on the NBA have arguably helped to fan those flames with a dose of hype and a dash of Black Mamba mystique.

Demand for the Kobe Grinch sneaker has skyrocketed.

Bryant’s relationship with Nike yielded eye-catching sneakers like the Kobe 6 Grinch.

As a Nike ambassador, Bryant traveled the world promoting the brand and spreading the cult of Kobe worldwide. In its statement Sunday, Nike described Bryant as among “the greatest athletes of his generation” and an athlete who “has had an immeasurable impact on the world of sport and the community of basketball.”

Searches on Nike.com for “Kobe” Monday yielded no product results but instead directed users to the company’s tribute. Though some media outlets initially reported that Nike had pulled Kobe-branded products from its e-commerce store, merchandise actually sold out, according to a company spokesperson.

“He was a beloved member of the Nike family,” the brand said. “We will miss him greatly.”

As a Nike ambassador, Kobe Bryant traveled the world evangelizing the brand and fostering his own basketball legacy.

Los Angeles Lakers Basketball player Kobe Bryant interacts with fans in Nike Park in Taguig City, south of Manila on July 13, 2011, kicking off a five-city tour before moving on to Seoul and cities in China.

Fans clamoring to honor the star’s passing are cleaning out inventories, according to Krista Corrigan, retail analyst for fashion retail data firm Edited. “Looking across the U.S. retail market, in stock Kobe-related products have dropped a staggering 77 percent in availability,” she said, noting the late athlete’s footwear and signature basketball sneakers are the products most merchants are likely to stock.

Notably, just seven online retailers now carry Bryant’s gear, down from 22 retailers on Jan. 25, the day prior to his death. That figure “continues to decline as fans look for ways to honor Bryant’s life and memory,” Corrigan said.

With demand spiking and Bryant-branded products evaporating, some secondhand markets are tapping the brakes on price hikes or “any attempt to profiteer from the situation,” Corrigan said.

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