When Kobe Bryant’s estate let the basketball icon’s Nike contract expire in April, it appeared that was the end for the beloved player’s namesake sneaker line.
Recent reporting from ESPN, however, suggests otherwise. According to the sports news network, the two sides have remained in talks “with the hope they can eventually come to terms.” Nike has not responded to a request for comment.
A potential reunion would likely be welcomed with open arms by many in the NBA, where Bryant’s sneakers have ranked as some of the most popular styles in the league of late. According to Baller Shoes DB, 114 players wore one of Bryant’s signature shoes as their primary sneaker in the 2020-21 season. Kyrie Irving and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s footwear franchises, meanwhile, ranked second and third with 49 and 41 players, respectively, wearing their silhouettes.
Given production delays during the 2020-21 season, the supply of Kobe sneakers was already significantly diminished before Bryant’s estate parted ways with Nike. With the footwear giant no longer producing any Kobe footwear at all, some players have coughed up more than five figures buying Kobe sneakers on the resale market, according to ESPN.
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, confirmed the expiration of her late husband’s contract with Nike in April. At the time, she suggested that the split was not always a done deal. “I was hoping to forge a lifelong partnership with Nike that reflects my husband’s legacy,” she wrote. At the time, ESPN, citing unnamed sources, claimed the Bryant estate had grown frustrated with Nike over the limited availability of Kobe products and the lack of availability of Kobe footwear in kids’ sizes. It also said Nike had presented an extension offer, but that it was not in line with expectations.
“My hope will always be to allow Kobe’s fans to get and wear his products,” Bryant wrote on Instagram. “I will continue to fight for that…. We will always do everything we can to honor Kobe and [his daughter] Gigi’s legacies. That will never change.”
The appearance of unapproved “Mambacita” sneakers less than two months after the Bryant estate’s split with Nike likely deepened the divide between the widow and the sneaker giant. Upon discovering that a member of the public had somehow gotten their hands on a pair of the shoes—designed in honor of her daughter, Gianna, who died in the tragic helicopter crash that also killed her father and seven others last year—the widow posted on Instagram demanding answers.
“Nike has not sent any of these pairs to me and my girls,” she wrote. “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 did not get sold. @nike.”
Should negotiations with Nike fall through, it would seem Vanessa Bryant is prepared to follow through on her husband’s rumored plans of launching an independent company called Mamba. Kobe Bryant, LLC, an entity created by Vanessa Bryant in March 2020, has applied for a host of trademarks, including one for “Mamba.” Filed last year, the trademark’s list of goods and services—largely a laundry list of clothing items—includes footwear.
Kobe Bryant, LLC has continued applying for trademarks. In March, it filed trademarks for “Play Gigi’s Way” and “Mamba and Mambacita.” Both list clothing and footwear as goods and services. Just this month, it applied for to trademark “Mamba Vino,” “Mamba Vino 8,” “Mamba Vino 24” and “Mamba Vino 2024,” all of which would cover wine. The company has also trademarked logos.