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Kobe Bryant Reportedly Considered Leaving Nike to Form Player-Owned Mamba

New tweets from an established venture capitalist suggest Kobe Bryant was considering ending his 17-year relationship with Nike just a month before he suddenly died.

Angel investor and Hyperloop One co-founder Shervin Pishevar tweeted Tuesday that he met with Bryant for more than two hours a number of weeks before his tragic passing to discuss a potential new, player-owned footwear company. The entrepreneur said the basketball legend wasn’t happy with Nike’s marketing and promotion commitment to the Kobe line.

“The sales of his shoes were anemic and he blamed Nike,” Pishevar said. “He retained tight control because he didn’t trust Nike’s judgment in design.”

According to Pishevar, Bryant planned to leave Nike in 2020 and start a new company called Mamba. “What he was about to do in business was going to eclipse his sports career,” the investor wrote.

Pishevar tweeted out two designs he reportedly showed Bryant for the hypothetical Mamba company. The pictures depict an all-black shoe with a scaly toe box—likely an allusion to the basketball star’s “Black Mamba” nickname. On its back, Pishevar said a magnetically attached tracker would connect to a Mamba app to integrate coaching and motivational features.

Shervin Pishevar tweeted out this design that he showed Kobe Bryant for the hypothetical Mamba company
Shervin Pishevar said this was one of the designs his team showed Kobe Bryant for an independent Mamba shoe company. Image courtesy of Pishevar’s Twitter account @shervin Shervin Pishevar

The entrepreneur said he tweeted about the meeting now because the one-year anniversary of the event made him “reflect on the greatness that [Bryant] exuded that day.” To back up his claims, Pishevar included calendar details from the meeting and cited Gina Ford, who manages Usain Bolt, as a witness.

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Pishevar is the co-founder and managing director of Sherpa Capital, a venture capital fund that has invested in companies like Airbnb and Uber. In 2011, he began a two-year term as a member of the 10-person UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council. In 2015, former President Barack Obama appointed Pishevar to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Immediately following Bryant’s death last year, Kobe sales skyrocketed. On Nike’s own website, searches for “Kobe” yielded no product results the day after his passing, with the company reporting that all merchandise had sold out. At the time, Krista Corrigan, a retail analyst for fashion retail data firm Edited, said Kobe-related products dropped 77 percent in availability. Of the 22 retailers that carried Bryant’s gear prior to his death, only seven still had product available the day after.

Global fashion search platform Lyst reported in April that the Nike Kobe 4 Protro Carpe Diem sneaker ranked as its fourth-hottest product of the first quarter. Overall, page views for sneakers from the long-term collaboration between the brand and the Hall of Famer spiked 733 percent, Lyst reported.

Since January, Nike has only put out two Kobe releases. Just last week, it dropped a new take on the Kobe 6 ‘Grinch,’ so nicknamed for its resemblance to the classic holiday villain, on Christmas Eve. Several months earlier, the company released a series of Kobe V Protros as part of “Mamba Week,” a weeklong event full of programming and retail launches Nike rolled out in August to celebrate the late NBA legend.