The Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant salutes the crowd after his final game, on April 13, 2016, at Staples Center. Image Credit: TNS

The long relationship between Kobe Bryant and Nike has ended, and his widow raised the possibility of seeking another sponsorship deal.

Vanessa Bryant confirmed Monday night in an Instagram story that the five-year extension with the sneaker and apparel company that began when the Los Angeles Lakers star retired had expired April 13.

“My hope will always be to allow Kobe’s fans to get and wear his products,” Vanessa wrote. “I will continue to fight for that. Kobe’s products sell out in seconds. 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 honour Kobe and [daughter] Gigi’s legacies. That will never change.”

'Most beautiful basketball shoes'

In the nearly 15 months since Kobe and eight others died in a helicopter crash, the Bryant estate has grown frustrated over the availability of his Nike products, according to an ESPN story, a discontent that included questions about a lack of shoe models for children. The story also reported Nike had sought to extend the relationship, which began in 2003, but that it was not comparable to the lifetime structure of contracts given to Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

Complex reported that in the period after Kobe retired and before his death, sales of his shoes were down and he was not as high a priority for the company as active players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James, who have signature lines.

“Kobe and Nike have made some of the most beautiful basketball shoes of all time, worn and adored by fans and athletes in all sports across the globe,” Vanessa said in her statement. “It seems fitting that more NBA players wear my husband’s product than any other signature shoe.”

A young Kobe and Vanessa Bryant
A young Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Image Credit: Instagram

A new venture?

Kobe himself may have been planning to set off in a new direction. A month before his death, venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar tweeted that he had met with Kobe to discuss a plan to create Mamba, a player-owned, independent sneaker company that played on Kobe’s self-assumed “Black Mamba” nickname. “What he was about to do in business was going to eclipse his sports career,” he predicted, including images of possible shoe designs. On Monday, Pishevar tweeted, “I feel like Kobe is smiling in heaven today.”

Although the “Sheath” logo that often appears on the tongue of Nike’s Kobe sneakers is owned by both sides, Vanessa confirmed to ESPN that her husband’s estate owns the rights to the “Mamba” logo and his signature.

Kobe’s plans for his post-athletic career were only beginning to come into focus when he died in January 2020. He was expanding his interests in storytelling, whether in books or film, in expanding women’s sports and other areas, imaging a fictional world in which his ideas could take shape and calling it “Granity.”

'Deeply loved member of the Nike family'

“You have things within you that are festering,” he told The Washington Post’s Kent Babb in 2018. “We all do.”

Going forward, Nike is not a part of that. Its most recent Kobe shoe was an exclusive-access restock of the “Grinch” Kobe 6, a 2010 shoe that returned last December. A limited number were available only via Nike’s SNKRS app on April 13, the fifth anniversary of Kobe’s final NBA game and the last day of his Nike contract.

“Kobe Bryant was an important part of Nike’s deep connection to consumers,” Nike said in a statement to ESPN. “He pushed us and made everyone around him better. Though our contractual relationship has ended, he remains a deeply loved member of the Nike family.”