Earlier this month, the five-year endorsement deal that the late Kobe Bryant signed with Nike following his retirement from the NBA expired. Opening the door for the deceased superstar to posthumously leave Nike, his wife Vanessa and the Bryant estate elected not to renew the partnership, she confirmed to ESPN in a statement.
“Kobe’s Nike contract expired on 4/13/21,” Vanessa Bryant told ESPN. “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. It seems fitting that more NBA players wear my husband’s product than any other signature shoe.”
After signing the five-time NBA champ in June of 2003, Nike released more than a dozen signature Bryant shoes, including one that was put out more than seven months after the former Laker, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a California helicopter crash in January of 2020.
Nike did propose an extension, but the offer was not in line with the ongoing “lifetime” contracts that are held by both Michael Jordan and LeBron James, according to ESPN sources.
“Kobe Bryant was an important part of Nike’s deep connection to consumers,” Nike said in a statement to The Athletic. “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.”
With the Bryant brand now a free agent, Vanessa and her late husband’s estate are free to negotiate with other sneaker and apparel companies or attempt to work out a new extension with Nike. For that to happen, the Oregon-based sports apparel company would reportedly have to make more Kobe footwear available in children’s sizes and make more of his signature products available in general.
“Bryant signed his first shoe deal, with Adidas, in 1996 at age 17 for a reported $48 million over six years. He reportedly paid $8 million to exit that relationship in 2002, and a year later signed with Nike (over Reebok) for 4 years, $40 million,” according to The Athletic senior sports business reporter Bill Shea. “His first Nike signature shoe, the Zoom Kobe 1, dropped in 2005 and Bryant went on to develop a close relationship with the company. The brand stuck with him during his 2003 Colorado sexual assault case. Nike continued the business relationship after his 2016 retirement, with the Kobe AD line. While never as powerful and lucrative for Nike’s bottom line as its Jordan brand, the Kobe shoes have sold in the millions and still are worn by NBA players.”
Nike will continue to release Bryant’s sneakers in 2021, and they are almost certain to be hot sellers — they could be the last of their kind.