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Kobe Bryant tragically passed away in a helicopter crash in early 2020, leaving the sports world (and the world at large) shocked and aggrieved. Bryant, who was 41 when he passed away, had been signed to Nike for nearly two decades at the time, and his line of signature sneakers had been continued beyond his retirement from the game — much like Michael Jordan’s.
According to Iranian-American angel investor and venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar, however, Kobe was considering leaving Nike to start his own sneaker company. In a series of tweets, Pishevar claims that Bryant had met with him to discuss terminating his relationship with Nike in late 2019 and starting a “shoe company owned by players,” supposedly called Mamba, at some point in 2020.
Pishevar shares that Kobe was apparently unhappy with Nike’s marketing and promotion committee to his signature line, and felt that sales of his shoes were struggling. Pishevar also claims that Kobe did not trust Nike’s judgment in design, which is why he still retained tight control of his line of sneakers.
Kobe had long become synonymous with Nike Basketball, and his signature sneakers were considered to be some of Nike’s best-ever for on-court performance, favored by many other NBA players signed to Nike and also laying the groundwork for reigning MVP Giannis Antetekounmpo’s own signature sneaker.
Though these claims can’t be entirely substantiated and only point to Kobe thinking about leaving Nike to start his own brand, Pishevar has shared a screenshot of his calendar from that day. as well as a rendering of a potential sneaker design.
Pishevar claims he divulged this information nearly a year after Bryant’s death because this week is the one-year anniversary of the meeting. It’s unclear what Kobe’s relationship with Pishevar was and whether Pishevar was asked to or considering investing in Mamba.
Of course, however real any of these plans were, they were cut short by Bryant’s untimely passing in January of this year. If true, it would have been incredibly interesting to see what Kobe could have done with a brand he had complete control over.
While big sportswear companies such as Nike and adidas still control large parts of the performance market, there have been attempts by players to launch their own brands. Lonzo Ball and his brothers started Big Baller Brand with their father, while Stephon Marbury teamed up with Steve and Barry’s to launch Starbury — a line of affordable basketball shoes. Shaquille O’Neal also opted to start his own Dunkman and Platinum brands, though those are remembered more for their knockoff designs than anything else.
If there was one player with the star power and the know-how to break free of the big corporations, it would have been Kobe Bryant.
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