Nothing can prepare you for an unexpected death in the family. Life is already unpredictable enough that it doesn’t need a tragedy to teach us that. Yet the sudden passing of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020, sent shockwaves not only through the basketball community, but the world as a whole.
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news of Kobe’s death. In Tokyo, as part of a global sport international program geared around the 2020 Olympics, I was glued to ESPN’s SportsCenter. Staring at the scrolling ticker of news updates about the crash, I was in shock. The chills down my spine and utter disbelief were unfathomable.
Three years after the loss of Kobe, Gianna, and eight others in that helicopter crash, I can only imagine the resolve of Vanessa Bryant. In what was undoubtedly one of the darkest and most trying times in her family’s history, she persevered, becoming an example of resiliency and grace by staying true to her values and upholding her principles.
Taking over the Nike deal
Since 2003, Kobe Bryant has been an acclaimed “Nike Athlete” and continued the brand’s legacy of aligning with top professionals in sports and entertainment, including six-time NBA Champion Michael Jordan and comedic icon Kevin Hart. Before his passing, Kobe released twelve signature shoes and was one of the most popular athletic personalities in the world, even after he retired from the NBA in 2016. In fact, Kobe’s sneakers are one of the most popular in professional basketball, exemplified by the fact that nearly 20% of the NBA’s players wearing his product line since his death, including such all-stars such as Devin Booker, Ja Morant, DeMar DeRozan, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Upon Kobe’s passing, the Kobe Bryant Estate, led by the widowed Vanessa, took control of the business relationship with Nike. It severed ties with the brand in April 2021 due to grievances over the sale of an unauthorized product line for Gianna, limited availability of Kobe’s sneakers, and the lack of options in youth sizes.
Fortunately for Nike, in March 2022, the company was able to come to terms with the estate, reaching an agreement for a renewed deal.
Vanessa’s unwillingness to compromise her perspective on the value of Kobe’s legacy speaks to her understanding of his role in not only the sport of basketball but the global sports marketplace, including China. Under the guidelines of the new deal, Nike was able to continue producing new sneakers and apparel, such as the Zoom Kobe series, and the “Sweet 16” Nike Kobe 6 Protro. Additionally, 100% of the proceeds from the sale of Gianna’s Mambacita sneaker line were donated to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation.
Moving forward without Kobe
As Kobe was heavily involved with Nike brand designer Eric Avar on the design and branding of his signature shoes and product line, future releases of Kobe’s sneakers and sports apparel without his personal touch would seem to undermine their value. However, the opposite has occurred. Whether it was for fashion, performance, or to pay homage to this athletic icon, the consumers of Kobe’s signature product line skyrocketed. According to Avar, Kobe’s legacy is about more than basketball and performance apparel, it is about who he is as a person.
Kobe was known worldwide for his mantra of Mamba-Mentality, referring to his dogged determination to always be the best version of himself. There were, indeed, many of those best versions. I was always impressed by his ability to navigate a Hall of Fame twenty-year professional basketball career in the NBA and then transition with the same fortitude and diligence to his post-athletic career as a businessman (Bryant Stibel venture capital), author (The Mamba Mentality: How I Play), creative contributor to podcasts (The Punies), and Oscar-winner (for the short film Dear Basketball).
Above all, I always admired his devotion to his family, including his wife Vanessa, and his daughters, Natalia, Gianna, Bianca, and Capri. With Kobe’s passing at the young age of 42, one can’t help but feel that there was so much more he was destined to accomplish. Still, he lives on through the efforts of his widow and three remaining children. With Vanessa taking on the role of “Queen Mamba,” presiding over the Kobe Bryant Estate, her commitment to upholding her husband and daughter’s legacy is the strong guiding force behind her decision making. The loss of Kobe and Gianna was tragic, but under Vanessa’s capable leadership, their legacy will remain a powerful force for years to come.
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