Instead they were Nike’s line of Kobe Bryant’s sign…

Instead they were Nike’s line of Kobe Bryant’s signature sneakers, which were worn by 103 players last season — about 20 percent of the league’s players — according to the sneaker website Baller Shoes DB. Many W.N.B.A. players, like the Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd, also wear Bryant’s signature sneakers. But soon those players will need to find new shoes, at least if they want to play in brand-new pairs. Nike confirmed Monday that its contract with the estate of Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash last year, expired last week. “Kobe Bryant was an important part of Nike’s deep connection to consumers,” a Nike spokesman, Josh Benedek, said in a statement. “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.”

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Nike has a short window in which it can continue selling the shoes and apparel featuring Bryant that it has already manufactured, but soon that merchandise will disappear from Nike’s website and store shelves. Switching shoe companies is not uncommon for top basketball players, whose sneaker contracts can pay tens of millions of dollars annually and rival or even exceed their N.B.A. contracts in value. Bryant signed with Adidas before he entered the N.B.A., in 1996, then signed with Nike in 2003 after his Adidas deal ended. Even as some major sponsors dropped Bryant when he was accused of sexual assault, Nike, which had signed Bryant shortly before he was arrested, stood by him.
Nike did not sign Bryant to what is effectively a lifetime contract, like it has done with Jordan and James, raising questions about how much continued value it saw in his name. The Kobe shoes N.B.A. players wore were often limited editions or unique colors that average consumers could not buy, partly explaining why their popularity on the court did not necessarily translate to popularity on the street.
If Vanessa Bryant cannot come to an agreement with Nike on a new contract, building a new brand around Kobe could be a challenge. Nike, including brands it owns like Jordan Brand and Converse, controls more than half the sneaker market, with companies like Adidas and Puma as distant competitors. Under Armour, which is endorsed by Golden State’s Stephen Curry, has struggled to break through.
Nick DePaula: Nike will honor Kobe Bryant and celebrate “MAMBA WEEK” beginning Sunday, August 23rd, with special programming and launches planned. Several Kobe signature products will be released and the Nike Foundation will make a $1M donation to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation.
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