Why Was Kobe Bryant's Nike Deal Not Renewed?

Frustration over Nike's handling of Kobe Bryant's signature shoes and disagreements over the terms of a proposed contract extension were reportedly behind the decision of Vanessa Bryant and the Kobe Bryant estate to end the partnership with the sportswear giant.

Vanessa Bryant, the widow of the late Los Angeles Lakers star, confirmed on Monday that Bryant's deal with the swoosh brand ended earlier this month and would not be renewed.

"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," she wrote on her Instagram stories.

"It seems fitting that more NBA players wear my husband's product than any other signature shoe."

According to ESPN, the Bryant estate became frustrated with Nike for its handling of Bryant's products.

Specifically, there was dissatisfaction at how the company limited the availability of Kobe Bryant's branded shoes and apparel following his retirement in 2016 and his tragic death in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gigi were among the nine people killed when the helicopter they were flying in crashed in Calabasas, California.

An Adidas athlete during the early stages of his career, Kobe Bryant signed with Nike in 2003 and went on to headline 11 signature models as part of the Nike Kobe series.

The partnership had a revolutionary impact among NBA players, with the Kobe 4 making low tops shoes immensely popular around the league. The model, launched during the 2008-09 season, turned low tops from a shoes worn by a limited amount of point guards to a league-wide phenomenon for players at every position.

Following his retirement in 2016, Bryant signed a five-year endorsement extension contract with Nike designed to extend the partnership into his retirement.

The deal expired on April 13 and Vanessa Bryant suggested Nike weren't prepared to offer the Bryant estate a lifetime deal, along the lines of those signed by Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

"My hope will always be to allow Kobe's fans to get and wear his products," she said.

"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 honor Kobe and Gigi's legacies. That will never change."

As per ESPN, all future releases of Bryant-branded footwear and apparel produced by Nike will be halted.

"Kobe Bryant was an important part of Nike's deep connection to consumers," Nike told ESPN 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."

In the wake of Bryant's death, Nike reissued some of his old models, which regularly sold out. However, Complex reported that demand for Bryant's branded products following his retirement and before his death was flagging and that Nike was more focused on other players in its basketball portfolio such as James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Kobe, meanwhile, had reportedly considered severing ties with Nike himself. In 2019, he sat down with venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar to explore the opportunity of designing and producing a future product series.

At the time, it was suggested the brand could be named Mamba, drawing on the Black Mamba nickname that had accompanied Bryant throughout his career.

In her statement, Vanessa Bryant confirmed the Bryant estate owned the rights to both the "Mamba" logo and his signature.

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the final game of his NBA career against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on April 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Harry How/Getty Images