Kobe Bryant was reportedly preparing for a massive breakup with Nike just weeks before his untimely death

kobe bryant

  • Kobe Bryant was reportedly planning for a massive breakup with Nike weeks before his death in January 2020.
  • The retired NBA superstar intended to end his 17-year relationship with the company to start "Mamba," a player-owned shoe brand.
  • Shervin Pishevar, an American venture capitalist, took to Twitter to share details of a December 2019 meeting he had with Bryant to discuss plans for Mamba.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

By the end of his illustrious NBA career, Kobe Bryant and Nike were irrevocably linked.

Or so it seemed.

Nearly a year after the Los Angeles Lakers legend's untimely death, earth-shattering revelations suggest that Bryant was planning to part ways with his longtime sponsor in a move bound to disrupt the entire industry. Though he had a hugely successful signature shoe line with Nike, the five-time NBA champion had his sights set on creating "Mamba," a sneaker company with a revolutionary player-owned business model.

Kobe Bryant.
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

In a Twitter thread published early Tuesday morning, American venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar — a co-founder of Sherpa Capital and one of the masterminds behind Uber — revealed that he had met with Bryant in December 2019 to discuss plans for the new company. Pishevar noted in the thread that Kobe was not satisfied with the trajectory of his relationship with Nike and "what he was about to do in business was going to eclipse his sports career."

Pat Benson, who wrote "Kobe Bryant's Sneaker History (1996-2020)" after years of reporting on the NBA and sneaker industry, told Insider that it was "very likely" Bryant was prepared to leave Nike.

Kobe Bryant.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

"It's shocking because Kobe was Nike's golden goose and habitually toed the company line," Benson said. "Many of his fans were upset with Nike's handling of his signature line following his retirement. It feels redeeming that Kobe was unhappy about it too."

"It's certainly going to make things awkward with Nike in the future," he added. "But it adds to the beautiful complexity of Kobe. Always pushing the envelope."

In another tweet, Pishevar added some context to Bryant's purported discontent with Nike. The entrepreneur claimed that Kobe "wasn't happy with Nike's marketing and promotion commitment to Kobe's line."

"The sales of his shoes were anemic, and he blamed Nike," Pishevar wrote. "He retained tight control because he didn't trust Nike's judgment in design."

In other words, Bryant — like so many other current and former athletes — craved autonomy over his personal brand. "Mamba," then, would have been an ideal exit strategy, providing the 18-time NBA All-Star an opportunity not only to control his own likeness but also to provide other athletes with a way to control theirs, too.

"It's hard to explain how big of a disruptor Mamba would have been in the sneaker industry," Benson said. "A player-owner sneaker brand? It's a revolutionary idea that what have put other major brands on their heels."

Kobe Bryant (right) and his daughter, Gianna "Gigi" Bryant.
AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Pishevar said that he went so far as to present Bryant with mock-up sneakers designed by his team to paint a picture of what "Mamba" could look like once it came to fruition. Besides sharing those designs on Twitter, Pishevar included a screenshot of his calendar entry for the December 16 meeting.

Although the January 26, 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others stopped plans for "Mamba" in their tracks, Pishevar wrote on Twitter that it's his "dream" to bring Kobe's idea to life through another enterprising NBA player.

And, as far as Benson is concerned, the company would be one of a kind.

"We've seen players start subsidiary brands under the umbrella of major companies: Jordan with Nike, Curry with Under Armor, and Wade with Li-Ning," he told Insider. "But what Kobe was trying to do seemed like a completely different business model."

"This was such big news that it's going to take time to fully unpack it and think about all of the ramifications," Benson added. "But it's such a brilliant idea and made me tear up because it's yet another reminder of what we lost on January 26, 2020. Kobe was one of one, and his best chapters were waiting to be written."

Kobe Bryant.
AP Photo/Ben Margot

Benson's book on Bryant's sneaker career — "Kobe Bryant's Sneaker History (1996-2020)" — is available for purchase on Amazon.

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