To celebrate Kobe Bryant's Hall of Fame basketball career, along with its successful longtime partnership and impact on the athletic industry, Nike will launch "Mamba Week" on Sunday, Aug. 23, which would have been the Los Angeles Lakers icon's 42nd birthday.
The following day, 8/24, will celebrate both of the jersey numbers worn during Bryant's 20-year playing career. The "Mamba Week" concept follows the naming of Nike's celebration of Bryant's final NBA game, the April 13, 2016, performance at Staples Center dubbed "Mamba Day" that saw him leave the sport with a 60-point effort.
The weeklong slate of programming and product launches will mark the first time Nike has released Bryant's coveted signature sneakers or jerseys since his death in January, when Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash while en route to the Mamba Sports Academy for a basketball tournament. Nike worked in tandem with Kobe's wife, Vanessa Bryant, to finalize the "Mamba Week" strategy, according to sources.
Initially, there was internal uncertainty in the aftermath of Bryant's death surrounding the company's plans for its Kobe sneaker series, which included 11 signature models during his playing career and six additional signature models released after his retirement, along with several lower-priced team shoes.
After a series of planning meetings that spanned months, Nike has confirmed an ongoing commitment to celebrating Bryant through product releases that will ultimately benefit funding for youth sports initiatives.
"Nike will continue to release Kobe Protro shoes, allowing the millions of fans he inspired around the world to keep Bryant's legacy going," the company said. "Nike will also continue to work with the NBA to release limited quantities of Bryant's iconic Los Angeles Lakers jersey."
The "Protro" concept itself was initially a term coined by Bryant during a series of brainstorming meetings with Nike designers to discuss where his line was headed after he retired. While Michael Jordan's past sneakers have created a thriving retro sneaker business that still generates around $3 billion annually, Bryant wanted to take a different approach than just releasing each shoe as is, blending performance and retro into one strategy.
"We're always looking to build on things that we've done in the past and try to improve them. Protro is about evolution and improving on things that were," Bryant said in 2018, just before the launch of the Kobe 1 Protro. "I wanted to build a business that wasn't just based on things I have done in the past. It is important that the brand stands for performance and that everything we do is innovative. Even if we are releasing shoes from the past, they still must be built on performance."
Designers were tasked with upgrading the shoes from under the hood, utilizing modern construction technologies, shaving weight and upgrading cushioning options when possible. When the Kobe 4 Protro launched last year to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the model once again took over the NBA hardwood, and was worn by more than 104 players during the fall of 2019.
During "Mamba Week," Nike is expected to release several colorways of the Kobe 5 Protro, the sneaker worn by Bryant throughout the 2009-10 NBA season, when he won his fifth championship. One gold-accented version will feature graphics from the pairs he wore during the 2010 Finals, and a trio of collaboration colorways with L.A.-based boutique Undefeated will celebrate his upcoming Hall of Fame induction.
The brand will also be releasing Lakers jerseys featuring both his No. 8 and No. 24, with the front of the jersey celebrating the first decade of his career and his second number featured on the back.
"As a part of championing Kobe's legacy, the Nike Foundation will make a $1 million donation to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation in memory of Kobe and Gianna," the company said in a statement. "The foundation, whose mission is to make a positive impact through sports, will use these funds to further Kobe's goal of keeping kids active and putting them on a path to success in life."
A major theme of the week will be centered on celebrating Bryant's "Mamba Mentality" and the concept of having a relentless work ethic that fans of all backgrounds and regions can relate to and aspire to incorporate into their lives.
In 2018, Bryant released a book under a similar title, "The Mamba Mentality: How I Play," revealing the inspirations that drove his work ethic throughout his NBA career. Since Bryant's death, players around the league have continued to wear his sneakers and will often reference that "Mamba Mentality" as a driving force of inspiration and connecting point to Bryant's legacy.
"I asked him [how he defines Mamba Mentality] 'in the simplest terms' ... he said to me: 'Curiosity,'" said Eric Avar, Bryant's longtime Nike designer. "He said, 'The foundation for Mamba Mentality, to me, is about curiosity. You have to be curious. You have to investigate. You have to learn every aspect.'"
In many ways, Bryant applied that approach to both his career and his post-playing ambitions. Whether coaching his daughter's basketball team at the youth level, investing in a variety of tech and consumer goods companies, working toward building out a franchise of children's books or developing an animated short dubbed "Dear Basketball" that would earn him an Oscar, he set equally lofty goals for after his retirement that were matched with the dedication he applied to his NBA career.
In addition to the $1 million donation to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, Nike will also help to continue funding and operating the Mamba League, a grassroots youth league launched in 2017 by Bryant in tandem with The Boys & Girls Clubs of Los Angeles.
Initially started as a 40-team coed basketball division that spanned eight spring weeks between the traditional school team and summer AAU basketball windows, the Mamba League also pushed for an even tally of boys and girls participating, while also looking to provide female coaches with a chance to become more involved.
"The Mamba League is a fun league for kids to learn the game and have fun," Bryant said at the time. "But also, to understand the connection that the game has with life in general, and convert that into being a better son, a better daughter and a better student."
Though Bryant's August birthday typically falls during the quietest point of the NBA offseason, the league's ongoing restart and opening round of the NBA playoffs will coincidentally fall during the upcoming "Mamba Week" celebration, with several players on all 16 playoff teams expected to be wearing Kobe signature sneakers to join in on the brand's tribute.