Hail Kobe: Rousing Tributes and Rad Ads Capture Retiring NBA Star's Colorful Career

Black Mamba Goes Out With Big Marketing Bang

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Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant will close out his career of five NBA Championships and 18 All-Star titles during his final professional NBA game. Here, we've gathered some of the best tributes to the retiring basketball champ, as well as some of his most memorable appearances in adland.

This story has been updated with new work that debuted following Bryant's last game.

Nike just released what may be its final homage to Kobe, a lighthearted film in which the Lakers legend becomes a conductor who turns all his haters' spite into a delightful symphony. Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, former NBA pro Rasheed Wallace and the L.A. Clippers' Paul Pierce show off their pipes in cameos. Wieden & Kennedy Portland and Anonymous Content's Mark Romanek were behind the ad.

Nike has been going full-throttle in the days counting down to Mr. Bryant's retirement. In China, where his stardom is so intense that he's been known to move grown men to tears, the company debuted this stirring film in which the athlete directs his passionate supporters not to love him, but to hate him.

As a way of coping with the 2003 sexual assault scandal that led to his being dropped by a number of major sponsors with the exception of Nike (charges against him were later dismissed), Mr. Bryant adopted the nickname of "Black Mamba." Mr. Bryant told The New Yorker's Ben McGrath that he took it on after watching the Quentin Tarantino film "Kill Bill," in which the snake's name was used as code for "deadly assassin," a perfect description of what he wanted his game to represent. The name has stuck ever since, and Nike has dubbed April 13, his final game day, "Mamba Day." In an ad teasing the event, Nike called on some of its star athletes to show their respect for the basketball star -- whether they loved him or hated him.

A social and mobile component of the film above allows fans to create their own digital posters showing where they stand on the Kobe Love/Hate border.

Over the years Nike and Mr. Bryant have embraced his "Black Mamba" nickname wholeheartedly, and in 2011 tapped Robert Rodriguez to direct this eponymous six-minute short film promoting the Nike Zoom Kobe VI, featuring cameos from Danny Trejo, Bruce Willis and Kanye West.

In 2014, Nike and AKQA installed the "House of Mamba" in Shanghai. The full-size LED basketball court paid homage to Mr. Bryant but also served as a training tool for young players. Through LED visualization, graphics and video, the court created drills that helped players perfect their moves. The effort went on to win four Gold Lions at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

Apple's funny homage stars Kobe Bryant along with actor Michael B. Jordan, who sits with the athlete to research his role playing #24 in a biopic. The whole time, however, the Hollywood star taunts him about his age and even compares the NBA great to famous "fogey" Benjamin Button, with the help of Siri and AppleTV.

Soon after Kobe Bryant announced his retirement, along with DDB New York, he penned this letter to his fans, recognizing that throughout his career, he's played the role of both hero and villain. Hard copies of the letter were distributed before a Lakers' game last fall, some of which then showed up on eBay, listing for as much as $1,000 a pop.

Kobe Bryant's retirement letter to fans
Kobe Bryant's retirement letter to fans Credit: Kobe Inc.

Along with the letter, Kobe Inc. created this film documenting the animus the Lakers champ inspired in the fans of opposing teams. "Kobe sucks!" is the resounding refrain throughout as Mr. Bryant goads them on eagerly. The final message: "Channel the villain. Unleash the hero."

This week, the NBA also debuted a tribute page to Kobe Bryant, which revisits all 20 seasons of the Lakers star's career.

The NBA's Kobe Bryant tribute page
The NBA's Kobe Bryant tribute page Credit: NBA

Following his final game, the NBA ran a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today, thanking him for his "passion, dedication and commitment to basketball." The Player's Tribune also featured the letter online, above an ode that Bryant had written to the sport in November of last year.

A portion of the NBA's Thank You Letter to Kobe Bryant; pop out to see in full Credit: NBA

ESPN also put up a stunning visual tribute, gathering images and thoughts from photographers who have captured him over the years.

ESPN's photographic tribute to Kobe
ESPN's photographic tribute to Kobe Credit: ESPN.com

Mr. Bryant has proved to be a fierce competitor outside of sports too. Back in 2012, he and soccer star Lionel Messi began their quest to out-awesome each other for Turkish Airlines in this ad out of Alametifarika Istanbul.

The competition heated up even more the following year, when the pair had an epic "Selfie Shootout" in this Turkish Airlines ad from Crispin Porter Bogusky L.A. that went super viral.

In 2010 Mr. Bryant also showed he had game not just on the court but also on the console in "There's a Soldier in All of Us," blockbuster spot for Activision's "Call of Duty Black Ops," created out of TBWA/Chiat/Day Los Angeles.

But Mr. Bryant also has a video game of his own in 2K Sports' special "Legends" edition of NBA 2K highlighting his career. Mr. Bryant will appear on the cover of the game, which will also feature Kobe-themed memorabilia and digital content. Crispin, Porter & Bogusky created a spot promoting the title that will air during tonight's game. The ad shows how No. 24 will continue to live on in the hearts of fans and haters as they play the video game.

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