Kobe Bryant and Nike's nearly two-decade relationship has come to an end after the late NBA star’s estate and the brand failed to agree on an extension to their deal. The termination also means the end of a storied advertising run that included a number of standout marketing moves. Here, we look back at some of the best.
A look back at Kobe Bryant and Nike's best ad moments
Bryant was beloved globally, but in China his star shone particularly intensely. Nike's marketing with him there included the “House of Mamba,” launched in Shanghai in 2014. The full-size interactive basketball court paid homage to Bryant while serving as a training tool for young players. The effort, created out of AKQA, went on to win four Gold Lions at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity.
Nike stuck with Bryant following a 2003 sexual assault scandal that led to his being dropped by a number of other major sponsors (charges were later dismissed). At the time, Bryant adopted the nickname “Black Mamba,” a move inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill,” in which the name was used as code for “deadly assassin.” The name stuck and went on to anchor a number of Nike campaigns, including a 2011 blockbuster short film directed by Tarantino collaborator Robert Rodriguez. The nearly six-minute ad from Wieden+Kennedy Portland promoted Nike's Zoom Kobe VI and saw Rodriguez and the NBA star developing a thriller in which Bryant's “Black Mamba” alter ego battles a trio of villains played by Danny Trejo, Bruce Willis and Kanye West.
Brand tributes to Kobe Bryant poured in after the NBA vet announced his retirement. Nike created perhaps one of the most memorable, casting Bryant in the role of a conductor who turns his haters' vitriol into a gorgeous symphony.
After Bryant’s death, his legacy lived on in Nike ads. During Kobe Bryant’s memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles last year, the brand debuted this spare, typography-driven tribute recounting the stages of Bryant’s life: The single word “Forever” appeared as copy changed around it: “Philly Kid Forever ... Lower Merion Forever (recalling his famed high school years) ... Laker Forever.” Sound clips from his games and accomplishments complemented the visuals.
On what would have been Bryant’s 42nd birthday, Nike introduced “Mamba Week” in his honor, kicking it off with a rousing, emotional homage, narrated by Kendrick Lamar, from Wieden+Kennedy. It illustrated how Bryant’s relentless devotion to his sport served as an inspiration to all to be better in myriad ways. The event coincided with Nike’s first drop of Bryant’s signature sneakers and jerseys since his death. The campaign also included “Mamba Mentality” workout challenges and videos featuring other sports stars dubbed as “Mamba Mentors.”
Last September, Nike China honored Bryant in a gorgeous, animated film that echoed the NBA star’s Oscar-winning short “Dear Basketball.” It begins with a splotch of ink that gradually morphs into Bryant himself before recounting moments that endeared the NBA great to his fans. The narration mirrors that of Bryant’s own film but instead starts with the phrase “Dear Kobe” and becomes a love letter to him.