Do you remember Alicia Keys’ “Unbreakable”?
Built around a sample of Eddie Kendricks’ breezy 1977 hit “Intimate Friends,” Keys invokes just about every famous Black couple in the history of ever—Will and Jada, Oprah and Stedman; even Flo and James Evans—as a point of reference to reaffirm the fact that her own rapport with her beau is eternal.
After defecting from Adidas in 2003, I always assumed Kobe Bryant and Nike shared a similar love story. But according to Insider, tweets from venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar, whose business interests include co-founding Virgin Hyperloop and pouring money into thriving businesses like Uber and Airbnb, indicate that apparently couldn’t be further from the truth.
If you let Pishevar tell it, despite the success of Kobe’s signature shoe line with Nike, the five-time NBA champ had big plans to disrupt the entire industry by creating his own sneaker company, Mamba, that would revolutionize the game by deploying a business model in which players did the unthinkable: retain ownership.
“I met with Kobe Bryant in late December 2019,” Pishevar began on Twitter. “Kobe wasn’t happy with Nike and was going to leave it in 2020. Kobe was going to start Mamba, a shoe company owned by players. He passed away weeks later. What he was about to do in business was going to eclipse his sports career.”
The serial entrepreneur then pulled out receipts, including mock-up designs of potential sneakers and a screenshot of the reminder in his calendar.
When asked why in the hell the future Hall of Famer would dip from Nike when he was essentially the face of the company, Pishevar had an answer for that, too.
“He wasn’t happy with Nike’s marketing and promotion commitment to Kobe’s line,” Pishevar tweeted. “And the sales of his shoes were anemic and he blamed Nike. He retained tight control because he didn’t trust Nike’s judgment in design.”
That sound you hear is Hypebeast Twitter imploding.
And for any traumatized individuals doubting the validity of Pishevar’s claims, Pat Benson, author of Kobe Bryant’s Sneaker History (1996-2020), confirmed to Insider that the odds of this bitter divorce coming into fruition were “very likely.”
“It’s shocking because Kobe was Nike’s golden goose and habitually toed the company line,” Benson told Insider. “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.”
Uhhh...so how should we expect Nike to react to this news getting out?
“It’s certainly going to make things awkward with Nike in the future,” Benson continued. “But it adds to the beautiful complexity of Kobe. Always pushing the envelope.”
Among his peers and the current crop of athletes, the 18-time All-Star was universally revered. So imagine what kind of influence he would’ve had in defecting from Nike and encouraging others to follow suit.
“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 [would] have put other major brands on their heels.
“This was such big news that it’s going to take time to fully unpack it and think about all of the ramifications. 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 definitely had much more to contribute to the world, and hopefully, we’ll continue to hear stories about his ambitions and aspirations in the coming years.