In 2016, Kobe Bryant hung up his boots, ending his glorious 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Leading the Lakers in his final game over the Utah Jazz by 101-96 – scoring 60 points of his own, Bryant continues to serve with great showmanship down to the very last minute. The only player in NBA history to play for the same team for 20 seasons, we hate to see him go. His sneaker game, however, isn’t bidding adieu just as yet. Beginning his career with Adidas – fresh out of high school, he jumped ship to Nike in 2003; and in 2014, already had a top-selling signature shoe alongside the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. So far, there have been 12 signature shoes from the Black Mamba, but the question is : what will be the fate of his sneaker legacy, and how will it compare to the benchmark Air Jordan legacy?
Is the Air Jordan sneaker legacy even beatable?
Six-time champion and NBA hall-of-famer Michael Jordan has an aspirational sneaker legacy. Over a decade past his retirement and several millions later, the Jordan brand shows no signs of slowing down. In 2014, the former Chicago Bulls SG earned more money selling shoes than in his entire NBA career. Jordan himself confessed to USA Today that his sneaker legacy would quite possibly outlive his contribution to professional basketball.
Retro Air Jordans are important to Nike’s revenue, having remained super-popular over the years, and the Air Jordan brand registering double-digit growth since its launch in 1985. The demand for vintage and limited edition Air Jordans has also remained unwaveringly strong. Reports suggest that Air Jordans account for one in every three dollars spent purchasing sneakers on eBay. The ones that fly the fastest off shelves are Jordan XI, Jordan V and Jordan IV.
Imagine a situation where an Air Jordan Original Legacy collection would hit the market, perhaps something celebrating key moments in the player’s career. It would go head to head with the Air Jordan retro collection, sparking off the kind of extreme interest that you would only imagine someone of Michael Jordan’s and Nike’s caliber to generate.
Meanwhile, Jordan Brand release dates for 2017 have been announced : the 13 Hyper Pink will be in stores January 28 for $140. The 6 Retro Black Cat arrives at the end of this month, while the 11 Heiress – originally released in 1996 – was launched on the 17th of December.
Can Bryant challenge the Jordan Brand?
The good news for Kobe’s signature shoe is that they have been selling well over the years. Though they haven’t been experimental on the design front, they have been welcomed by sneaker fans. The Kobe A.D – his 12th signature sneaker – is available in multiple colorways, and heralds a new beginning for the Kobe brand. Nike seems interested in creating the same allure around Kobe’s sneakers as it has done for Jordan. In a reciprocal acknowledgment this year, the Air Jordan IX was engineered in the LA Lakers’ team colors as a homage to Bryant, while Kobe also received the full line of Air Jordans in Lakers colors as a retirement gift from Nike.
Something that has always worked in Bryant’s favor is his attention to detail towards the performance aspect of his signature sneakers. Nike has incorporated his specific requests to create all-round excellent sneakers that are uniquely Kobe. Alongside the technical and hardware innovations he has helped introduce, the designs have been inspired by some of the most compelling features of the basketball star’s life. What Bryant can do – and should do post-retirement – is continue with the same approach, focusing on innovation and what he does best instead of mimicking the Jordan brand. Like Bryant’s irrepressible personality, his sneaker legacy has a great opportunity to rival Jordan’s, and he’s only just starting out.