Almost all N.B.A. players are endorsed by one sneaker company or another. But only a handful have lines of shoes named after them, fewer have popular lines that sell tens or hundreds of millions of dollars worth of merchandise annually and even fewer stay popular in retirement. In the 1990s, a handful of W.N.B.A. stars had shoe deals, including Sheryl Swoopes, who was the first female athlete to have a signature basketball sneaker.
Nike clearly believed that Bryant’s appeal extended into retirement, signing him to a new five-year agreement on the day of his final N.B.A. game: April 13, 2016. Bryant played his final season in the Kobe 11s, the 11th edition of his sneaker line. After his retirement, Nike released a new line of sneakers styled as Kobe A.D., or anno Domini, the Latin phrase that means “in the year of the Lord.”
Nike’s Jordan brand, and its continued release of Air Jordan sneakers, remains quite popular, but as everyday fashion shoes; N.B.A. players rarely wear Air Jordans during games these days. Bryant attempted to buck that trend in retirement, with Nike releasing Bryant “protro” shoes: retro Bryant shoes updated with modern professional performance features.
While they were popular with basketball players, Bryant’s sneakers were not always the most popular off the court, worn with jeans or sweats.
Before Bryant’s death, the market for his shoes was fairly niche, said Chad Jones, the co-founder of Another Lane, a marketplace for sneaker collectors. “Performance wise, a lot of performance athletes loved Kobe shoes, but fashion wise is really the predictor for how well it will sell to the masses,” Jones said.
Nike did not sign Bryant to what is effectively a lifetime contract, like it has done with Jordan and James, raising questions about how much continued value it saw in his name. The Kobe shoes N.B.A. players wore were often limited editions or unique colors that average consumers could not buy, partly explaining why their popularity on the court did not necessarily translate to popularity on the street.