In a blow to Nike's superstar lineup of brand ambassadors, Nike's partnership with basketball legend Kobe Bryant has ended, the athletics retailer confirmed to Retail Dive via email.
"Kobe Bryant was an important part of Nike's deep connection to consumers. He pushed us and made everyone around him better," Nike said via email. "Though our contractual relationship has ended, he remains a deeply loved member of the Nike family."
According to reporting by ESPN, Kobe Bryant's widow Vanessa Bryant elected not to renew the partnership in part because an extension offer Nike made was not in line with the lifetime partnerships offered to the likes of Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
After almost two decades of working with Kobe Bryant and, upon his death in 2020, with his estate, Nike's partnership with the iconic basketball player has ended.
The athletics retailer first signed Kobe Bryant in 2003, after the Lakers star paid $8 million to get out of a deal with Adidas. He made a host of popular shoes with Nike, including the Nike Kobe series, and starred in Nike commercials over the years.
Upon his death in 2020, Nike paid tribute to the basketball star with a campaign in his honor encouraging all to take inspiration from Kobe Bryant to be better.
While it's unclear exactly what will happen with Kobe Bryant's estate going forward, Vanessa Bryant told ESPN the aim was to always allow his fans to find his products, which could suggest a partnership with another athletics retailer in the future.
Celebrity partnerships have been a huge part of Nike's marketing strategy, and the retailer has some of the biggest stars in athletics, including Serena Williams, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. The Jordan brand alone has become a powerhouse for Nike, recording its first billion-dollar quarter in 2019.
The company has become famous for its iconic marketing campaigns with top celebrities, including one released in support of Colin Kaepernick amid controversy around his protesting during football games, and another taking aim at how women are viewed in sports, voiced by Serena Williams. Nike also released an ad supporting equality in sports in the wake of the U.S. Women's National Team taking home gold at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.