From Kobe Inc. to Mambacita, the NBA legend’s name and impact live on as strong as ever as he reaches enshrinement in Springfield.
He retired with five championship rings, 18 All-Star appearances (and a record 17 in a row), 12 All-Defensive nods, and a reputation as one of the sports world’s preeminent closers. But when Kobe Bryant left the basketball court for the last time in 2016, the intensity never dissipated. It evolved.
He had already founded Kobe Inc. two years earlier, a central hub for his personal brand and what he hoped would one day be a broad portfolio of investments. Right away, he got busy. After all, “There’s only so many Modern Family episodes a person can watch,” the Black Mamba told ESPN.
Kobe Inc.’s first investment? $6 million in BodyArmor, good for about a 10% stake in the sports drink company.
When BodyArmor was acquired by Coca Cola in 2018, that stake was estimated to be worth $200 million. That’s a 3,233% return on investment in four years.
The Mamba always knew how to stuff the stat sheet, didn’t he?
The Kobe Corporation
Oh, and he also won an Oscar.
The Kobe-written, Kobe-narrated Dear Basketball won the 2017 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Perhaps the culmination of all his post-NBA endeavors, the seeds for that historic achievement were actually planted while Bean was still an active player.
In 2013, Bryant got into the film, television, and publishing game with the founding of Granity Studios. Before it struck Oscar gold, Granity was the production house behind Kobe Bryant’s Muse, a 2015 Showtime documentary about the fundamental narratives that shaped the icon’s career as it entered its final stage. What followed was 2017’s Musecage, a Sesame Street-experimental look inside Kobe’s mind and the creative forces that make him tick, a fittingly impressionistic companion to Dear Basketball.
Today, Vanessa Bryant serves as Granity’s CEO.
Statuette in hand, Bryant followed up with 2018’s Detail, an X’s and O’s basketball tape study that, like Musecage, ran on ESPN+ as the streaming platform expanded further into original programming.
As a businessman, Kobe didn’t just bet on himself. Alongside former Web.com CEO Jeff Stibel, he co-founded Bryant Stibel in 2013 to provide not just capital, but operational and strategic support to companies in the technology and Big Data spaces, with success stories including LegalZoom and Minted.
In 2018, Bryant co-founded Art of Sport, a skin and body care brand emphasizing the use of natural ingredients that counts James Harden and JuJu Smith-Schuster among its high-profile endorsers.
The same discerning eye that made Kobe such a ruthless sharpshooter in the clutch served him just as well in the boardroom.
Kobe’s game was as priceless as it was spellbinding. As it turns out, his likeness emblazoned on cardboard isn’t so different.
On March 6, a 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractor Kobe Bryant rookie card in BGS 10 “black label” pristine condition sold for $1,795,800 at Goldin Auctions.
One month later, as Card Ladder notes, overall Kobe trading card sales nearly surpassed the $1.5 million mark again. It’s rare that a whole week goes by without $500,000 in transactions.
Kobe cards are legitimately big business in a collectibles industry that has skyrocketed over the past year and a half. In the big picture, however, it’s quite possible that the Laker legend’s card market is actually undervalued.
Consider that he’s only five years removed from the court, he’s only just now entering the Hall of Fame, and the emerging NBA consumer market in China places special value on the No. 8 jersey he used to wear: in that part of the world, the number eight (八) traditionally represents wealth.
It’s almost too convenient. Too on-the-nose. But that’s just the way of things for a man whose ability to inspire and fascinate is unbound by language or geography.
The Mamba Brand Rises
Long known as perhaps the foremost Nike athlete outside of Michael Jordan himself, you wouldn’t have faulted Kobe if he felt like he had eventually outgrown the Swoosh. When he first signed with the brand in 2003, he was in his mid-20s and still a good few years away from becoming a league MVP and two-time Finals MVP. By the end of the aughts, he was an undisputed all-timer.
In April, when his most recent Nike contract was due to expire, Vanessa Bryant chose not to renew it, opting instead to file a series of patents that marked the beginning of a fledgling “Mamba Brand.”
It was a momentous decision, and a bet not just on the enduring power of her husband’s brand, but of her late daughter’s.
Gianna Bryant was familiarly known as Gigi, but if you ever watched her ball, you were witnessing her no-mercy alter ego: Mambacita. The particular energy that she carried with her on the hardwood recalled her famous father, and attracted more than just a few fans at the highest levels of the game.
It was known that Kobe had increasing misgivings with Nike in recent years. He reportedly felt that the company didn’t share his level of passion for creating products under his moniker that served the youth demographic, especially girls. Vanessa concurred, and has laid the foundation for a new Mamba legacy that’s bigger than just her husband.
In fact, it’s bigger than the Mamba and the Mambacita. In making moves to extend the reach of the Bryant brand that are at the same time bold, honest, and inclusive, Vanessa herself is not simply inseparable from the brand’s identity — she’s the captain of the whole thing.
As everyone from LeBron James to Steph Curry to Dwyane Wade to Luka Doncic rocks Mambacita gear, it’s clear that the Kobe Bryant brand has leveled up into a family affair. Sussing out what that means in the long view will require some reading of tea leaves (and US patent filings), but we can say a few things for sure: Kobe is more than a person. He’s more than a corporation.
Rather, his legacy in the years to come takes the form of the only team he played for that means more to him than the Los Angeles Lakers or Lower Merion High School.