Earlier this week, Vanessa Bryant revealed in a series of social media posts that she was blindsided upon seeing an image of a shoe she helped design, a black and white “Mamba Forever” special edition of the Nike Kobe 6 Protro, from her late husband Kobe Bryant’s signature series with the brand.
The specific colorway in question, featuring subtle gold accents throughout, was created as a tribute to her daughter, Gianna.
“It was going to be called the MAMBACITA shoe as an exclusive black and white colorway on her daddy’s shoes,” she wrote in one post. “I picked the colors in honor of her uniform, the number 2 she wore just like her uniform, the inside pattern, Kobe and Gigi on the back in gold instead of Kobe’s signature, the inside shoe details (butterfly, wings, halo), etc.”
The sneakers, designed in conjunction with Nike nearly a year ago in 2020, were originally slated for a Summer 2021 release, before being placed on indefinite hold earlier this spring once Vanessa and the Kobe Bryant Estate elected not to renew its contract with Nike.
The heel counter features the names “Kobe” and “Gigi” on opposite shoes, along with the “Mamba M” logo that the Kobe Bryant Estate fully owns the rights to. The Kobe Bryant Estate has also filed for trademarks in the footwear and clothing sector for additional terms like “Mambacita,” “Mamba League,” “Lil’ Mambas,” “Kobe Bryant,” “Play Gigi’s Way” and others.
The shoes, created after the Jan. 26, 2020, helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other passengers, were intended by Vanessa to raise funds for the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation and to support youth girls sports initiatives.
“The MAMBACITA shoes are NOT approved for sale,” she continued. “I wanted it to be sold to honor my daughter with ALL of the proceeds benefiting our @mambamambacitasports foundation but I did not re-sign the Nike contract and decided not to sell these shoes. (The MAMBACITA shoes were not approved to be made in the first place). Nike has NOT sent any of these pairs to me and my girls. I do not know how someone else has their hands on shoes I designed in honor of my daughter, Gigi and we don’t. I hope these shoes did not get sold. @nike”
The confusion around the potential release of the shoes stems from a variety of calendar quirks surrounding the footwear manufacturing timeline, detailed contract clauses heading into the expiration window, and a crucial shipping error both to and from a UK-based official Nike retailer.
The shoes were in fact not officially released as, according to sources, Nike does not plan to release the shoes until if and when a new agreement is reached with Vanessa and the Kobe Bryant Estate.
Nike was not available for comment when contacted by ESPN for an official statement. Contacted for further comment, Vanessa Bryant was unavailable, busy celebrating her daughter Natalia’s high school graduation this weekend.
The original Kobe Bryant endorsement extension contract with Nike was a 5-year agreement beginning on the date of the Lakers star’s final NBA game in 2016, and expiring on April 13, 2021.
The “Mamba Forever” Kobe shoes, designed nearly a year ago, were put into production at a Nike factory in Vietnam between the dates of “10/28/20 – 01/13/21,” as printed on a series of Kobe 6 Protro tag labels. That timeline is well in advance of the contract’s April, 2021 expiration date and with the anticipation of a Summer 2021 release, until the stalled contract talks in April halted those plans.
Typically, sneaker samples in specific colorways of future retail launches are created in size 9 around a year in advance and receive “final confirmation sign-off” around eight months in advance, allowing a window for subtle tweaks to be made to details and execution before going into production.
The Initial Production Week, or IPW, is then scheduled to begin at the brand’s factory partners in Asia anywhere from five to eight months in advance of a release date, with production for a full run of pairs requiring a span of a couple months to be completed.
For signature sneakers that also require an endorsement contract between a partner and the brand, a clause deep in every contract provides the company the ability to place a sneaker into production in advance of an expiration date, if retail orders have already been placed against the design to be fulfilled, and still sell the shoe after a contract has expired.
Though rare, there are some instances in which this has happened in the industry, such as when John Wall’s Adidas JWall 2 sneaker was released at retail during the fall of 2015, after his contract with the company had expired that October.
While the Bryant contract expired in April, another colorway of the Kobe 6 did recently release overseas in May, with an expected June 11th stateside launch date. The white, black and del sol yellow design was dubbed the “Playoff Pack” edition a decade ago, and is an original colorway worn by Bryant during the tail end of the 2010-2011 season.
The “POP” colorway has largely been expected to be the last Nike Kobe release for the foreseeable future, while contract negotiations continue. The shoe’s coding label includes an “11/11/20 – 01/30/21” production run timeline at a Nike factory in Vietnam – also well within Bryant’s prior contract’s active window.
On April 23rd, ten days after the contract had expired, Vanessa Bryant posted her pair of white “POP” 6s with the caption “2 More Drops.”
Vanessa Bryant says there will be “2 more drops” of Kobe releases. pic.twitter.com/fJA9zraPPg
— Nick DePaula (@NickDePaula) April 24, 2021
Less than a month later, a gleaming gold and purple Kobe 5 Protro was released during the week of the delayed 2020 Hall of Fame ceremony in mid-May, 2021. The shoes had been originally created over a year ago and planned to release during the fall of 2020, then were delayed in tandem with the Hall of Fame’s new 2021 date, at which Vanessa spoke during the induction ceremony on behalf of her late husband.
Days before the recent Hall of Fame ceremony, images of the “Mamba Forever” Kobe 6 first leaked on May 12th. User @Brandon1an posted product shots of the black and white sneakers clearly showing the “Gigi” and “Kobe” heel text and jersey #2, also revealing a once-planned Summer 2021 launch timeline and $180 price point.
In the last month, a series of shipping mistakes has led to the current confusion and a small number of consumers in England acquiring the “Mamba Forever” edition of the Kobe 6. Vanessa has specified that she and her daughters do not yet have pairs of the shoes.
Footpatrol London, a leading UK-based sneaker boutique, mistakenly received several “cases” of the “Mamba Forever” Kobe 6 over a month ago. Typically, cases of sneakers are sent to retailers weeks ahead of a release, in boxes containing 12 pairs.
The shipment was supposed to have included the white “POP” colorway, which Footpatrol was prepared to sell in mid-May through a common raffle system. The “POP” style code is CW2190-100, while the “Mamba Forever” style code is CW2190-002.
The retailer mistakenly then sent the pairs of “Mamba Forever” sneakers to raffle winners. Upon realizing the mistake, the store contacted customers through email with the following message:
“We regret to inform you that due to unforeseen circumstances, an error was made on your order for the Nike Kobe VI Protro, causing an incorrect item to be shipped to you.
If you wish to return the item, please feel free to do so free of charge via the returns label found in your parcel.
Please accept our apologies, Thanks
It is believed that none of the sneakers were actually returned to Footpatrol, as customers immediately realized what had instead arrived. Footpatrol did not respond to a request for comment, and has not acknowledged the mishap on social media.
Miles Lomas, a 22 year-old British sneaker collector, immediately tried to get his hands on a pair once he realized the shipping mistake that had taken place in mid-May. It was Lomas’ image, on his @Milo_Sneakz Instagram page, that went viral this week, eventually being seen by Vanessa Bryant and shared alongside her text image statement in a two-photo album post on Instagram.
At one point, Vanessa’s post had more than 9,500 comments from users largely criticizing Nike, under the impression that the shoes had been released. The comments have since been turned off and are no longer visible.
Bryant also posted a screen shot to her Instagram Story of a user’s comment specifying that Footpatrol London had shipped the wrong shoe to raffle winning customers by accident. She called attention to the comment by circling it in pink and drawing a question mark next to it.
“I didn’t win the Footpatrol raffle,” Lomas clarified to ESPN in a phone conversation. “Somebody won the Footpatrol raffle, and I saw people posting about it in UK buying and selling groups. I paid £420 [around $600 USD] three weeks ago on my pair. I knew something wasn’t right. Obviously, when Gigi’s name is on it, and the fact that Vanessa owns all the trademarks for the logo on the back, I thought something wasn’t right. I thought, ‘I better buy a pair.'”
He confirmed the tag label on the “Mamba Forever” sneaker in his possession has a November, 2020 production date. After acquiring his pair, Lomas facilitated the purchase of another pair for a buyer in the US for $900. A former footwear retail worker himself, he believes as many as two or three cases of the shoes were mistakenly sent to Footpatrol, leading to a few dozen pairs now mistakenly in the hands of customers, though not intended by Nike to be released.
With the shoes beginning to sparsely circulate online on sneaker marketplaces, Milwaukee Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton acquired and wore a pair during the sweep-clinching Game 4 of the team’s first round series against the Miami Heat on May 29th.
“I don’t really understand why it was my image that has caused such absolute havoc,” said Lomas, also bringing up the under-the-radar sighting on Middleton. “I scrolled down Instagram and I saw my right hand in seven out of fifteen posts [in a row.]”
A huge NBA basketball fan, Lomas has collected Kobe Bryant sneakers for several years and traveled to the US to attend NBA games in person, even catching a Laker game in Brooklyn toward the end of Bryant’s career. His brother’s son was named “Kobe” in 2019 as a tribute to the Lakers star, just before Bryant’s passing.
Upon seeing Vanessa’s post, in which she mentions not yet receiving the shoes herself, Lomas said he direct messaged her and offered to send his pair, though she has not yet viewed or responded to the message.
“I just wanted people to know they were out there. I did feel sorry for Vanessa,” he said. “I’d happily send my pair to her.”
Since May 14th, 51 pairs of the “Mamba Forever” colorway have been sold on sneaker resell marketplace StockX, with prices initially hovering around $1,000 and immediately spiking after Vanessa Bryant’s post on June 3rd. A size 10 pair most recently sold for $3,300.
As of Friday afternoon, there were 26 pairs listed in sizes 8-13, priced at a range of $7,500 – $15,000. Some pairs were listed for as high as $141,274 and $100,000.
Shortly before 8 PM EST on June 4th, StockX removed all listings of the sneakers.
Marketplace app GOAT does not currently have any listings of the shoes, restricting users from creating a sell page for that specific colorway, though dozens of other Kobe 6 colorways have active listings. eBay is actively removing listings of just the “Mamba Forever” colorway.
As it stands, according to brand sources, there continue to be no plans to officially release the “Mamba Forever” colorway of the Kobe 6. Though thousands of pairs have already been produced, the shoes are indefinitely on hold, and will only release if and when a new contract agreement is reached with the Kobe Bryant Estate.
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.
Michael Malone on Denver Nuggets’ 0-3 hole
Even after seeing his team fall into an 0-3 hole during a 116-102 Game 3 loss to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals on Friday night, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone remains hopeful that his team will not have its season ended by a sweep on Sunday.
“I know for myself, I can’t speak for anyone else, the last thing I want to see is the Phoenix Suns pushing a broom across our court after Game 4,” Malone said. “We have had a tremendous season, tremendous. I said going into this year you can’t judge a season by the end result. We got to the Western Conference finals last year, certain things can happen, but we can have a better season this year but not get as far.
“But the one thing I don’t want is for us to go out just quietly into that good night. I hope we show some real fight and resolve and force that series to go back to Phoenix for a Game 5.”
Malone garnered attention after Denver’s Game 2 loss when he said he felt his team “quit” while getting manhandled by the Suns in the second half for the second game in a row.
He seemed more pleased with his team’s effort after Game 3, taking solace in the fact that his young group dug itself out of a 3-1 hole twice during last season’s bubble playoffs.
“As far as the 3-0 deficit, yes, history is not on our side,” Malone said. “But you know what? We have re-written history the last couple of years. When we were down 3-1 twice last year, it was never about trying to win three more games. It was about winning the next game, winning the first quarter, winning the second quarter and that’s got to be our mindset.”
The Nuggets also need to find a stronger resolve as it pertains to guarding All-Star Chris Paul, who has been torching the Nuggets all series. That continued Friday, when Paul had 27 points, eight assists and six rebounds in 37 minutes.
Paul’s stabilizing presence has been a huge reason why the Suns are a game away from ending Denver’s season. He has scored 30 points on 12-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-4 from 3-point range, with eight assists and no turnovers combined in the three fourth quarters in this series, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
“We just got to make it more difficult on him,” Nuggets guard Monte Morris said. “He’s a Hall of Fame point guard, top five easily, still playing in the NBA. … He’s getting everybody involved. CP is a tough cover for anybody, but we have to just stick to our game plan and try to execute it the best way we can.
Morris added: “S—, it’s 3-0. We got to all lay it out there. We ain’t got nothing to lose. But we’re definitely not trying to get swept going into the offseason on our home court. That feeling wouldn’t sit well.”
About the only feeling that did sit well for the Nuggets centered around center Nikola Jokic, who received his MVP trophy before Friday’s game and then went out and scored 32 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and dished out 10 assists. Jokic joined Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to ever have 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a playoff game, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
“It was a special moment,” Jokic said. “I enjoyed the moment. I wish that my wife could be here and my parents. I had my teammates behind me because — this is my trophy but it’s because of all of them. So I need to thank them.”
If Jokic and the Nuggets were to lose Sunday’s Game 4, he would become just the fifth MVP in league history to be swept out of a playoff series, joining Magic Johnson (1989 finals), Moses Malone (1979 first round), Abdul-Jabbar (1977 conference finals), Wes Unseld (1969 conference semifinals), according to ESPN Stats and Information.
“We’ve experienced one [closeout game] already,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “Knowing those guys aren’t going to give up. They’ve got the MVP of the league over there, they’re well coached by Mike Malone and they’ve got some players that play very hard. Nobody ever wants their season to end, so we know they’re going to give it their shot and we’re prepared for that.”
Malone said he is hoping against hope that his team will be able to right itself before it’s too late.
“My only hope is that we haven’t let go of the rope because of what history tells us,” Malone said. “My only hope is that come Sunday afternoon/evening, whenever that game is, our guys show up and fight. I think they deserve it, their teammates deserve that, and our fans deserve that, to go out there and leave it all on the line and you can walk off the floor with your head held high.”
ESPN’s Royce Young contributed to this report.
2021 NBA playoffs – Joel Embiid and Philadelphia 76ers show how far they’ve come in win over Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks‘ double-teams came early and often, with help defenders behind them lying in wait. Such is the attention that Philadelphia 76ers center and MVP finalist Joel Embiid demands when he’s working down low.
With less room to operate in Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals, Embiid was limited to 14 field goal attempts, along with six shots that resulted in a trip to the free throw line — a drastic reduction from his 21 shots in Game 1 and 25 in Game 2. Despite the smaller diet, Embiid maintained his dominance and efficiency in the Sixers’ 127-111 win.
Embiid’s production was vital to Philadelphia’s attack on Friday night, but his versatility as an offensive player paced the Sixers to arguably their most impressive performance this postseason. A primary reason Embiid didn’t equal his output of attempts in Game 3? He was finding teammates out of the Hawks’ double-teams. On three occasions, he hit the Sixers’ perimeter players for clean 3-pointers. Embiid racked up eight assists, his most since an April 19 regular-season loss to the Golden State Warriors.
“I’ve come a long way,” Embiid said. “But, I feel like this year the game just slowed down for me. The way I see the floor is completely different than previous years … I just try to make the best play possible. Even if I got to get a shot up myself, there’s so many ways I can do it.”
As the biggest body on the floor, Embiid provided the screens and rubs that fueled the Sixers’ aggressive attack. All night long, the Hawks found themselves pancaked by picks from Embiid. As a result, the Atlanta defense spent much of the night scrambling.
Joel Embiid denies Onyeka Okongwu on one end, then comes back and grabs the offensive rebound for the dunk on the other.
“It was like a downhill game tonight for us, where they were turning the corner on those screens with Embiid and [Ben] Simmons, and basically just playing in our paint,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “We’ve got to do a better job of giving help, being up on the screens — but the guards have to get through those screens.”
Remarkably, Embiid has done it all with a meniscus tear in his right knee, an injury he suffered in Game 4 of Philadelphia’s first-round series against the Washington Wizards. Embiid is receiving steady treatment on the knee, as he forges ahead in the postseason.
“Playing with a torn meniscus is not easy,” Embiid said. “Pain is going to be there. You just got to manage it. Tonight, rolling on my ankle, and falling on my back, it’s tough. But, it’s the playoffs, I can’t complain. I’m here to play. I’ve said in the past, whatever I can do, I’m gonna give it the best I got. Even if I’m playing injured, I still got to do my job. That’s why they pay me, and I want to win the championship.”
As heavy a load as Embiid carries for the Sixers, he received some welcome help from the supporting cast on Friday night.
The Sixers’ starting lineup has posted an eye-popping net rating of 39 per 100 possessions better than the competition. Outside of that unit, Philadelphia has struggled — a minus-1.9 in 231 minutes, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. In Game 3, the Sixers’ reserves shined. Backup shooting guard Furkan Korkmaz drained a trio of 3-pointers — two of them courtesy of kickouts from Embiid. Korkmaz finished with 14 points in 27 minutes, and a game-high plus-24.
“Tonight, Furk was balling,” Sixers forward Tobias Harris said. “That’s the thing with the playoffs and the beauty of the playoffs, being on a team like ours — it could be a different guy every night who brings that added effort. You saw in the first half Furk got hot out there, got his swag and his confidence shooting the 3 out there and made a big 3 in the fourth quarter. You love to see it.”
Korkmaz wasn’t alone. The Sixers ran 11 deep in Game 3, each member of the bench contributing key minutes. In just his second season, Matisse Thybulle has emerged as a premier defensive stopper, and took on the task of guarding Trae Young for significant stretches. Shake Milton, who as recently as Game 1 fell out of coach Doc Rivers’ rotation, has been reborn as a microwave off the bench. Dwight Howard mans the inside and patrols the glass for the Sixers when Embiid is off the floor, while George Hill offers a steady veteran hand to the second unit.
This is a welcome development, because depth hasn’t been a strong suit of the Sixers in recent seasons. Their bench’s shooting has been erratic, the defense a measurable fall-off from the starting unit’s stalwart half-court and transition effort, and the flow has often been gummy. The consequence has been added pressure on Embiid.
The deeper the Sixers advance into summer, the more essential reliable production from the reserves will be. With Danny Green’s prognosis uncertain, the Sixers will have to tap the second unit for a stand-in.
This incarnation of the Sixers is one of the more unorthodox contenders remaining. In an NBA dominated by the high pick-and-roll and 3-pointers, they rely on the league’s most dominant post player and a unicorn of a 6-foot-10 point guard who doesn’t shoot. Their supporting cast is an assortment of imperfect players who have a speciality or two, yet are far from complete.
Yet, here are the Sixers, working their strengths and filling their roles. As Embiid says, they’ve come a long way — which is encouraging, because they still have a long way to go.
Ben Simmons goes on attack after half to lead Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3 rout
Philadelphia 76ers wing Ben Simmons had his hands full on defense in the first half of Friday’s eventual 127-111 win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Trying to keep up with Hawks star Trae Young is no simple assignment.
But with the Sixers clinging to a five-point lead at the break, and Simmons scoring just four points up to that point — matching his point total from Game 2 — Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers challenged him to do more.
“We just thought he passed up too many opportunities — in the fastbreak, at the post. And so we told him we were going to come out and feature him on the post,” Rivers said of Simmons. “And he was great for us. It’s exactly what we need. With his pace and power, it was great.”
Simmons scored 11 of his 18 points in the third and added three of his seven assists. Philadelphia, playing on the road, outscored Atlanta by 15 in the quarter, starting off 8-for-8 as a team after halftime. Simmons and fellow Sixers star Joel Embiid scored or assisted on 30 of Philly’s 34 points in the period.
“That was definitely the quarter they were able to get their momentum and get separation,” said Young, who still scored a game-high 28 points on 9-for-17 shooting and dished eight assists.
According to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information, Simmons ended the possession guarding Young 42 out of 85 plays.
“It’s exhausting when you think about what we’re asking Ben to do: follow Trae Young around, follow him around screens and push the ball up the floor with pace,” Rivers said. “That’s all we talked about at halftime when one of my coaches reminded me that he was guarding Trae when I was yelling at him about pace.
“He said, ‘He is guarding Trae, too.’ So, it’s tough. But he’s young, he has endurance, so it’s been good for us.”
When asked afterward about Rivers’ halftime directive, Simmons tried to stifle a satisfied smile.
“I was just trying to push the pace, get in the lanes, find my guys and stay aggressive. Get to the rim,” he said. “I think I did a good job of that, that second half.”
It was Simmons’ first game since Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was named Defensive Player of the Year, but he seemed to shrug off his second-place finish, much the same way Embiid breezed past coming in second for MVP.
“Congrats to Rudy. I mean, it is what it is,” Simmons said. “I’m not really concerned about individual awards. I want the championship. So that’s my goal. Honestly, the goal is never Defensive Player of the Year. It’s just to go out there and do my job and try to be the best defender in the league, regardless of the awards.
“But the ultimate goal is a championship. And that’s why I got to do my job at a high level.”
Embiid finished with 27 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, becoming just the second 76ers player in franchise history to average 35 points and 10 rebounds over a three-game playoff span, after Wilt Chamberlain, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Much like Rivers, Embiid encouraged Simmons to take over because of the way Atlanta was shadowing him with Clint Capela all the way up the floor and then frequently sending double teams in his direction.
“I just told him, ‘You need to be aggressive and you need to attack, because there’s a lot of space. Especially with the way they’re guarding me,'” Embiid said. “So I told him to just be aggressive and just go out there and just dominate.”
Simmons made sure Embiid stayed in the mix, of course, finding the All-Star big man with the prettiest play of the night: an over-the-shoulder alley-oop he threw to a cutting Embiid midway through the third quarter to put Philly up 16.
“We’ve been playing together for so long that we know each other,” Embiid said. “He knows me, he knows where I need the ball and I also know how I can get him open. So it was a good pass, and I just did my best to finish it.”
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