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Vanessa Bryant questions Nike over apparent leaked release of “Mambacita” shoe honoring late daughter Gianna

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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.”

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

TEAM FP”

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.



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Five big takeaways from Game 3 of Jazz-Clippers

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Facing the possibility of going down 3-0 to the top-seeded Utah Jazz, the fourth-seeded LA Clippers played their best basketball of the series on Saturday in a 132-106 win in Game 3.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George led the way for the Clippers, as both stars eclipsed the 30-point mark in the postseason for the second time in their careers as teammates. LA is now 2-0 in those games. Donovan Mitchell had a team-high 30 points for the Jazz, his 14th career 30-point game in just 30 postseason contests, but exited midway through the fourth quarter after aggravating an ankle injury.

Can the Clippers keep it rolling in Game 4? Will the Jazz have a healthy backcourt to employ on Monday? Here are five things we gleaned from Game 3.

MORE: Matchups, schedules and full NBA playoffs coverage

Playoff P showed up on Saturday

Over the past several years, no one has taken more abuse for their playoff failures than Paul George. Time after time, he and his teams have fallen flat in the postseason, and George’s play — and his words — have been dissected to an endless degree.

Saturday night, though, was a reminder of why the Clippers went through the trouble to pair George with Kawhi Leonard two years ago — and why Leonard himself wanted to play alongside him.

George finished Game 3 with 31 points and five assists while going 6-for-10 from 3-point range — the kind of efficient offensive performance the Clippers desperately needed to get themselves back into this Western Conference semifinal, and one George needed to try and change the impression the basketball world has of him.

It’s been forgotten that, during his time with the Indiana Pacers, George had some massive playoff moments. But those have been overshadowed by the failures since then — from the first-round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, when Damian Lillard ended the series with a bomb over him from nearly half court, to last year’s collapse against the Denver Nuggets, when George fired a 3-pointer off the side of the backboard during the Clippers’ Game 7 loss. His “Playoff P” moniker has become the subject of an endless series of jokes as a result.

If he and the Clippers can dig themselves out of this hole, however, it will give George a chance to rewrite the narrative that’s sprung up around him. As my colleague Brian Windhorst is fond of saying, “Winning a championship means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Saturday night’s explosion put he and the Clippers one step closer to doing so. — Tim Bontemps


The Clippers find ways to attack Gobert

As good as Donovan Mitchell was for Utah in the first two games, Rudy Gobert‘s impact at both ends was nearly as important. The Jazz were plus-19 in Gobert’s 69 minutes of action and outscored by 10 in the other 27 minutes in Salt Lake City. That changed Saturday, when Utah was a minus-16 with Gobert on the court — similar to the plus-minus for the team’s other starters.

After going big in Game 2 with Ivica Zubac starting at center, the Clippers went back to their small starting lineup without a traditional center. That forced Gobert to defend a shooter on the perimeter, allowing the Clippers to attack without him as close to the basket. And unlike Game 1 — when they also started out-playing smallball — the Clippers avoided getting mashed on the offensive glass by the Jazz, who corralled just 22.5% of available offensive rebounds.

The result was a 44-32 edge in points in the paint for the Clippers, who shot 55% (22-of-40) on those attempts while Utah struggled to finish in the paint, going 16-of-35 (46%). — Kevin Pelton


Kawhi is still the best two-way player in the game

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Kawhi Leonard takes matters into his own hands as he makes his way to the basket and skies to vandalize the rim on a powerful throwdown.

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Kawhi Leonard takes matters into his own hands as he makes his way to the basket and skies to vandalize the rim on a powerful throwdown.

You knew Kawhi Leonard would be the best player on the court for at least one game this series.

For the Clippers to have any hope of advancing, it had to happen in Game 3. As he repeatedly did with LA in dire situations during the first round, Leonard rose to the occasion.

Credit to Paul George for making Leonard’s status as the biggest star of the Clippers’ win Saturday debatable. George had his best offensive performance of this postseason with 31 points, but Leonard’s extra-large fingerprints were all over the victory.

Leonard dominated with his strength, toughness and athleticism. He scored 34 points on 14-of-24 shooting, with more than half of his buckets coming in the paint. He grabbed 12 rebounds, several of the go-up-and-get-it-in-traffic variety. He was the Clippers’ most impactful defender, guarding Donovan Mitchell during much of the Jazz star’s scoreless first quarter and wreaking havoc as a help defender on many occasions.

You figured a two-time NBA Finals MVP wouldn’t go down without a fight. Leonard landed a haymaker on Saturday night. — Tim MacMahon


The Jazz need Mike Conley Jr.

Donovan Mitchell’s heroics in the first two games served as a great coverup, but the Jazz have been missing Mike Conley Jr. When Spida is off the floor, Conley is often tasked with running the offense and creating good looks for non-Mitchell teammates.

In the first two games of the series, Jazz players not named Mitchell shot just 38% from the field (46-for-121). Conley is the only other starter that can create a good look for himself, and without him, the offense is too one-dimensional. The Clippers were eventually going to adjust to the Jazz’s offensive schemes, and did so in Game 3.

With Mitchell having seemingly tweaked his previously injured ankle multiple times in this series, Conley’s offensive creation is even more vital if Mitchell were to slow in any way. — Andre Snellings


Reggie Jackson, the X-factor

When the Clippers were rounding out the pieces on the roster to complement their two stars, they probably didn’t exactly expect Reggie Jackson to become a deadeye spot-up shooter and critical third scorer.

But as this series progresses, Jackson’s importance is becoming obvious. Not only is he a shot creator and shot maker, he’s the spacer and pressure release that can open avenues for Leonard and George. Jackson’s late shot clock ability to either drive the lane or hit a difficult step-back are the kind of bailouts that playoff wins are often built on.

Against a team like the Jazz, that moves the ball dynamically, balances their scoring and hits barrages of 3s, relying on a two-headed attack wasn’t ever going to be enough. But if Jackson is going to consistently provide the kind of production of a pseudo third start, suddenly the Clippers start looking like the super team they were assumed to be. – Royce Young

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Paul George sets tone with bounce-back effort as LA Clippers rout Utah Jazz in needed Game 3 win

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LOS ANGELES — Paul George used a cross-over dribble to move to his left before drilling a rainbow step-back 3-pointer over Royce O’Neale and letting out a scream.

After hearing Jazz fans chant “overrated” at him for two games in Utah, an aggressive George had his best game of the playoffs, scoring 20 of his 31 points in the first half to set a much-needed tone for the LA Clippers on Saturday night. Kawhi Leonard then scored 24 of his 34 points in the second half to help the Clippers rout the Utah Jazz, 132-106, and get their first win of this Western Conference semifinal series.

George’s first 30-point game since April 23 came when the Clippers needed it to keep their title hopes alive. The Clippers now can even the series at 2-2 with a win Monday night in Game 4.

George found his rhythm and got hot, burying 6 of 10 3-pointers, four coming in the first half while playing with even more confidence on his home floor. After he hit the step-back 3 over O’Neale, George buried a 32-foot 3 and held his follow-through pose with confidence as the Clippers opened a 57-41 lead with 2:54 remaining in the first half. The Jazz never got any closer than eight in the third quarter.

“Oh, we’re a different team,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said of when George has his offense going early. “We know that. It’s been like that all season long. He’s been great. You know, he had one bad game, whatever, but people going to have bad games.”

George scored 20 points in Game 1 but Utah fans badgered him whenever they could as he shot 4-for-17 in Game 1. In Game 2, George scored 27 points and shot 8-for-18, but Jazz fans love taunting him dating back to when George was with Oklahoma City and the Thunder played Utah in the 2018 playoffs. George also has seen his fair share of Joe Ingles defending him, as the two have had their back-and-forth.

When asked what his relationship is with Ingles, George said, “I don’t care about him. Next question.”

For the Clippers, there is no question how good they can be when George and Leonard shift their games to another level like they did on Saturday. Not only did they combine to make 26 of 48 shots but they also took the challenge of slowing down Donovan Mitchell.

While Mitchell finished with 30 points before tweaking his sore right ankle, he was held scoreless for the first 16 minutes and 26 seconds of the game. After contesting 71% of his field goal attempts in the first two Jazz wins, the Clippers contested all but one of Mitchell’s 24 shots in Game 3, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“We just made an emphasis that he’s not going to beat us tonight,” George said of Mitchell, who played just four minutes and 55 seconds in the fourth quarter to rest his ankle with the game out of hand. “We’re going to force everybody else to play and we’re just not going to let him walk into shots tonight and get the looks that he wanted early tonight.”

Lue challenged his team to defend Mitchell better 1-on-1 but the Clippers also sent some doubles at the Jazz’ scorer, who scored 45 and 37 points in Games 1 and 2.

Mitchell did not score when defended by George on two shots and scored four of his points when guarded by Leonard.

After losing the first two games of first round at Staples Center against Dallas before winning the next two on the road to even the series, the Clippers will try to rebound from their second straight 0-2 deficit at home. No team in NBA playoff history has ever successfully overcome a 2-0 deficit and win multiple times in the same postseason.

They’ll take the momentum of their most decisive win of the playoffs and Leonard and George playing one of their best games together into a critical Game 4. The Clippers improved to 5-0 in the regular season and playoffs when their two All-Stars score 30 points or more each in a game together.

“With our two guys, we know that they are two of the best in the league,” Lue said. “I don’t go to Mastro’s [restaurant] to order the ketchup. I go to order the steak. And tonight, our guys were steak. That’s what we need.”

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Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell exits with ankle pain, says he’ll be ready for Game 4

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Utah Jazz star guard Donovan Mitchell exited Saturday’s 132-106 Game 3 loss to the LA Clippers because of pain in his right ankle, but the decision for him not to return was due to the lopsided score.

“I feel like I was able to go back, but no need to risk it down 16, 18 at that point,” Mitchell said. “I’ll be fine.”

A right ankle sprain sidelined Mitchell for the final 16 games of the regular season and the Jazz’s playoff opener, when he was angered by the Utah medical staff’s decision to make him a late scratch.

Mitchell has averaged 32.3 points per game during the playoffs, including 30 point on 11-of-24 shooting in Game 3, despite dealing with persistent pain in the ankle.

“It’s when I land,” Mitchell said. “It’s been just trying to manage it. I don’t really know what else to tell you; I don’t want to say too much. It was just the landing, but I’m good. I’ll be ready for Game 4.”

Mitchell limped off the court after a driving layup attempt with 7 minutes, 5 seconds remaining. He briefly went into the tunnel before returning to the Jazz bench.

With the game slipping away from the Jazz, Mitchell had a conversation with coach Quin Snyder. He did not return to the game, although the Utah medical staff had cleared him to return.

“He’s in good shape,” Snyder said. “He could have gone back in the game, but at that point, the lead had stretched. In fact, while we were talking, I think Kawhi hit a 3. That was my decision not to put him back in at that point. The game had gotten away from us at that point, but he’s fine.”

In the final moments of the game, Mitchell sat on the bench with his right shoe off and ice on the ankle.

“Obviously, it’s not going to be 100 percent, but you go out there and you try to compete,” Mitchell said. “Things like this are going to happen. You just got to find ways to manage it and get out there and get ready. It’s not going to be perfect, but it is what it is.”

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