Dear Basketball: Kobe Bryant’s retirement is the end of a sports marketing era

On Sunday night, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant officially announced that, after 20 years spent on NBA courts in the Lakers kit, he will play his last NBA game on 13 April against Utah.

Making the ground shake in the same way as Michael Jordan did when he retired the first, second and third time, Bryant announced his retirement in the same way he took to the court – graceful and majestic.

“Some of you took me in. Some of you didn’t. But all of you helped me to become the layer and man in front you today… My love for this city, this team and for each of you will never fade. Thank you for this incredible journey. 

(An extract of the Kobe Bryant poem entitled “Dear Basketball” that was dropped onto each Staples Center seat before the game this weekend)

Whether or not you’re a Bryant, a LeBron or a Jordan fan, the NBA will lose a true NBA legend. A five-time NBA Champion (two-time NBA Finals MVP), one NBA MVP in 2008, selected a whopping 17 times for the NBA All-Star Games , third on the NBA all-time scorers list and two Olympic Gold Medals with Team USA and that was just a glimpse at his career.

However, Kobe Bryant was not only a giant on the court, the man who became known as the “Black Mamba” became one of the most bankable players of the game and only second of all time to Michael Jordan.

According to Forbes, Bryant will retire with a record US$680 million in career earnings, against US$465 million for Jordan. The only athletes who have earned more are Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods and Floyd Mayweather, all in individual sports. On top of earning an incredible amount on the court during his time at the top, Bryant was one of the top brand ambassadors of his time in any sport.

From Adidas in the 90’s to Turkish Airlines with Lionel Messi, we trace the Kobe Bryant career as brand leader, a sports marketing giant.


Adidas was the first brand to sign Bryant in 1996 on a six year contract worth about US$50 million – and this was before his NBA career actually started. Already as a rookie, Kobe was in high demand as he was signed by a number of brands including; Coca-Cola to represent their Sprite drink, McDonalds (below), Spalding, Ferrero’s brand Nutella (above) and Nintendo with who he launched his own video game.

Due to a few off-court issues in 2003, some brands didn’t continue their journey with Bryant. However, the year was one of the most important for his business career after signing a partnership with sporting giant Nike – a five year contract worth a reported US$10 million per year.

That partnership has stretched into 2015 with Kobe still a Nike ambassador after the launch of a number shoes as well as a number of sportswear lines. It’s fair to say that they’re pretty popular too with his shoe sales achieving US$105 million in 2014 in the US alone.

His partnership with Nike was highlighted in 2008 with Nike’s Hyperdunk promotion. In a video, Kobe jumped over a speeding Aston Martin (obviously fake) and, making the most of the rapidly evolving technology, Nike managed to create huge buzz around the video reaching six million views on YouTube. It is known as one of the most memorable basketball-related videos in the past two decades

In the last six years, “brand Kobe” has exploded after launching a luxury line of watches named “Black Mamba” with Nubeo in 2009 and also appearing in a number of video game commercials including Call of Duty: Black Ops and Guitar Hero World Tour.

In 2010, Bryant signed a deal with Turkish Airlines in which he did a number of promotional films alongside Lionel Messi that were broadcast across the world. Together, these two ads collected more than 250 million views on YouTube. Check out below “the Selfie Shootout” where Bryant and Messi surfed on the selfie trend in December 2013.

Despite Bryant’s performances dipping toward the latter stages of his career, his marketability hasn’t been higher after signing contracts with Lenovo in 2013 and Hublot this year.

The Chinese market has fallen in love with “brand Kobe” on the back of annual tours to China during the summer to promote basketball in Asia with Nike and Sprite. And since Yao Ming retired from basketball, Kobe’s jersey has become the NBA’s best-seller in China.


Becoming a sports icon in China, Bryant has recently completed several deals with Chinese companies, most notably Mercedes-Benz’ Smart Car and Alibaba.

Forbes suggested that Bryant has earned more than US$350 million off the court during his career which equals more than half of his career earnings. Hats off to a brilliant career Kobe. You’ll be missed on and off the court.

To see Kobe Bryant’s whole retirement poem, please click here

About author

Adrien Danjou
Adrien Danjou 140 posts

Adrien is a Digital Marketing Manager in France and a Digital Sport lover. Follow him on Twitter: @Adrien_DH

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