Sneakers get leaked or released too early all the time; it’s part of sneaker culture and what makes the hunt for dope kicks so exciting. So hearing that a shoe not approved for retail got into the hands of a consumer is nothing new—unless it’s a posthumous Kobe Bryant shoe marked not for sale by his estate.
Now that’s something spicy and different.
This is why Vanessa Bryant immediately voiced her displeasure on social media after seeing the Kobe 6 Protro Mamba Forever, aka “Mambacita,” in the hands of a consumer. Not just because the shoe was released after Kobe’s death, as there were shoes already scheduled to release posthumously, but because Kobe’s contract with Nike expired in April 2021, and Vanessa asserts this shoe was not included in his deal for sale.
So the retailer messed up by sending the wrong shoe, but the real question is this: How does a shoe not meant for sale end up at a retailer?
Furthermore, the shoe was intimately designed by Vanessa and included tributes to both her husband and her daughter, Gigi, who also died in the 2020 helicopter crash. Details like the number 2, Gigi’s jersey number, the black-and-white colorway for Gigi’s team colors, and the inside of the shoe featuring wings, a halo, and a butterfly were all unique to this leaked version of the Kobe 6 Protro.
In an Instagram post, Vanessa says the Mambacita sneakers were not approved to be made and not approved for sale. She goes on to state that Nike had not sent any of the shoes to her or her daughters. So the question remains: How the hell does something like this happen?
When I saw this news, I immediately thought of the Beyoncé moment of “Somebody’s getting fired!” But as the day progressed, I realized there was more nuance to it all.
Images of the Mambacita shoe were actually posted on Sneaker News and other shoe sites less than a month ago with no comment from Vanessa about it not being approved for sale or production.
Also, StockX has records of the first Kobe 6 Protro Mamba Forever shoe being sold on May 14 for $912.
Vanessa likely didn’t see these posts or StockX sales when they happened in May, or else one would expect her to have been just as upset then.
According to Nice Kicks, the shoe causing the recent Bryant family disappointment was released accidentally by London retailer Footpatrol via a raffle. Sneaker raffles are common in the sneaker ecosystem. They work this way: You enter to win, and if your name is selected, you are charged for the purchase, and the shoe is shipped to you. The issue with the Kobe raffle is that it was for a completely different version of the Kobe Protro. Sneaker News claims the raffle was supposed to be for the Kobe 5 Protro Hall of Fame, and Nice Kicks says it was supposed to be the Kobe 6 Protro Playoff Pack Del Sol. It makes more sense for the latter since the Kobe 5 box is easily distinguishable from the Kobe 6.
Either way, the Kobe 6 Mambacita was not supposed to be sent in the raffle. The retailer received both the correct raffle shoe and the Mambacita and then, allegedly, accidentally sent Mambacita kicks to some raffle winners. Hence they ended up on resale sites like StockX, with high price tags—up to $3,483 at 3:07 p.m. ET on June 3.
So the retailer messed up by sending the wrong shoe, but the real question is this: How does a shoe not meant for sale end up at a retailer? Also, if the shoe was never supposed to be made, according to Vanessa, how does it end up on sneakers sites in early May and on the feet of an NBA player?
Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks rocked the Mambacitas in a playoff game against the Miami Heat on May 29, 2021.
Middleton is part of a group of players that routinely wears Kobe shoes in-game and said to ESPN in October 2020 that he is on the Kobe player exclusive line. NBA players Devin Booker, P.J. Tucker, DeMar DeRozan, and Buddy Hield created their own player exclusive colorways of the Kobe Protro to carry on Bryant’s legacy, per ESPN.
Leaked merchandise, unconsented product, and raffle mix-ups — either this was the perfect storm for Murphy’s law, or someone isn’t telling the whole truth. There are more holes in this plot than Tyler Perry’s Acrimony. (But really how did Taraji P. Henson get on that boat?)
My thoughts are if Vanessa submitted design details for the shoe months after Kobe’s death, it’s likely that many were already in production without her knowing, and the expiration of the contract halted them from being sold. NBA players like Middleton got first dibs on them since they are tied to the brand. If players get them, then somehow exclusive people always get them, which explains the pair sold on StockX in early May. Insert a shipping mix-up in a raffle, and you have our current situation.
So what does this mean for the sneaker community? Sneakerheads are going through some unprecedented times right now with a superstar player with a signature line retiring then unexpectedly dying less than five years later. Every superstar who has ever had a signature shoe is still alive, including the biggest one, Michael Jordan. Sneakerheads truly don’t know what to do.
Some are buying every Kobe shoe they see and stashing it in their collection. Others are reselling them for 100% or more profit, and then their greed is being shamed by a large faction of the community. There’s also a faction that believes no Kobe shoes should ever be made or sold again.
All of this comes on the heels of even more posthumous confusion involving Nike, Vanessa, and Kobe’s shoe. Per ESPN, “Bryant and the estate had grown frustrated with Nike limiting the availability of Kobe products during his retirement and after his January 2020 death in a helicopter crash. There was also frustration with the lack of availability of Kobe footwear in kids’ sizes.”
Shortly after Nike’s contract with Kobe expired, Vanessa made a statement on Instagram stories saying, “My hope will always be to allow Kobe’s fans to get and wear his products. I will continue to fight for that. Kobe’s products sell out in seconds. That says everything.”
Sneakerheads are having an identity crisis right now, wondering if people are in it for profit, for culture, or both. Simultaneously, we are dealing with the death of an international icon whose Mamba mentality was something many of us tried to emulate in aspects of our lives. Whether it’s by yelling “Kobe” when we toss socks into the laundry basket, practicing our craft to beat the next person, or by rocking his kicks with our dopest fits, we try to channel our inner Mamba. That said, none of that matters if the family continues to be traumatized or disrespected along the way. Here’s hoping that never happens again.
Adena Jones is the CEO and co-founder of Another Lane, a community for sneaker enthusiasts.