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On Wednesday night at Staples Center, emotions will be at an alltime high when Kobe Bryant steps onto the court one final time. After 20 years, Bryant is completing a prolific and successful career that includes 18 All-Star Game appearances, five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, an MVP award and a No. 3 finish on the all-time scoring list—a solid resume that seats him at the table with two of his idols in Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Just like Magic and Michael, Bryant has built a global brand that stretches beyond the game of basketball.
Bryant entered the NBA with perfect credentials to become a marketing juggernaut. He miraculously ended up on the Lakers after the Hornets decided to trade his rights for Vlade Divac. He boasted a confidence and a talent that was reminiscent of Jordan. He had a Colgate smile like Magic. He was more vocal than Penny Hardaway and more flashy than Grant Hill, two peers who had outstanding success off the court prior to injuries.
While this season was not a perfect ending for a player of Bryant’s caliber, his marketability was the one bright spot for the dysfunctional Lakers. Trying to get a ticket Wednesday? Good luck—the lowest ticket price on Stubhub as of Monday was $610, for a seat in the upper corner near the arena’s balcony.
According to Forbes’s Kurt Badenhausen, Bryant will retire as the alltime earning leader in NBA history at $680 million, with $350 million coming from endorsements.
As we continue to honor Bryant, we decided to look back at 10 of his most iconic advertisements.
adidas: ‘The Kobe 2’ commercial
Bryant’s name will forever be linked to Jordan’s, whether on the court or off it. When Nike fired long-time marketing guru Sonny Vaccaro (the man who signed Jordan to his first shoe deal), he landed at adidas. At the time, the three-striped brand was not a factor in the U.S. basketball market and wanted Vaccaro to use his resources to find the “next Michael Jordan”. Long story short, adidas ultimately landed Bryant out of high school on a multimillion-dollar contract with a promise of a signature shoe—a deal which was unheard of at the time for a kid coming out of high school. This is perhaps Bryant’s most popular adidas commercial, one that created a huge debate at the time about whether some of the dunks were real or not.
Sprite: Kobe Bryant vs. Tim Duncan
This commercial just screams ‘90s. Before Bryant and Duncan piled up all of their accolades and championships, the soda brand pitted the two in this memorable 1998 ad. Missy Elliott raps while both guys duel it out on the court. I am all in for a rendition of this commercial with Bryant and Duncan at their current age.
One of Bryant’s biggest endorsements was with McDonald’s in 2001, but the commercial just doesn’t make sense. What athlete would be eating a Big Mac in full uniform in the locker room prior to a game?
Nike: ‘Love me or Hate me’
When Bryant’s adidas contract expired, he became one of the most coveted sneaker free agents in basketball. He would ultimately sign with Nike, but his first televised ad with the brand wouldn’t debut until 2 1/2 years later, the reason being that Bryant’s image took a major hit after he was accused of sexual assault in Colorado. The commercial features him working out as he narrates all the reasons you may hate him, which are the same reasons others love him. It marked Bryant’s first steps toward becoming favorable again in the public eye.
Nike: ‘Most Valuable Puppets’
The Kobe–LeBron James debate reached its peak during the late 2000s. Both players could claim to be the face of basketball, and the world was waiting on a potential NBA Finals matchup. While we know now that matchup never happened, Nike created an ad series to hype up the debate with the “MVP: Most Valuable Puppets” campaign. The two puppets, voiced by Kenan Thompson (LeBron) and David Alan Grier (Kobe), taunt each other about their accolades throughout the series. The ads were reminiscent of the Nike “Lil Penny” commercials in the ‘90s and received millions of views.
Nike: The Black Mamba film
Talk about an epic and star-studded cast for a commercial. In 2011, Nike collaborated with film director Robert Rodriguez to create “The Black Mamba Film” in preparation for the release of the Nike Zoom Kobe VI. The ad shows Rodriguez’s pitch to Bryant about making a movie revolving around his alter ego, the Black Mamba. As Rodriguez makes his pitch, we have the opportunity to visualize how the film plays out. It features Bryant facing off against some monstrous competitors, with cameos from Danny Trejo, Bruce Willis and Kanye West.
Guitar Hero World Tour
Alex Rodriguez, Michael Phelps, Kobe Bryant and Tony Hawk paying homage to Tom Cruise’s famous scene in Risky Business. Need I say more?
Nike: ‘The Kobe System’
In another star-studded advertisement, Nike makes Kobe the ultimate life coach in a room with many of the most accomplished business, entertainment and sports leaders in the world. Bryant challenges a group that features Richard Branson, Kanye West, Aziz Ansari and even motivational speaker Tony Robbins to go beyond their success and find more success when they think they have reached their peak.
Nike: ‘All Together Now’
With Bryant in pursuit of his fifth NBA championship, Nike put together a highlight montage featuring many other Nike athletes celebrating his chase. Andre 3000 lends his voice to a rendition of the Beatles’ “All Together Now”, which makes the commercial stand out more.
Turkish Airlines: ‘Kobe vs. Messi: The Selfie Shootout’
While Turkish Airlines might not represent a buzz-worthy endorsement to some, the brand put two of the most recognizable athletes on the planet in one ad. Bryant and soccer superstar Lionel Messi compete in an epic selfie showdown around the world. In celebration of YouTube’s 10-year anniversary, the commercial won a fan vote for the ad of the decade, and it has amassed over 144 million views on YouTube overall. Bryant is no stranger to making appearances in global campaigns with soccer stars, having also been in Nike’s ‘Write the Future’ and ‘Risk Everything’ ads.
Nike and Apple released ads in preparation of Kobe’s retirement. Check them out below:
‘Don’t Love me. Hate me’