Kobe Bryant’s retirement is going swimmingly.
He seems more genial, he is on ESPN and ABC with his own weird, adult puppet program. It’s going great.
Plus, Bryant and the team over at Nike have clearly made it a plan to embrace the legends and now-we-know-they-are-true personality traits that surround the former Los Angeles Lakers star. He’s straight up embracing it. No doubt this is a means to keep producing the Kobe shoe line, which has continued to push out models since his retirement.
At the core of this has been the phrase “Mamba Mentality” which dominated Bryant’s Musecage puppet specials. It was also the center of an ad that was pushed out on social media on Thursday in which Bryant teased new versions of his shoe.
A Tweet then followed from Bryant’s account giving out a special phone number that users could call. If you get through, it asks you to leave a message to see if you have the #MambaMentality.
That’s when the story gets even weirder.
In two tweets directed at current NBA players, Bryant challenged Isaiah Thomas to make the first All-NBA team this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He also challenged Toronto Raptors wing DeMar DeRozan to reconnect with an old friend in his hometown.
Remember: this is all to sell shoes.
It’s been a slow burn, but this has all been crackling on the fire for some time. If Kobe is going to keep selling shoes in the decades after his retirement, he’s going to need to continue to primp his legacy. The legend of Michael Jordan has only grown in the years since he retired, and Kobe needs to follow that arc. He is.
Bryant spoke in his Musecage series about folks finding what inspires them by showing his own method as the example. Now, he’s asking people if they, like him, have the “Mamba Mentality”. Kobe is trying to get people to be like him, akin to MJ’s own “I wanna be like Mike” ad from 1991. It’s perfect.
Meanwhile, the ad from Nike for the shoe itself is made of different emotions (read: colorways) that are part of said mentality.
Bryant’s clear manipulation could easily smooth over his basketball transgressions in a generation’s time, especially if he continues to use funny puppets to make singleminded obsession seem like a simple joie de vivre. The same goes for Bryant coming out everywhere talking about how he is a “storyteller”. It softens him. It’s also quite literally what brand people call themselves in the age of permission marketing.
Can he have post-playing interests? Absolutely. Should we hear about them from time to time? Probably! Bryant is an all-time great. But if you’ve ever worked in marketing, especially sports marketing, it’s obvious there’s no reason Bryant has been seemingly everywhere this year outside of branding purposes. This is a clear, real-time massaging of legacy and history from a marketing department, and it’s incredible to watch.
In the meantime, let’s get weird with it. You can call the number above and leave a message if you want.