After death, Kobe Inc lives on in Los Angeles and far beyond

Despite the NBA star’s untimely passing in a fiery chopper crash, Bryant’s business and investment legacy survives.

Kobe Bryant Killed In Helicopter Crash In Calabasas Hills
A makeshift memorial is shown outside Mamba Sports Academy for former NBA great Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna, 13 [Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images/AFP]

With his tragic death on Sunday in a helicopter accident 30 miles (48km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, 41-year-old basketball great Kobe Bryant left behind a wife and three surviving daughters.

Beyond the die-hard fans of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the wider world of sports, Bryant’s influence extends across the United States and the world through music, film and other arenas.

“Kobe was different,” David Carter, a sports business expert at the University of Southern California, told Al Jazeera. 

Bryant in many ways exceeded the norm for a hoops hero who lands cushy sponsorships and signs onto new financial ventures in youthful retirement. He was a consummate businessman and an “influencer” before the word was part of the modern lexicon. 

Kobe paved the way for tech investments by other athletes, creating a template for what to do with sports fortunes. Basketball legends LeBron James and Stephen Curry are among those who followed this model.

“The precedent he set is one based on doing the hard work and diligence necessary to not only understand the issues and opportunities around tech, but also by surrounding himself with the right colleagues and partners,” Carter told Al Jazeera.

“His desire to learn and build strategic relationships separated him from the pack,” he added.

‘Cornerstone of his legacy’

After hanging up his jersey in 2016, the deceased Los Angeles Lakers star dedicated much of his time to new business opportunities, investing and coaching founders of companies.

In 2016, along with venture capitalist Jeff Stibel, Bryant started a $100m technology investment fund called Bryant Stibel – after making a few initial investments before then.

The firm has big positions in Dell and Alibaba, as well as stakes in around two dozen early-stage tech companies.

Portfolio ventures include online startup LegalZoom, software developer Epic Games, Bluetooth tracker Tile, athlete blog The Players’ Tribune and marriage site Minted. Among other investments are companies that focus on digital payments, skincare and baby goods.

“This will be the cornerstone of his legacy and the example he set for both current and retired NBA stars,” said Marcus Collins, codirector of the Yaffe Digital Media Initiative at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M Ross School of Business.

“There is a professional life outside of basketball but achievement requires sacrifice and commitment,” Collins told Al Jazeera.

Bryant Stibel has an estimated $2bn in assets across the tech and media industries.

Kobe also made $194m off a $6m investment in drink maker BodyArmor, as Coca-Cola purchased a significant stake in the Gatorade rival.

He was the founder of Granity Studios, which now has 15 full-time employees. His passion for creative storytelling through film, television and children’s books led to an Academy Award for the short narrative film Dear Basketball, which was developed through Granity.

In addition, Bryant created Detail, an exclusive show for the ESPN+ streaming app that was instrumental in attracting millions of paid subscribers.

In 2018 he launched the Mamba Sports Academy for teaching Californian youth the game of basketball and inspiring young athletes. That’s where he was headed on Sunday when his helicopter crashed in foggy conditions.

‘Immeasurable impact’

Kobe earned $323m in playing salary from the NBA over the years, as well as $357m in corporate endorsements – totaling $680m.

In 2015, a Forbes magazine article said this was the most ever earned by a team athlete during his playing years. Only three individual athletes – golfer Tiger Woods, racecar driver Michael Schumacher and boxer Floyd Mayweather – surpassed that sum.

The endorsement money from Nike and others – including McDonald’s, Nintendo and Turkish Airlines – well exceeded the sum from his day job. Bryant signed up with the sportswear and sneaker giant in 2003, the same year that LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony inked deals with the Portland-based corporation.

Nike has released many lines of Kobe shoes, and the star went on stage at the company’s annual investor meeting in 2017 to talk about business strategy.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Miami Heat
Miami Heat forward Bam Adebayo wears Nike sneakers with a written tribute to Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna ‘Gigi’ Bryant [Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters]

“Along with millions of athletes and fans throughout the world, we are devastated,” said a condolence statement from the company.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to those closest to Kobe, especially his family and friends,” it said. “He was one of the greatest athletes of his generation and he has had an immeasurable impact.”

Reluctant to profit from Kobe’s death, Nike and others have pulled his items from their catalogues this week.

During his record-setting career as one of the league’s early global phenomena, Bryant was also key to boosting the NBA’s long-term business prospects in China.

In 2016, Kobe ranked as ESPN’s most popular athlete in China – largely paving the way for lucrative endorsements that many other NBA players have received from Chinese companies.

Bryant spent much of his own childhood in Italy – where he became fluent in Italian – and his untimely death has also left a gaping hole for his fans in Europe

Source: Al Jazeera