Is It the End of the ‘Just Do It’ Era?
The Bryant Family has let Kobe Bryant's deal with Nike lapse and other athletes have moved on.
On Saturday, May 15, Vanessa Bryant helped to induct her late husband, Kobe Bryant into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Bryant has become the steward of the NBA great’s legacy. A woman who until her husband and daughter’s deaths over a year ago generally stayed out of the spotlight has taken up the family mantel in order to remember them.
The Bryant Family’s most recent initiative includes the MAMBACITA clothing line of tie-dyed sweats designed in partnership with a female-run brand called DANNIJO. Named in honor of her daughter Gianna’s nickname, they are being sold in support of the Mamba and Mambacita Foundation’s initiatives for young women in sports. Vanessa Bryant posted a heartfelt message honoring her daughter and sharing the brand’s mission on social media.
While, a heartbreaking and inspiring story, a charity fashion line is nothing new. There are many clothing lines being sold to benefit foundations or worthy causes. While maybe not the most unique in its mission, the move is a powerful one.
Vanessa Bryant recently ended the Bryant Family’s partnership with Nike. There were rumors that before his death, Kobe Bryant hoped to start his own athlete-run sneaker company. While we’ll never know how accurate the rumors are, what is clear is that Vanessa Bryant wasn’t happy with the extension deal Nike presented. So they let it lapse.
Despite his long relationship with Nike, it’s reported that Kobe Bryant kept tight control over his sneaker line. He didn’t trust their design and wanted high-performance shoes. This resulted in his shoes being a favorite amongst pro-players. Bryant had other gripes with the company from the poor marketing and promotion to the lack of children’s sizes. We don’t know what will happen with Bryant’s shoes but the MAMBACITA clothing line may suggest the family is looking for a partner more in line with their values.
The Bryants aren’t the only high-profile name to recently leave Nike. In a surprising power move, Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast and maybe the greatest female athlete ever, left Nike to work with a brand dedicated to supporting values she believes in. Athleta owned by the Gap is a female-focused athleisure brand with women at the helm. The company also lists equality and sustainability as some of its core values.
Is Nike really so out of step? Well, they just might be. In 2019, a scathing video came out revealing that Nike penalized athletes for getting pregnant. They don’t have a single signature shoe by a WNBA player. It has been left to Puma to launch Breanna Stewart’s shoe, the first WNBA shoe in a decade. Not to mention a Nike track coach who has been suspended by the SafeSport organization for doping and mistreatment of athletes.
The age of “Just do it” might be be waning. It’s hard to believe for those of us who grew up with it. But when I reflect on the motto, it sounds trite, out of touch even. No we have learned one should not “just do it” if doing it means harming the planet, workers, or communities. If ‘doing it’ means perpetuating inequality or not being sustainable.
Athletes want more from their brands. They want to work with companies that are truly in line with their vision and values not giving lip service to it. By moving on to work with partner companies run by women, Biles and the Bryant family are demonstrating this.
Making money off the backs of phenomenal athletes and giving them a small cut is no longer cutting it either. Family’s like the Bryant family want to do more while athletes like Simone Biles want more control over their sponsorship opportunities and more for attaching their name to a brand. By sponsoring her post-Olympic tour Athleta is helping Biles distance herself from the scandal-plagued US Gymnastics. They are helping her define a more empowered future for herself. That’s really what leaving Nike is all about. Because these days ‘Just do it’ doesn’t sound quite so cool.