Nike Honors Kobe Bryant’s Legacy and the Mamba Mentality in Powerful New Ad

Spot kicks off the brand’s celebration of ‘Mamba Week’ on NBA star’s birthday

Nike kicks off 'Mamba Week' with Kobe Bryant tribute film. Nike

This NBA season has been one of the more challenging ones in recent memory, and not just because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Late last year, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for Hong Kong protesters, incensing the Chinese government. The move cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars

On Jan. 1, David Stern, the beloved former commissioner of the NBA widely credited with transforming the league into the multibillion-dollar colossus it is today, died from complications of a brain hemorrhage. Then, the league sustained another tragedy: the death of Kobe Bryant in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash that killed the five-time NBA champion, his daughter Gianna and seven others.

Bryant was an outsize presence during his playing days, and his impact continued after he left the sport. He poured himself into creative, leadership and business endeavors. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for “Dear Basketball,” created the Mamba League for youth in the Los Angeles area and continued to develop his brand line with long-standing partner Nike, which memorialized Bryant in February.

Earlier this month, Nike committed to furthering Bryant’s legacy, honoring him with “Mamba Week.” Starting today, on what would have been Bryant’s 42nd birthday, the brand kicked off a week of programming and product offerings with a powerful 90-second film from Wieden + Kennedy.

The spot, narrated by Kendrick Lamar, is another pitch-perfect tribute, not just to Bryant, but to what he stood for—specifically, the “Mamba Mentality.” Bryant was highly competitive and famously pushed himself and others to be better, a theme Lamar expresses beautifully in his delivery. 

As expected, there are references to sports, interspersed with some of Nike’s top athletes, long a staple of Nike and W+K. But the film’s nods to social justice—outspoken athletes like Richard Sherman and Megan Rapinoe are in the ad—leadership and unity are relevant and equally powerful. 

A short stanza focused on being a better father may be the standout. Bryant had four daughters and took great pride in being a “girl dad.” His dedication to women’s sports, especially his support of the WNBA and the next generation of stars like the New York Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu, further solidified a desire to instill greatness in as many people as possible. 

WNBA stars like Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi feature in the film, as does Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma, whom Bryant’s daughter dreamed of playing for in college. 

Kicking off Mamba Week, Ionescu, a graduate of Oregon’s Master’s in Advertising and Brand Responsibility and commencement speaker for the university this year, will have a YouTube Live conversation with WNBA legend Lisa Leslie. The pair will discuss the “Mamba Mentality” and Bryant’s impact on growing youth sports, especially for women.

The Nike Foundation is also donating $1 million to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which is dedicated to kids in underserved communities facing financial barriers to sports and providing equal sports opportunities for girls.

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.