Vanessa Bryant Announces Nike Kobe Partnership With 6 NCAA Basketball Teams

(Lead image via Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE via Getty Images)

After announcing the University of Kentucky as the first school to join the Nike “Mamba Program,” Vanessa Bryant reveals that 5 additional NCAA basketball teams have been selected to be apart of the elite roster. In addition to the Kentucky Wildcats, the program will now include the UConn Huskies, Oregon Ducks, LSU Tigers, USC Trojans, and Duke Blue Devils.


The latest schools to be added to the Mamba program have already been under contract with Nike and could potentially be rocking co-branded Nike Kobe jerseys during the 2023-24 college basketball season.

Nike will support all the division 1 student-athletes from the select schools with exclusive sneakers and apparel connected to the Nike Kobe brand, as well as the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation.

Created in the loving memory of Kobe and Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to uplifting underserved athletes through funding and sports programming. The foundation upholds Kobe and Gigi’s vision of a world where young boys and girls have equal opportunity in sports and life.

All of the select universities have connections to Kobe and the Bryant family, exemplifying the Mamba ethos that basketball is deeper than the game.

Vanessa and Natalia Bryant formerly gifted Kentucky coach John Calipari with the Nike Kobe 4 Protro “Mambacita,” as well as a jersey made in Gigi’s honor.

Before that, Vanessa hooked up the entire LSU women’s basketball team with the Nike Kobe 6 Protro “Grinch” during the Tigers’ National Championship run.

Natalia Bryant is a USC student herself, so of course it made sense that the Trojans would rep the Mamba brand in Los Angeles.

Before their fatal accident in January 2020, Kobe and Gigi would frequent games at the University of Oregon as Gigi was a big fan of Kobe protegee Sabrina Ionescu, who played for the Ducks and has since gone on to play in the WNBA, and launch her own signature Nike Sabrina 1.

While Kobe never was an NCAA baller himself, the Mamba revealed that had he gone to college, he would’ve played for Duke because former coach Mike Krzyzewski wouldn’t stop pursuing Bryant to play for the Blue Devils.

“I love coach K and coach K is phenomenal, but I gotta say, the truth has to come out,” said Kobe in a 2013 interview with Jimmy Kimmel. “I love Duke, but Dean Smith sent me a letter and actually said that he was going to stop recruiting me because he believed that I was going to go pro. If I had to make a decision, I would have probably would have wound up going to Carolina because of the competition.”

As a member of Team USA, Kobe continued to cultivate his relationship with coach Krzyzewski, who led the team to gold in 2008 and 2012.

Kobe was also close with UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, who spoke at Kobe and Gigi’s celebration of life in 2020.

With the advancement of the NCAA Mamba Program, the future of the Nike Kobe line continues to seem promising. The Kobe Bryant estate, led by Vanessa Bryant, agreed to move forward with the partnership in May 2022 after uncertainty following Kobe’s death.

Since then, Nike has released the Nike Kobe 6 Protro “Mambacita Sweet 16” and the Nike Kobe 4 Protro “Mambacita” in remembrance of Gigi, with the latest Nike Kobe 8 Protro “Halo” made to honor the life and legacy of Kobe Bryant.

Heading into 2024, a growing list of Protros will be offered including the Nike Kobe 4 Protro “Bicoastal,” the Nike Kobe 6 Protro “Italian Camo,” and the Nike Kobe 8 Protro “Venice Beach” already in the works.

For more sneaker news and release dates, follow @NiceKicks on Instagram.

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