It was a day of intense and complex emotions for Kobe Bryant’s fans, friends and all others mourning the loss of the basketball star and his daughter Gianna.
Killed alongside seven others in a Calabasas, Calif., helicopter crash on Jan. 26, the father and daughter were memorialized today—Feb. 24, chosen to honor Bryant’s jersey number, 24—at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. From Michael Jordan to Shaquille O’Neal, the NBA’s greats spoke from the heart about Bryant’s impact on their lives.
Such moments are normally, wisely, avoided by brand marketers. But Nike has often proven itself capable of walking a respectful line with the sporting world’s most difficult times and emotionally charged topics. And today was no exception.
With “Mamba Forever,” Nike and agency Wieden + Kennedy revisit Bryant’s life through little more than two minutes of carefully selected audio and the bare minimum of copy. As “Forever” stays on the screen, viewers journey back through Bryant’s rise to greatness and are reminded of the many phases and accomplishments he experienced along the way.
“Philly Kid Forever” marks his early childhood and teen years in Philadelphia, while “Reggiano Forever” commemorates the years of his youth happily spent in Reggio Emilia, Italy, where his father played basketball after retiring from the NBA.
His stellar performance on the court in high school led Bryant to bypass college and go directly into the NBA draft, and from there, Nike ticks off the years of his increasingly dominant professional career as we entered a new millennium. The ad continues to mark the high moments of Bryant’s career, including representing the U.S. in the Olympics in 2008 and 2012.
But where the video’s minimalist storytelling truly shines is in the range of ways it reminds us of Bryant’s impact on others.
“Compa Forever” uses a Spanish term for “friend” to commemorate the way he was deeply admired by many in the Latino community of Los Angeles. There, he raised four black Mexican-American daughters with his wife, Vanessa Bryant—who proudly wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “Do I Look Illegal?” while attending a game against the Phoenix Suns amid 2010 debates over an Arizona bill requiring mandatory documentation.
“WNBA Forever” recalls Bryant’s vocal support of players and teams in the women’s league, along with his mentorship of women playing at the college level.
Arriving inevitably and heartbreakingly as the video nears its end are “Husband Forever” and “Daddy Forever.” The roar of a crowd chanting “Kobe” rises as “Mamba Forever” becomes the parting message.
To be clear, other brands should not try to accomplish something like this, something with such emotional resonance at a time of raw and multilayered emotions. And the reason is simple: Other brands cannot accomplish something like this.