Nine days after the Los Angeles Lakers retired both of Kobe Bryant's jersey numbers, the team announced a new uniform designed by the "Black Mamba" labeled "For the City."
So what would a jersey designed by the five-time recently retired champion look like?
Of course, the print looks like the skin of a snake, as the traditionally purple and gold team reveals its second black uniform. Back in 2013, the team began down this path with its black Hollywood Nights jerseys, which were fan and player favorites. Those jerseys were also black and had gold trim, but the lettering was in the team's traditional purple color, which the team marketed as "Forum Blue."
Bryant may have ditched the "Forum Blue," for more black inside the numbers, but he kept the gold around the numbers, neck and arms and also around the waist and down the sides of the shorts. All-in-all, Bryant designing cool looking team apparel that will likely sell in droves shouldn't come as a surprise, as his personal Nike line is extremely popular around the NBA and in the stands.
As a related note, Nike took over production of the NBA's jerseys and has decided to ditch the traditional home and away jerseys. In fact, the Lakers did not wear their traditional purple road jerseys until after Thanksgiving. The shoe and apparel brand has focused on slowly revealing new jerseys for teams at different points in the season.
For the Lakers, Bryant's return to the jersey catalogue in any capacity has to lift sales. For the 2015-16 season, which was Bryant's final season with the Lakers, the team ranked no. 3 in terms of merchandise with Bryant ranking no. 3 in jersey sales.
Only one year later by June of 2017, though, the Lakers had dropped down to no. 6 in terms of merchandise behind the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, and even the San Antonio Spurs.
For 2016-2017, the Warriors had three players ranked in the top 15 in terms of jersey sales, while the Cavaliers and Bulls each featured two players on that list. At the time, the Celtics had Isaiah Thomas made the cut, while the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard ranked no. 6 in terms of player jersey sales for the 2016-17 season.
The Lakers did not have any players ranked in the top 15 in jersey sales, and one would have to go a long way back to find a year that the Lakers did not feature one of the 15 most popular NBA jerseys. One would expect it's been over two decades.
Kyrie Irving will likely keep the Celtics high on that list, and Leonard should still be a top seller for his team, while the Bulls will likely drop out with Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler no longer in Chicago.
The Lakers, frankly, haven't had a premier jersey seller since Bryant retired, and the front office's push to get an All-Star level free agent would also likely be a welcome sight for the business side of the the team. Superstar players sell merchandise and jerseys.
Rookie Lonzo Ball is undoubtedly popular, but one should note that no rookies finished in the top 15 in jersey sales in any of the past five seasons and traditionally do not make the list. Ball may be exception considering his unique popularity, but the league has yet to announce any merchandise results for 2017-18.
For now, Bryant is still the Lakers' biggest star.
So, while the team doesn't feature any All-Stars, the Lakers and Nike giving Bryant and his team design control makes a great deal of sense for all parties involved.
Even if the jerseys don't say Bryant on the back, the fact that his signature is part of the jersey design can't hurt sales. In addition, Bryant's new jerseys also come with a new line of sweatshirts that feature the "24" on the neck of the hoodie, which was recently being sported by Larry Nance Jr. in the locker room prior to the line's release. He expressed his approval verbally to NBCLA and physically by, well, wearing the gear in the locker room before a game.
Also, the t-shirts in the line prominently feature "24" in the middle of the chest, while a $90 "Hyper Elite Long Sleeve Shooter" gold warmup features "Lakers" on the back and the "24" on the left chest. Clearly, even if Bryant's name is no longer on the back of the Lakers' jerseys, the team and Nike are working hard to capitalize on his popularity, especially in the wake of his recent jersey retirement.
For the 2017-18 NBA season, the Lakers have worn white jerseys, gold jerseys, blue "MLPS" jerseys and purple jerseys. Now, Bryant's "For the City" black jerseys have been added to catalog.