24: Kobe Bryant’s Enduring Effect On The Watch World
The Black Mamba was a game-changer on and off the court, and his influence on watch collaborations will live on.
A non-basketball obsessed friend of mine recently asked me where Kobe Bryant places in the pantheon of basketball greats. My immediate response was that Bryant was the most versatile player of my lifetime. The shooting guard started out when centers ruled the courts and rose to stardom in an era that saw the mid-range game give way to softer, faster play. No matter how the sport was played, Bryant always managed to adapt his singular talents to the changes.
This versatility applied to off-court Kobe as well, especially when it came to watches. Here, we look at some of the timepieces that were closest to Kobe Bryant’s heart.
The Nubeo Black Mamba
Bryant was an anomaly in basketball. His dad and uncle both played in the NBA, and he grew up in Italy, where his father played pro ball. Upon returning to the US, it was apparent that Bryant was exceptionally talented, and he joined the league straight out of high school.
Bryant was an outlier and an outsider when he signed up with the Lakers at 17, which made him significantly younger than the rest of the lineup. When it came to endorsements, he also refused to follow the playbook.
His first foray into luxury watches was as an investor in Nubeo — a brand created by Spanish watch and jewelry designer Ivan Castro. In 2009, Bryant and Castro collaborated on a collection of watches called Black Mamba. These timepieces were most notable for their complex and bejeweled cases. The crown itself was made with 14 components, and materials included a mix of DLC, titanium, rubber, and ceramics.
Alas, the Nubeo Black Mamba was launched in the post-2008 recession economy and never made it to market.
HUBLOT KING POWER BLACK MAMBA
Bryant was also a rarity in the NBA in that he spent his entire pro career with one team — the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was a good time for the team and Bryant. In 20 seasons he won five championships, was an 18-time All-Star, and named MVP in 2008.
After the Nubeo debacle, Bryant stayed away from watch endorsements for a while. But in 2013, he hooked up with Hublot to collaborate on the first of a series of high-end timepieces.
The series kicked off with the limited edition Hublot King Power Black Mamba. In an age when most collaborations with athletes were little more than a limited edition in a player’s team colors with their number worked into the display somehow, this watch seemed to embody Bryant’s essence. Bryant was nicknamed “Black Mamba” after the venomous African snake because the animal summed up his persona: aggressive and single-minded.
The King Power Black Mamba was a striking watch. It came in a micro-blasted black, 48mm ceramic case with a layered dial, and featured a silver-colored snake coiled around the counter at 9 o’clock. In a nod to Bryant’s speed, the timepiece was powered by a split-second chronograph movement.
HUBLOT BIG BANG UNICORN RETROGRADE CHRONOGRAPH KOBE “VINO” BRYANT
One doesn’t have a 20-year career without mellowing a little bit. In 2015, Hublot and Bryant released their second collaboration — the Big Bang UNICO Retrograde Chronograph Kobe “Vino” Bryant.
Vino is a moniker Bryant took on in later years to indicate that, like a fine wine, he was only getting better with age. And the design cues of the Big Bang Vino played off this metaphor.
It came with two straps, including one in a deep red python. The sapphire crystal caseback was green, like a wine bottle. And the rich burgundy dial had a dimpled surface, like a basketball.
The retrograde display also provided a more sophisticated interpretation of the chronograph. Perhaps the perfect distillation of both Bryant and Hublot’s unmistakable essences.
HUBLOT CLASSIC FUSION KOBE BRYANT “HeroVillain”
Kobe was a complicated man. Even his greatest fans would admit this. But even his harshest critics would concede that he always tried to face his flaws and grow from them.
By naming his last watch with Hublot “HeroVillain,” he showed this self-awareness.
This last limited edition was released in 2016, on the occasion of his retirement from the NBA. This Classic Fusion summed up so many things about the man and his legacy.
Like the Lakers, Bryant was loyal to the Hublot team. Again, it would have been easy to just release slightly tweaked versions of the Black Mamba as limited editions every two years. But the collaboration was interesting in that it explored Hublot’s collections as well as themes from Bryant’s storied career.
Working within the codes of the Classic Fusion resulted in the most elegant of the three Bryant/Hublot collaborations. And while there were plenty of nods to Bryant’s past in this 45mm black- and gold-accented ceramic watch (including a black snake appliqué on the dial), it also looked to the future with Kobe’s KOB16 logo engraved on the caseback.
Bryant was always someone who led when it came to fashion. In 2014, he was spotted touring Apple’s Cupertino campus with then Chief Design Officer, Jony Ive, leading to much speculation that he had a prototype of their as-yet-unnamed smartwatch.
That partnership never came to pass, but Bryant was often seen wearing an Apple Watch, most famously to the 2017 ceremony where The Lakers retired his 8 and 24 numbers.
As Magic Johnson said at that event, “For 20 years, he thrilled us. He made us scratch our heads (and say), ‘What did we just see? What did we just witness?’ And he gave us five NBA championships.”
Likewise, Bryant set a new bar for brand ambassadors and gave horology four distinct and highly collectible watches. The watch world will certainly miss Kobe Bryant.