If you woke up at the crack of dawn either of the last two days, just hoping to score the first Kobe Bryant merchandise that Nike has dropped since his tragic death in January, you were hardly the only one to do so. Unfortunately, due to Nike’s ridiculous, tone-deaf release strategy, you — like nearly every other Lakers fan on my timeline that logged on to SNKRS, Nike’s hype-building app — never actually had a chance.
You see, for Nike, SNKRS is not actually an app for selling shoes. Or at the very least, if it is one, it sucks at it. What it actually serves as is an artificial hype generator, something for everyone to rush to hoping, hoping for just a crumb of a chance at the extremely limited-release merch that Nike drops on it. If you’re a sneakerhead, you’re more than familiar with the “sold-out” text that pops up around 5-10 minutes after you input all your info, and the ensuing deluge of tweets of people comparing themselves to clowns for even trying.
We all wanted Nike’s drops for Kobe’s birthday and Mamba Day (Aug. 24) to be different. We hoped that Nike would make the shoes and jerseys that they were putting out a wider release so that real fans would actually have at least a small chance of getting stuff to celebrate the late Lakers legend. That unfortunately was not the case, and the reason is simple: Resellers have bots to game the SNKRS system, and you don’t.
“Sneaker bots are pre-programmed automated scripts that resellers use to speed up their checkout process. Pretty much any computer can develop and run these scripts, but botters use hopped up servers to increase the speed,” says Mike Sykes, who has covered this issue extensively in his excellent “The Kicks You Wear” sneakers newsletter.
“One bot can also run literally hundreds of tasks. They can hit, say, the SNKRS app while also hitting Eastbay or Footlocker or whatever else in a matter of seconds. And they can also purchase multiple pairs from the same site in a matter of seconds,” Sykes continued. “For folks without bots, it’s an uphill battle constantly to get any limited kicks or merch. Especially when these companies are doing the bare minimum to prevent botting.”
There was hope that Nike would do things differently than their normal system that rewards such chicanery this time around, because they very obviously wanted to avoid the perception that they were profiting by generating hype around Bryant’s death. They let ESPN sneaker reporter Nick DePaula know that they were donating to Bryant’s charities of choice as part of this release, and were clearly trying to avoid accusations of making money off of a dead man:
In addition to the $1 million donation to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, Nike will also help to continue funding and operating the Mamba League, a grassroots youth league launched in 2017 by Bryant in tandem with The Boys & Girls Clubs of Los Angeles.
That’s all well and good, but you know who their current system does allow to profit from the gross hype orgy around Bryant’s demise? Resellers with bots, who are already flooding the resale market with the stuff fans were trying to secure on Sunday and Monday at disgustingly inflated prices.
The re-release of Bryant’s jersey in the Black Mamba colorway was supposed to retail for $120. Here is how much resellers are trying to gouge desperate fans for it after swiping it due to Nike’s ridiculous product drop system:
I verified that said listing is (as of this publishing) real, but I’m not going to link to it, because fuck this system for allowing this to happen. The situation is not any better with the shoes:
That one is also real, but again, fuck that, I’m not linking to it to help someone profit on this.
We’ve reached out to Nike to see if they have any response to all of this, and will update this story if they respond. But in the end, the issues here are simple. For one, who does this benefit, other than scumbags trying to make a quick buck off the death of a legend? How are they going to tell fans this is some attempt to pay homage to Bryant’s legacy, and then just let them get ripped off by resellers? How is this not making it inevitable that only Lakers fans of extreme means and collectors will be able to secure this stuff, instead of people who would actually celebrate it and wear it around?
With all the sad context surrounding this release, Nike should have done this one differently. It’s one thing to build hype for the latest Travis Scott sneaker that no one has a chance at, it’s another to screw over fans who just miss their hero. But instead of just making a few extra products to give people who really miss Bryant a chance to secure some new sneakers or jerseys, they just once again left us all feeling like we woke up early just to put on clown makeup.