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Kobe Bryant Sneakers Are Worth Big Bucks: But Not Everybody's Cashing In

Left to right: Davon Artis and Adeel Shams cradle a pair of Kobe 1 Protro DeMar DeRozan shoes, worth thousands now to collectors online. (Austin Cross/KPCC/LAist)
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The death of basketball star Kobe Bryant is rippling through the memorabilia market, with buyers and sellers alike storming stores and online markets hoping to snag one last piece of his legacy. The sneaker market in particular spiked quickly.

"Pretty much the same day that he passed, everything we had available was just gone," said Candace Gray, a salesperson at Shoe Palace on Melrose Avenue in Mid-City Los Angeles.

"That following morning we got hit very hard with a lot of people hoping to grab what they could as far as remembrance," she said.

Kobe Bryant fans pay respects at a mural on the side of Shoe Palace in Mid-City Los Angeles. (Austin Cross/KPCC/LAist)
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But while some shoppers were in it for the sentiment, others were just looking to make a quick buck by flipping the shoes online. On one website, shoes made famous by Bryant began selling for well over double what they were just hours before. Robert Digisi at the Wharton School told us that's not uncommon.

"When a celebrity dies, whether it be sports, a musician, an actor, an actress, whatever that might be, there is certainly a lot of human sentiment involved and that will spike demand. And the market isn't necessarily ready for that," he said.

That spike can lead to higher prices on a range of items, from jerseys to T-shirts, posters and trading cards.

But Digisi says the spike is just that; prices level out over time. That means both dealers and fans must choose whether to sell now or hold on. At second-hand sneaker shop CoolKicks, also in Mid-City, co-owners Adeel Shams and Davon Artis chose to hold onto them. The store stocked several models released over Bryant's career. Minutes after news of Bryant's death, the two pulled them from the shelves.

Davon Artis shows a pair of Kobe 6 Grinch shoes, released in 2010. The shoes more than doubled in value within hours of Bryant's death. (Austin Cross/KPCC/LAist)

"We felt like all the resellers would hurry up and come to the store and take all of the items and try to make money off his name, and we were opposed to that," Shams said.

Artis says they pulled the shoes just in time.

"After we took everything off the shelf, everyone wants to come in either looking for an item or they wanna sell an item they have to profit off because [they] see a market that's going increasingly crazy now, too," he said.

Shams and Artis say they have more than 100 pairs of Kobe Bryant-associated shoes at the shop. Bryant's fanbase in China and Europe made him an international figure. That translates to a world of collectors and fans hoping to get their hands on a dwindling number of relics -- now priced out of reach for the average sneakerhead.

Shams points to a red pair of Kobe 1 Protros: "We had it reselling at $750, and now that I'm looking at it, the closest shoe in this size is a 9-and-a-half going for $12,000."

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Cool Kicks' pair of Kobe 1 Protro DeMar DeRozan shoes, worth thousands online. (Austin Cross/KPCC/LAist)

But Shams and Artis don't plan to sell anytime soon. When they do, they say they'll likely donate their profits to the Mamba on Three fund, which was founded in the wake of Bryant's death by his wife, Vanessa.

The two aren't the only ones putting passion over profit. Candace Gray at Shoe Palace doesn't just sell Kobe gear: she collects it herself. She doesn't plan to sell her collection of shoes and jerseys, either.

"They are going to go into glass," she said. "I don't want to have to worry about not having something that my kids can have tangible to be able to explain the magnitude of who Kobe Bryant was."

Editor's note: A version of this story was also on the radio. Listen to it on NPR or KPCC's Take Two.