James Harden Pays Homage to Kobe Bryant with New Art of Sport Fragrance

James Harden’s admiration of Kobe Bryant is well documented. The Brooklyn Nets star has referred to the late, great Bryant as “a big brother to me” and someone “who I grew up watching and idolizing.”

The two NBA stars formed a friendship as their respective careers progressed and crossed, while extending their business relationship off the court as well.

Nearly two years following the helicopter crash that tragically cut short the lives of Bryant, 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee’s legacy continues to live on. Today, Harden and Art of Sport, the athlete-focused body care brand Bryant co-founded, pay homage to the five-time NBA champion with the release of Defy, Harden’s first personal fragrance and the company’s first since Bryant’s Victory in 2019.

“Bean was larger than life,” Harden says. “He defied the game, he defied physics, he defied death, and lives on for millions worldwide. I named it ‘Defy’ because of what he embodied, what he preached, and what it has taken for me to push beyond my limits for as long as I have.

“He was my childhood idol and inspired me to play the game of basketball, so to be a part of a second venture with him and to carry the legacy of the next signature fragrance is an honor.”

US guard Kobe Bryant (R) and US gard Jam
James Harden (left) and Kobe Bryant helped Team USA win gold at the 2012 Olympics in London.AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Inspired by his own personal journey while honoring his idol, Harden worked with Art of Sport throughout 2021 to create the fragrance name, purple packaging and specific fragrance notes for the line, which includes deodorant, body spray, antiperspirant, bar soap, body wash, and shampoo and conditioner available via Amazon and later in Target nationwide.

Featuring a musky, deep sandalwood fragrance, Defy’s release comes on the heels of Art of Sport’s retail expansion to more than 25,000 U.S. stores including Target, CVS, Walgreens, H-E-B, Meijer and Kroger as it continues to carve out a slice of the global skincare market, which is expected to grow to $145.8 billion by 2028.

“Brands like Old Spice, Gillette, Degree or Axe are multi-billion-dollar brands. We see the runway for this brand being limitless,” says Matthias Metternich, Art of Sport CEO and co-founder. “The cool thing about our brand which is very different than other brands is that sport is an international language. As a result, we have this lingua franca built into our brand DNA that allows us to speak to consumers whether they’re in Brazil, China, Russia or Germany.

“Despite being at 20,000+ retail locations, we see this first phase as really just the beginning for the brand. Our goal is to make sure the brand has the sort of resonance with our core consumers the way the Nikes of this world have built an iconic, purpose-led brand while redefining the apparel category. Can we redefine skincare through that lens? Can we usher in a new language, a new consideration for skincare that transcends just products and formulas from brands that haven’t innovated in decades? I believe we can.”

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Art of Sport’s new signature fragrance Defy pays homage to co-founder Kobe Bryant.ART OF SPORT/STEVEN COUNTS

Despite the rapid growth over the past few years amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Metternich said Art of Sport’s business model continues to be deliberate and slow while building a brand in a highly competitive space based on authenticity, quality and loyalty.

Working with athletes including JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ryan Sheckler, Ken Roczen and Harden, Art of Sport raised $6 million in its Series A announced September 2020 led by CircleUp Growth Partners and including Mark Cuban, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Bam Ventures and Darco Capital. With aspirations to be the Nike of skincare, Metternich confirmed Art of Sport isn’t looking to raise capital right now, but expects “we might do another round of fundraising, maybe at the end of 2022.”

“This is a category that takes time,” he says. “Somebody has to trial the product and figure out if it’s for them, and once they’ve tried it once, twice or three times, at that point they decide to commit to this brand for a long time. There are certain industries you can blow out all your cash trying to grow too fast—this isn’t one of those. You have to be very deliberate and slow and work with your retail partners to build the brand authentically. I think it’s a testament to our existing investor base, but also the athletes that everyone is very long-termist in their outlook.”

Harden said he believes Art of Sport has the potential to grow and succeed like another consumer goods he and Bryant bet on: BodyArmor. The better for you sports drink founded in 2011 was acquired by Coca-Cola for $5.6 billion in November which reportedly netted Bryant’s estate $400 million.

“We built BodyArmor into one of the biggest new sports drinks in the world by committing ourselves to the athlete, by making beverages that are better nutritionally and scientifically proven to hydrate you,” Harden says. “We spent a lot of time making flavors that tasted good and we introduced our products to sport communities across the country, on the sidelines, in locker rooms, everywhere athletes trained and played.

“Art of Sport has a similar playbook, in as big of an industry, going up against old players that lack that authenticity, that science, that focus and commitment. … I see Art of Sport being as big as BodyArmor one day—redefining how customers should think about what they put on their skin everyday and becoming a global, iconic brand for the next generation looking to pursue their goals in life and achieve their full potential.”

NOTE: First appeared on Forbes SportsMoney

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