Stephanie Kang of the Wall Street Journal wrote an interesting story about Nike's relationship with Kobe Bryant through his rape allegations.
Essentially, Nike kept marketing Bryant very quietly, through boutiques and shoes distributed to employees, to see if his stuff was in demand. They also tracked reactions to his name in the blogosphere. The article's a couple of months old, but I just found it online for free on the website of one of the companies Nike used to track public opinion. Here's some of what they found:
According to Marketing Evaluations Inc., which measures popularity, Mr. Bryant has become the least liked of all NBA players, not just because of his legal issues but also because of his public feuds with former teammate Shaquille O'Neal and coach Phil Jackson. Yet among male teenagers and young adults -- the primary drivers of Nike's high-priced footwear sales -- Mr. Bryant continues to be a star, according to market research firm Umbria Inc., which tracked 12 million blogs last December for data on popular NBA players.
At some point, of course, Nike found the public was ready to stomach Kobe again, because he now is back front and center in Nike advertising.