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Sunday, February 9
Updated: February 10, 6:04 PM ET
 
Kobe's locker full of Reeboks could tell story

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Since parting ways with adidas nearly seven months ago, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has been required to wear a different brand of shoes every three games, making it hard for outsiders to determine what company had the inside edge on the 24-year-old superstar.

And Sunday's All-Star Game was no different.

Although Bryant wore Air Jordan IIIs from 1988 to pay homage to Michael Jordan, who played in his final midseason classic, perhaps the most telling sign of things to come were three pairs of Reebok shoe boxes marked "Kobe" in Bryant's locker.

The shoe brand's presence was not a surprise as Reebok became the clear No. 1 over the weekend. ESPN.com has learned that officials with the shoe brand entered into serious, substantive negotiations with Bryant's SFX representatives that went into the wee hours Saturday and Sunday, according to sources familiar with the talks.

Todd Krinsky, Reebok's vice president of its RBK brand, and SFX agent Rob Pelinka declined to comment Saturday on the imminence of a deal. Bryant, when asked before Sunday night's game if he had an announcement to make on a new shoe deal, replied, "No, not yet."

That may be because on Monday Nike was said to be back in the game, according to a source close to the negotiations.

Bryant, who left adidas in July after a six-year relationship, was decked out in Reebok shoes and apparel Saturday when he made a cameo at the NBA Jam Session as a promotional appearance for McDonald's.

After sales for adidas' KOBETWO's floundered, Bryant -- who is averaging 28.6 points per game and averaged 40.2 point for the five games leading up to the break -- paid close to $8 million to buy himself out of his contract. Part of the buyout, however, stipulated that he would agree not to sign with a competitor until after the All-Star Game and he could not wear shoes of any competitor for more than three consecutive games.

Bryant was the leading All-Star Game vote-getter (1.47 million) for the first time in his career this year and appears to be putting the Lakers in position to defend their three consecutive championships. But Bryant's shoe endorsement negotiations might be compromised by companies looking to allocate a budget to sign high school phenom LeBron James to a shoe deal worth in excess of $25 million over five years. Industry sources say the race for James is now down to a battle between Nike and adidas. Nike officials also say that another top priority for the company is to sign Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, whose Nike deal will expire at the end of this season.

Bryant earns more than $10 million annually from endorsements including McDonald's, Spalding and Sprite. Reebok's stable of NBA players includes Allen Iverson, whom the company has under a lifetime contract. Iverson started opposite Bryant in the All-Star Game.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.





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