Updated: June 25, 3:31 AM ET
Don't sell Kobe short on marketing power
By Ric Bucher
ESPN The Magazine
One of the stipulations when Kobe Bryant got out of his shoe deal with Adidas is that he couldn't wear any competitor's shoe more than three games in a row. Trying out a different shoe every week last season with the Lakers reminded him of being back in high school.
"It's pretty similar, yup," he says. "Experts and GMs were saying I couldn't make the jump to the NBA. Now experts and shoe biz gurus are saying I can't sell shoes. Let's just say I'm looking forward to the challenge."
That has to at least give pause to anyone who has seen Bryant defy skeptics on the floor, especially since the deal is structured so that he's putting his money where his mouth is. While non-disclosure provisions prohibit either side from providing details, the agreement has been described as a partnership, different than most, if not all, previous shoe company-athlete deals. Most athletes -- including recent Nike signees LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony -- sign a contract to be spokesmen and representatives. The company essentially buys the rights to the athlete's image. The athletes don't carry any financial risk, but they also have limited input on what their shoes actually look like or how they're marketed.
Bryant, apparently in exchange for carrying part of the fiscal burden, gets to be involved in every aspect of the business -- marketing, design, production. Reebok, a shoe-business source says, offered a similar deal.
"Apples to oranges," Bryant said about his deal in relation to any others. "Instead of an asset, I'm a partner. I'll be extremely hands-on. I was up in Beaverton for a couple of days and we already started kicking around ideas. We meshed incredibly. I could sense their excitement and I felt the same way. They're as competitive as I am."
The knock on Kobe is that his affluent upbringing and clean-cut image -- raised in an upscale 'burb, no legal scrapes, no tattoos -- has hurt him as an endorser.
"I've heard it said, 'Kobe doesn't have any street cred' and that's why my shoes won't sell," Kobe says. "I don't think that's the real perception on the street. I went to Rucker Park and it was all love. Basketball heads know basketball."
Kobe says the partnership concept is borne of his passion for hoop shoes in general and planning ahead for his retirement days.
"I'm a sneaker fanatic," he says. "I know everything about every sneak Nike has ever made. And I want to make sure I have something for me at the end of my career that I enjoy doing. I want to take basketball back to the roots of the game. I want to inspire and motivate people. There are lessons in sport that translate to people who maybe don't even play."
Sounds as if he and the guys in advertising might've already met.