In May, Nike signed an unproven 18-year old prospect named LeBron James to a seven-year, $90 million contract. A month later, the shoe giant signed Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant -- a three-time NBA champion in the nation's second-largest television market -- to a five-year deal reportedly worth $5 million less per year than James.
When sports marketers on the outside looking in were asked to come up with an explanation, some reasoned that Kobe's product would have a tougher time selling in the coveted urban neighborhoods, where disposable income is limited but sports shoe and apparel buying occurs with more frequency than other segments of the population.
Bryant lacked the all-important street credibility, they said, and although the defining characteristics of "street cred" remain unclear, some said Bryant didn't match up to the appeal of Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady. Just look at the shoes of those lined up to bang the rock against the concrete surrounded by the chain-link fences -- there are plenty of Reebok Answer 6's and adidas T-Mac IIs. Was it that Kobe's signature adidas brands were just too funky-looking, or was it that the kids didn't dream of being like Kobe?
Some suggested that Kobe could relate better by roughing up his clean-cut image. However, most sports marketers agree that greater street credibility won't come to Bryant and the companies he endorses -- Nike, Sprite, Spalding, McDonald's and Upper Deck -- if Bryant is charged and is found guilty of sexual assault. Bryant posted a $25,000 bond on Friday but has not yet been charged.
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