Dispatches > The Buzz

It still doesn't pay

Those who think Kobe Bryant and the NBA are better off with a bad reputation aren't dealing with reality

Issue: "Nuclear threat in Korea," Aug. 16, 2003

When the media last month first reported allegations that Kobe Bryant had sexually assaulted a 19-year-old Eagle, Colo., woman, some in the advertising industry said the charges would perversely help his career.

Mr. Bryant's previous clean-cut image, the theory went, had made him less attractive as an endorser of products. "The sad thing about all this was that my first reaction is this might finally give Kobe the 'street cred' to sell shoes," said Bob Dorfman of San Francisco's Pickett Advertising.

This crime-as-career-boost idea may be proving too cynical. Last week, as Mr. Bryant was preparing to appear at a procedural hearing at the Eagle County Courthouse, Ferrero, the Italian company that makes Nutella chocolate, announced that it would phase out endorsements of Nutella from Mr. Bryant. Sprite also announced that it would not feature Mr. Bryant in ads at least until the end of the year.

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But as Mr. Bryant's actions (the married Lakers guard admits to having consensual sex with the woman but denies the assault charges) put his own bottom line in jeopardy, the debate shifted to whether the charges against him would help the NBA.

"From a business perspective, it's great for the NBA," the always-outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban last week told the television show Access Hollywood, predicting casual fans and non-fans now would tune in to watch Mr. Bryant play. "It's reality television, people love train-wreck television and you hate to admit it, but that is the truth, that's the reality today."

NBA commissioner David Stern upbraided Mr. Cuban, calling his remarks "both misinformed and unseemly." He might have added "shortsighted," as reality television is starting to look like yesterday's fad. Neilsen numbers show that reruns of scripted shows beat reality television in the ratings this summer, and advertisers shied away from having their products associated with "train-wreck television" in the upcoming fall lineup. Not a hopeful sign for the NBA if it devolves into a circus of criminals.

Timothy Lamer
Timothy Lamer

Tim is managing editor of WORLD magazine.

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