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Consumers nix Bryant’s NBA jerseys

Associated Press

PORTLAND – Kobe Bryant is no longer a fashion icon.

For the last month, Bryant’s No. 8 Los Angeles Lakers jersey – previously one of the world’s best sellers – has fallen out of the top 50, according to point-of-sale data tabulated by a Florida market research firm.

Bryant’s NBA jersey was still the 10th-highest selling jersey for the year, but he finished the month of December at No. 72 – and in one week plunged to No. 90, a drastic slide for the player many once saw as the next marketing golden boy.

“I would never have thought it would have dropped off like this,” said Neil Schwartz, director of marketing and business development for SportsScanINFO in West Palm Beach, Fla., which tracks weekly sales data from sporting goods retailers nationwide.

Bryant’s marketability has likely been hurt by the flurry of bad press he’s received lately, analysts say. It began with his rape case and included his feud with former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, his spat with current teammate Karl Malone and a new book by former coach Phil Jackson that portrays Bryant as an aloof prima donna.

Before the season started, O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat and Jackson retired – departures that many fans have blamed on Bryant.

“I was a big fan, but I just can’t wear his jersey anymore,” said Patrick Buan, 27, of Victorville, Calif., who last month put up for sale his four Bryant jerseys on eBay.

Bryant’s agent, Rob Pelinka, did not return calls seeking comment. Nike Inc., Bryant’s main sponsor, also declined to comment, saying only that Bryant remains under contract with the company.

Officials at AEG, which owns Staples Center, said sales of Bryant’s jersey had dipped noticeably at the store in the arena in recent weeks. They said the problem began early this summer as Bryant prepared to face criminal rape charges – which were later dropped after his accuser said she did not want to participate in the trial.

“He’s such a significant player that we weren’t willing to make all those goods and have him go to jail,” said Alan Fey, vice president of merchandising for AEG.

Schwartz said Bryant’s legal troubles could account for a drop in sales in the summer and possibly at the beginning of the season – but not in December.

In June, when the preparations for Bryant’s rape trial were going full tilt, three of Bryant’s jerseys occupied the first, third and fifth spots in terms of units sold, according to Schwartz, whose company tallies numbers from a wide range of retailers, including JC Penny, Sears and Sports Chalet.

Industry insiders say that while fans may have been willing to look the other way during the rape scandal, they seem far less willing to forgive him now for what they see as the breakup of a championship team.

The drop in sales is bad news for Nike Inc., based in Beaverton, Ore., which sank a reported $40 million into a multiyear contract with Bryant.

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