|Monday, July 15
Kobe, adidas part ways after six years
By Darren Rovell
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and adidas announced jointly on Monday that they have ended their six-year relationship, freeing the NBA star to explore a new footwear and apparel deal. Adidas could have exercised a two-year extension on Bryant's contract this summer.
"We had two different views on what we should do," Sonny Vaccaro, adidas' director of basketball, told ESPN.com. "Kobe is Kobe and adidas basketball is adidas basketball and we just felt we couldn't answer each others' questions anymore."
"Kobe has always had very good things to say about the fit and performance of our product," adidas spokesperson Nicole Vollebregt said. "This is not about the product. There just comes a time where you see the future differently and amicably part ways."
Rumors started swirling a few months ago about a possible parting after Bryant began wearing his KOBE shoes again during the Lakers' run to their third NBA championship. The change was made because they were the same models Bryant wore while the Lakers won their first two championships, Vollebregt told ESPN.com in April. Vollebregt said Monday that production had not started on a third shoe, and retailers were told the company's future with Bryant was possibly in limbo.
"I am thankful for the company's support over the last six years," Bryant said in a released statement. "I have enjoyed my experience with adidas and wish them all the best as they continue to build their basketball business."
In April, adidas signed Orlando Magic forward Tracy McGrady to a lifetime contract, and Vaccaro said then that Bryant likely would get the same deal when his contract expired.
Vollebregt said sales of Bryant products were good, although sales of the KOBETWO were disappointing, because the design "wasn't as commercially accepted as we would have liked."
Adidas also made backpacks, fleece tops and leather jackets and pants endorsed by Bryant.
Although adidas is in an intense battle with Nike for LeBron James, the prep star who is projected to become the top pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, Vollebregt said "this was not a financially motivated decision."
For Kobe, it might have been. Bryant will wear a variety of footwear brands next season while he evaluates future opportunities.
"I would be shocked if he didn't have a deal in the works already," said Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports, a sports marketing firm in Chicago. "It's such a competitive industry, and there's so much recruiting, that it would be na´ve to think he hasn't been approached by others."
If there has been contact between Bryant and Nike, the shoe company won't say. "Nike will not comment on rumor or speculation nor do we comment on the status of any negotiations," Nike basketball spokesman Eric Oberman said. Other suitors, And1 and Reebok, did not return calls seeking comment.
Despite the fact Bryant and adidas have been linked for the past six years, Williams says it won't be hard for another company to make consumers believe their shoes are Bryant's favorites.
"The new company could make the transition pretty quickly if they have an aggressive marketing campaign," Williams said. "Nike did this with Tiger Woods. In their commercials, he really makes the consumer believe that Nike's product is a whole lot better than a Titleist product."
Other adidas basketball endorsers include Golden State Warriors forward Antawn Jamison, Boston Celtics forward Antoine Walker, Washington Wizards forward Kwame Brown and Milwaukee Bucks forward Tim Thomas.
While Bryant is without a shoe deal for the time being, he continues to endorse McDonald's, Coca-Cola's Sprite and Spalding products.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org