Skip Bayless has said numerous crazy things during his career. However, his comment on Kobe Bryant’s rape case could probably go down as his worst take ever.
"It gave him a little bit of sizzle"
Skip thought that Kobe Bryant’s rape case gave his career “sizzle.” He gave his opinion on the controversial topic during an interview in 2014.
“Remember Kobe Bryant pre-Eagle, Colorado? He failed in his sneaker deal because he was just too clean cut and I think it was Adidas that had him first. Correct me if I’m wrong, but he couldn’t sell sneakers because he didn’t have enough edge. But then, post-Eagle, it brought a little attention to him. It gave him a little bit of sizzle," Bayless said.
Even Stephen A. Smith’s reaction to what he heard was priceless. Bayless’ comments were just pure speculative, fictional, baseless, and borderline malicious. He was lucky charges weren’t filed against him for defamation. Let’s examine Skip’s claims and check if there were any truth in them.
The fallout of Kobe Bryant’s rape case
As with any athletes involved in scandals, lawsuits, and court cases, Kobe’s reputation was heavily tarnished after the rape case in 2003. The case was eventually dropped after the Lakers star offered his apologies to the victim and said that no money was paid to settle the case. He also added it seemed consensual to him what happened between them. To make amends to his wife Vanessa, The Black Mamba bought her a diamond ring worth $4 million. But it seemed at that time that it would be over for his career.
McDonald’s and Ferrero's Nutella didn’t renew their partnership with the basketball star. And while this resulted in Kobe losing millions, other brands decided to stick with him, including Spalding, Nike, Sprite, and Upper Deck. Nike signed Bryant a 5-year deal worth $45 million before the arrest. Before that, he was with Adidas from 1996 to 2002. But did the case affect his popularity?
In terms of jersey sales after the incident, Kobe’s jerseys still sold like hot pancakes in 2005. He ranked 5th in top selling jerseys in the NBA list behind Shaq, TMac, LeBron, and Marbury. The case didn’t affect the Lakers either. They were the best NBA team in terms of selling merchandise. In 2006, Kobe’s jersey sales even improved and ranked 4th.
The deal with Adidas wasn’t continued because of the case but because Kobe didn’t approve of its design, which probably contributed to its modest sales. When the Kobe Adidas 2 sneakers were unveiled in 2000, they suffered plummeting sales because of their design. Bryant was the first one who wanted out of the relationship and allegedly shelled $8 million to get out of the deal. Both parties agreed, but the Lakers star must not sign any shoe deals until 2003. Kobe became a free agent and wore Jordan, And1, Reebok, and Converse.
In total, the Philadelphia native earned $350 million in endorsements alone. He even represented brands such as Turkish Airlines, Lenovo, Hublot, Panini, Alibaba, Sina.com, and Mercedes Benz.
Another proof that Kobe never lost his popularity and credentials despite his past was his Academy Award win for Dear Basketball, which he wrote and co-produced.
When Kobe passed away in 2022, Nike had to stop producing The Black Mamba's sneakers line, fearing collectors would hoard it to make easy money.
Skip is fortunate his Kobe comment happened in 2014
Bayless was fortunate his tasteless comments on the rape case happened in 2014 and not in the cancel era. If it had been made a few years later, he would have no job today. Using a rape case to say the player benefited from it and helped sell his sneakers has no place in sports today.
But the question remains: how can we make hold these commentators accountable for things they say? They can say the most ridiculous things on air because they deliver the clicks, views, and revenues -- ESPN aired Ja Morant’s comments on Michael Jordan, but apparently, the Memphis Grizzlies star never said it.
In the end, Kobe Bryant was an example among NBA players of how to get past personal troubles and maintain popularity throughout his career. Kobe admitted his fault and apologized for it. At least he was brave enough to do so. No, the rape cases didn't help him sell his shoe line. Better design, collaboration, and marketing did it for him.