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Friday, February 14
Updated: February 15, 3:39 AM ET
 
Reebok says cost too high, Kobe says differently

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

Kobe Bryant will not be Reebok's next athlete endorser.

The shoe brand, which had entered elevated negotiations with Bryant's SFX representatives throughout last weekend, announced on Friday that it has withdrawn from the race to sign the Los Angeles Lakers guard to a lucrative shoe deal.

Reebok's chairman and CEO Paul Fireman said he determined that the cost to sign Bryant might outweigh the returns, according to a company news release.

"Kobe Bryant is a talented athlete, however, during these economically challenging and unpredictable times, Reebok must stay focused on our business objectives and strategic intent, regardless of the enormous temptation to stray and look beyond our original focus," Fireman said. "Internally, we worked hard to look at the various ways in which we might make the most out of a partnership with Kobe, but in the end, we realized that we simply could not justify the costs, which our analysis showed could exceed the benefits."

But that's not what Bryant told the Associated Press on Friday night. Bryant said he chose to end negotiations.

According to Bryant, Reebok was willing to pay the price. "The price tag has been high from day one," Bryant said. "They came to the table, they matched the price tag, but just the fit of the company wasn't right."

Reebok has 10-year official apparel deals with both the NBA and NFL. Signing Bryant likely would have meant a financial commitment of in between $6 million and $9 million per year, sources said.

Nike, which had been the frontrunner to sign Bryant until Reebok emerged as a legitimate candidate last weekend, is once again the favorite -- with no apparent competitor on the landscape. Nike spokesperson Celeste Alleyne had no comment on Reebok's withdrawal from the race. SFX agent Rob Pelinka could not be immediately reached for comment.

Bryant said he is more comfortable with Nike, however he admitted there wasn't any deal in place yet.

"It's still a work in progress,'' he said.

When Bryant signs his new deal, he will have to pay close to $8 million to adidas for leaving the company seven months ago after a six-year relationship. Part of the buyout stipulated that he would agree not to sign with a competitor until after the All-Star Game.

The Reebok withdrawal might be good news for adidas since Nike officials have other NBA players they want to sign. Nike and adidas are in a two-company race to sign high school phenom LeBron James to a shoe deal that could be worth in excess of $25 million over five years. Nike officials also say that they want to re-sign Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, whose Nike deal expires at the end of this season.

Reebok has a lifetime contract with Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson. Other NBA endorsers include New Orleans Hornets guard Baron Davis, Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis, New Jersey Nets forward Kenyon Martin and Golden State Warriors forward Jason Richardson.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.




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