The long and illustrious 20-year career of Kobe Bryant is coming to an end after this season closes out, but his fandom remains strong. Bryant’s merchandise sales alone have revealed peaks and valleys in his popularity. With his retirement coming, current Kobe sales peak, where he’s the number 2 selling player in the NBA on Fanatics.com up more than 100% over last year, just behind Stephen Curry. Some parts of the country are more eager to drop their hard-earned dough on this veteran player – even during his swan song and especially since he garnered his 15th All-Star appearance this year. Bryant joins the honorable ranks of Allen Iverson and Yao Ming for players earning the All-Star vote as their career winds down.
Kobe Bryant Sales Across the States
Map: Kobe Bryant sales per state on Fanatics from 2010 – 2016. Source: Fanatics.com & Census data
Kobe Bryant was drafted in the 1996 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets, but he’s known for playing his entire professional career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Due to a trade agreement with the Hornets prior to draft day, he never played for the Hornets and instead headed West before his professional debut.
Looking at state data of Kobe gear purchases, North Carolina remains a hotspot for his merchandise. California, understandably, notches the highest volume of sales.. New York and Texas vie for top spots as well. Other notable states that bring in Kobe sales are Oregon, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Folks in the interior states generally aren’t into Kobe as much as their coastal peers, which is reflected by the large swath of purple on our map. In general, his biggest sales spots are generally along the borders of the U.S. with a few notable exceptions (namely those few states that share a border with Canada and a few Gulf Coast states and New Mexico).
Kobe’s Contributions Year After Year
Like many pro athletes, Kobe’s career has ebbed and flowed over the years, but with nearly 20 solid NBA seasons under his belt, he will exit the sport as one of the best in the game. After his 1997 selection to the All-Rookie Second Team, he’s continued to collect quite a few honors along the way – this includes four All-Star MVP nods (2002, 2007, 2009, and 2011), 11 All-NBA First Team selections (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013), and one NBA MVP (2008).
Kobe’s fandom continues to be very strong even during the twilight of his career. Looking back to where he was in 2013, he signed a contract extension in November guaranteeing that he’d retire a Laker. Also notable that year was his highly anticipated return to play in December from a devastating Achilles tendon rupture, subsequent surgery, and recovery.
Kobe’s contributions continue to pile up as he ticks off year after year with the Lakers. For example, a November 30, 2014 overtime victory over the Raptors was made possible by Kobe’s impressive performance as he secured his 20th career triple-double. During the same game, he became the first player in NBA history with at least 6,000 assists and 30,000 points.
In his final season, Kobe continues to make waves and break records (currently second only to Stephen Curry in jersey sales). When he took the floor for the first game of the 2015-2016 season, he eclipsed a mark set by John Stockton at the culmination of his own 19-year career. At the end of the 2002-2003 season, Stockton set the record for most seasons played for a single team at 19. Kobe will retire this year, having played 20 seasons for a single team. And though he’s a long-time player whose stats may not be as impressive as they were when he was younger, Kobe still put up over 30 points for the first time since 2013 in a December win over the Washington Wizards.
The Culmination of Kobe
Overall, Kobe Bryant merchandise sales do follow the successes of his career, but not in a way that always makes sense on the surface. While some of his best statistical years do correspond to a boost in sales, it may also be the case that his off-court triumphs result in just as much merchandise movement, if not more. Breaking records, recovering from injuries, and tapping out after a 20-year stint with a single team are all good reasons fans have found to honor their favorite player.
We looked at Fanatics merchandise sales data for Kobe Bryant across the United States since 2010. Using the latest U.S. Census population numbers, we determined the number of units shipped to each state per 100,000 residents. These data was compared to his points per game statistics over the same period.