On Monday, First Take aired, again, which means that these United States of America were again blessed as wonder twins Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless shouted about random things they don't know much about. The topic yesterday: how catching a rape charge can boost shoe sales.
"Remember Kobe pre-Eagle, Colorado," Bayless started. "He failed in his first sneaker deal because he was too clean cut? I think it was Adidas that had him first?
"He couldn't sell sneakers because he didn't have enough edge," he said. "But post-Eagle, Colorado, it brought a little attention to him, like it gave him a little bit of ... sizzle."
"Alright," Cari Champion said awkwardly, before changing the subject. "We'll leave it there."
We won't leave it there, though. We've got some unpacking to do, the first bit of which involves Bryant directly. Bryant signed a six-year sneaker deal with Adidas before his rookie season. In return, they gave him a lot of money, as well as shoes like these.
These shoes were some of the very ugliest to grace this wondrous world we live in, but Bryant overcame, and he and Shaquille O'Neal led the Lakers to a three-peat between 2000 and 2002.
In the 2003 offseason, Bryant's shoe contract was up, and he signed with Nike. Then, "Eagle, Colorado," as Bayless called Bryant's alleged rape of a 19-year-old woman, happened. Nike didn't even make Bryant a shoe until after the case was dropped in 2004.
Besides Bayless being flat-out wrong about his timeline, it's important to also talk about the conceit of this very hot take, which is that criminality—rape, even!—lends an athlete a marketable edginess. This is hilarious and dumb because Michael Jordan exists, and Michael Jordan has become a billionaire in part because Michael Jordan has no criminal history, no edge, and spent all of his career as clear reflective surface upon which advertising companies could reflect whatever message they wanted.
But more important was that Bayless's take was built on the premise that the sneaker-buying masses are looking for criminality—even rape!—in their product endorsers, functionally arguing that crime makes athletes like Bryant more relatable, cool, and therefore more authentic to the people that would look to buy his products, and thus that America is in the grip of a widespread sociopathy. Which maybe it is, having made Skip Bayless rich and famous for nothing more than his skill at talking from his ass.