Kobe Bryant Merchandise Increases In Value But Not Everyone Is Cashing In

Feb 5, 2020
Originally published on February 5, 2020 7:28 am

The death of basketball star Kobe Bryant is rippling through the memorabilia market, with buyers and sellers alike storming stores and online markets hoping to snag one last piece of his legacy. The sneaker market spiked particularly quickly.

"Pretty much the same day that he passed, everything we had available was just gone," said Candace Gray, a salesperson at Shoe Palace on Melrose Avenue in mid-city Los Angeles.

"That following morning we got hit very hard with a lot of people hoping to grab what they could as far as remembrance," she said.

But while some shoppers were in it for the sentiment, others were just looking to make a quick buck by flipping the shoes online. On one website, shoes made famous by Bryant began selling for well over double what they were just hours before.

Not uncommon, says Robert Digisi at the Wharton School.

"When a celebrity dies, whether it be sports, a musician, an actor, an actress, whatever that might be, there is certainly a lot of human sentiment involved and that will spike demand," he said. "And the market isn't necessarily ready for that."

That spike can lead to higher prices on a range of items, from jerseys to t-shirts, and posters to trading cards.

But Digisi says the spike is just that — prices level out over time. That means both dealers and fans must choose whether to sell now or hold on.

Honoring Kobe's memory

At secondhand sneaker shop Cool Kicks, also in mid-city, co-owners Adeel Shams and Davon Artis chose to hold onto them. The store stocked several models, released over Bryant's career. Minutes after news of Bryant's death, the two pulled them from the shelves.

"We felt like all the resellers would hurry up and come to the store and take all of the items and try to make money off his name and we were opposed to that," Shams said.

Artis says they pulled the shoes just in time.

"After we took everything off the shelf, everyone wants to come in either looking for an item or they wanna sell an item they have to profit off because [they] see a market that's going increasingly crazy now too," he said.

Davon Artis and Adeel Shams show off a pair of Kobe 1 Protro DeMar DeRozan shoes. The shoes are now worth thousands to collectors.
Austin Cross / KPCC

Shams and Artis say they have more than 100 pairs of Kobe Bryant-associated shoes at the shop.

Bryant's fanbase in China and Europe made him an international figure. That translates to a world of collectors and fans hoping to get their hands on a dwindling number of relics — now priced out of reach for the average sneakerhead. Shams points to a red pair of Kobe 1 Protros.

"We had it reselling at $750, and now that I'm looking at it, the closest shoe in this size is a 9-and-a-half going for $12,000," he said.

But Shams and Artis don't plan to sell anytime soon. When they do, they say they'll likely donate their profits to the Mamba on Three fund, which was founded in the wake of Bryant's death by his wife, Vanessa.

The two aren't the only ones putting passion over profit. Candace Gray, at Shoe Palace, doesn't just sell Kobe gear: she collects it herself. She doesn't plan to sell her collection of shoes and jerseys either.

"They are going to go into glass," she said. "I don't want to have to worry about not having something that my kids can have tangible to be able to explain the magnitude of who Kobe Bryant was."

Copyright 2020 KPCC. To see more, visit KPCC.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This may not be the most important aspect of the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant, but after the helicopter crash that killed him, some sports fans are buying or selling Kobe Bryant memorabilia. They face a choice - try to profit from a tragedy or try to honor his memory. From member station KPCC in Los Angeles, Austin Cross reports.

AUSTIN CROSS, BYLINE: Just minutes after news of his death, Kobe Bryant-related merchandise started moving fast, especially the sneaker market.

CANDACE GRAY: Pretty much the same day that he passed, everything that we had available was just gone.

CROSS: Candace Gray works at Shoe Palace on Melrose Avenue in Mid-City, Los Angeles.

GRAY: That following morning, we got hit very hard with a lot of people hoping to be able to grab whatever they could as far as remembrance.

CROSS: But while some shoppers were in it for the sentiment, others were just looking to make a quick buck by flipping the shoes online. On one website, shoes made famous by Bryant began selling for well over double what they were just hours before. Not uncommon, says Rob DiGisi at the Wharton School.

ROB DIGISI: Well, when a celebrity dies, there is certainly a lot of human sentiment involved, and that'll spike demand, and the market isn't necessarily ready for that.

CROSS: Leading to higher prices on a range of items. But DiGisi says the spike is just that - prices level out over time. That means dealers and fans must choose whether to sell now or hold on.

ADEEL SHAMS: These are a lot of our Kobes right here that we put away - more scattered everywhere.

CROSS: At secondhand sneaker shop Cool Kicks, also in Mid-City, co-owners Adeel Shams and Davon Artis chose to hold on to them. The store stocks several models released over Bryant's career, but minutes after news of his death, the two pulled them from the shelves.

SHAMS: We felt like all the retailers would hurry up and come to the store and take all of the items and try to make money off of his name, and we were opposed to that.

DAVON ARTIS: After we took, you know, everything off the shelf, everyone wants to come in either, you know, looking for an item or they want to sell the item they have, you know, to profit off it, because, you know, they see a market that's going increasingly crazy right now, too.

CROSS: Over 100 pairs now sit in a back room.

Kind of has this - almost like a church-like feel, in a way, because it's like, these are the last of the last. Does that hit you ever?

ARTIS: Yeah. As I look - because while we're doing this interview, I'm just looking around at the different Kobes because you remember the games he played in, you know, why they were released, you know. It's hard to deal with, you know, not having the shoe released no more when that person - because Kobe Bryant's gone.

CROSS: Bryant's fan base in China and Europe made him an international figure. That translates to a world of collectors and fans hoping to get their hands on a dwindling number of relics, now priced out of reach for the average sneaker-head. For instance, Shams says, pointing to a pair of Kobe Ones...

SHAMS: We had it reselling at $750, and now that I'm looking at it, this shoe is not even in existence. You can't even find this shoe online. The closest shoe in this size is a 9 1/2 going for $12,000. This is mind-boggling. This is my first time actually seeing this.

CROSS: But Shams and Artis don't plan to sell anytime soon, and they're not the only ones putting passion over profit. Candace Gray, who we met earlier, doesn't just sell Kobe gear; she collects it herself.

GRAY: I have a No. 8 jersey, I have a No. 24 jersey, I have the OG pros, I have the pros that just came out...

CROSS: And she doesn't plan to sell.

GRAY: They are going to go in glass. They're going to be idolized by my children's children. I don't want to have to worry about not having something that my kids can have tangible to be able to explain the magnitude of who Kobe Bryant was.

CROSS: Though prices may soar, for fans like Gray, memories are priceless. For NPR News, I'm Austin Cross in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tags: