Kobe Bryant jerseys in short supply after ex-NBA star’s death

Kobe Bryant fans are struggling to find his Los Angeles Lakers jersey one day after the superstar’s death

Bryant’s jersey wasn’t available on NBAStore.com, the official website for ordering NBA gear, for much of Monday, and there were slim pickings on Monday afternoon at the league’s flagship New York store in Manhattan. Some customers had visited the store hoping to buy a jersey, but said they had been told none were left. 

“It’s kind of sad, but considering the circumstances, I understand,” said Malcolm Brooks of Chicago while standing outside the Fifth Avenue store. Brooks said store employees told him only two Bryant jerseys remained in stock – both from when the shooting guard played in an All-Star game. It wasn’t the version Brooks wanted. Both were also priced at $300, he said.

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Karen McGrath of Australia also searched the store with no luck. She had hoped to get a Bryant jersey for her 8-year-old son, who idolizes Bryant. “He has one that’s too small for him that he squeezes into, but I was just trying to get another one,” she said. 

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Even fans in California couldn’t get access to the Staples Center – another go-to spot for Lakers jerseys – because the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards occupied the arena over the weekend. 

Sports merchandise experts said they’re not surprised Bryant’s jersey is hard to find. On Amazon, an autographed jersey is listed at nearly $6,000, while Ebay.com is selling a purple-and-gold version for $100. 

After being listed as out of stock for much of Monday, the NBAStore.com on Monday evening was selling purple-and-gold Bryant jerseys for $300. By comparison, LeBron James jerseys were selling for $110 and Shaquille O’Neal were selling fro $130.

People will desire Bryant’s jersey even more in coming weeks because “he’s every bit an icon in L.A. than [Michael] Jordan was in Chicago – and perhaps an even bigger brand globally,” said Michael Mondello, a sports management expert and professor at the University of South Florida, noting Bryant’s growing popularity in China in recent years. 

The NBA will likely order more Bryant jerseys to meet demand, Mondello said, but manufacturers could find themselves backlogged. 

One challenge in re-ordering Bryant’s jersey is that he wore two numbers over his 20-year career – No. 8 in the early stages of his career, then No. 24 as a seasoned veteran. Most people will want 24 because that’s the most recent iteration, but “maybe the 8 will start gaining some traction,” Mondello said.

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Roughly two decades ago, Bryant’s jersey was a much-easier item to purchase. His No. 8 jersey was the top-selling NBA Store jersey in 2001, 2002 and 2003, according to data from the league, which doesn’t disclose sales figures. His No. 24 jersey was the top seller in 2007, 2009 and 2010. Bryant, whose basketball nickname was “The Black Mamba,” retired in 2016. 

“People were buying [the jerseys] because of his prowess on the court and his G.O.A.T status,” said David Carter, a sports business professor at the University of South California, using the pop culture acronym for “Greatest of All Time.” “But now a lot of these purchases are going to be because of what he meant to everybody.”

Carter said the NBA should slowly roll out more Bryant merchandise; otherwise, league officials run the risk of looking like they’re trying to quickly profit off his death. Technically, the league can release as much Mamba merchandise as it wants. 

“They just can’t be seen as gouging fans or putting out shoddy products,” Carter said, adding that “there’s going to be enough of that from the vendors in and around Staples Center.”

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