Christiano Ronaldo? No. Roger Federer? Nuh uh.
The answer is basketball’s Kobe Bryant.
For those who don’t know who Kobe is, I’ll give you a quick recap:
– Four-time NBA Champion
– Olympic Gold Medallist
– Last year’s NBA Most Valuable Player
Do you know how much Kobe is worth?
According to Forbes annual richest athletes on the planet list, he pockets £24 million a year.
‘Only’ good enough for sixth overall mind you (a couple of people including David Beckham and Michael Jordan are in front of him) but still decent enough.
How big is Kobe?
Well, his no. 24 Lakers jersey is the most popular bit of sporting kit in China and has been for the last three years.
Even in the world of YouTube view count rankings (which in 2009 is as good as measure as any) Kobe is featured twice as many times as David Beckham.
Quite impressive. Well actually, almost unbelievable when you consider what happened in 2003.
2003: Kobe and a 19-year old hotel employee
That summer Kobe was arrested in connection with an investigation of sexual assault filed by a 19-year old hotel employee.
Kobe, who had only just married his long-time girlfriend Vanessa Laine, admitted to an adulterous sexual encounter with his accuser, but denied her sexual assault allegation.
In 2004 the case was dropped after the accuser refused to testify. She did however file a separate civil suit against Kobe which was settled for an undisclosed amount out of court.
What happened next?
Kobe’s popularity plummeted. Long-time sponsors McDonald’s and Nutella dumped him.
Nike, who had signed Kobe to a 5-year deal worth $45m (USD) just before the incident didn’t use his image for a year.
You couldn’t give his jersey away.
Kobe stunk. Bad.
How on earth did he recover from that?
Well, he didn’t just recover (as we highlighted earlier) his popularity has reached new heights.
Only two things were responsible for the turnaround.
On the court, Kobe went on a tear, torched opponents and made appearances on nightly highlight reels a pre-requisite.
OK, so back to normal there.
But he also benefited something that he couldn’t do on the court – appear more human. The world’s best basketball player showed us how imperfect and vulnerable he was.
And guess what, we grew to love him…again.
It took us some time. Firstly, we had to forgive him. Then came the sympathy. Followed by adoration.
Kobe, admittedly, is not every one’s cup of tea, but he does put bums on seats. And although this incident was something that either party would never wish for again, it did help shape a more mature and likable Kobe.
Has Tiger been tamed?
Time will only tell if Tiger benefits or loses out from what has taken place over the last few days.
For someone who, for his entire career, has almost been robotically perfect, it has shocked a lot of people.
But based on the more extreme case of Kobe Bryant, expect Tiger to come back bigger, better and more likable than ever before.
Tiger the (real) person, now there’s a brand I’d be interested in.