Kobe Bryant in Trouble With the Law

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, July 21, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Now that Kobe Bryant (search) is accused of foul play, he finds himself among the growing list of professional athletes in trouble with the law.

Just this past month, several NBA players have been slapped with an array of charges and while none of the big league sports have a clean record, the NBA is fast becoming the baddest of the bad.

Joining us now, David Carter of the Sports Business Group (search). And that is today's big question, David. Are the bad boys of basketball affecting the NBA at large?

DAVID CARTER, SPORTS BUSINESS GROUP: Well, they absolutely are. And I think what you're seeing is each sport has a perception problem. You might have it with baseball skewing a little bit older in terms of advertiser and sponsor interests. You might find it with wrestling, for instance, and the following it is perceived to have.

Now the NBA has this perception behind it of this urban thug. The perception is that many of these NBA ball players are these garden-variety dirt bags that I think corporate America and a lot of other people are very concerned about. And it is unfortunate because most of the NBA players don't have a problem.

However, guys like Tim Duncan (search) and David Robinson (search), all the great player NBA players are being tainted by what's going on league-wide.

GIBSON: But, David, it's not Kobe Bryant's problem. He has been Mr. Clean. In fact, it's amazing, isn't it, that the fans have been hesitant to even believe that he would have an affair out of his marriage.

CARTER: Well, I think they're hesitant to believe it, I think they're also relying on hope. They really believe that he is one of those few good guys left in big time sports and I think it would dash their hopes. And I think they're really relying on that as much as anything else, because I think that, again, basketball fans, people that are following sports really want to believe that these guys they feel they have a relationship with really are okay and they're not constantly in trouble with the law.

GIBSON: If it turns out that Kobe Bryant is found innocent of the charges, the actual crime of sexual assault, but the public knows that he admitted to the so-called crime of adultery, what happens to him? Is he still held up as Mr. Clean or is he forever besmirched?

CARTER: No, he'll lose his image as being squeaky clean. I think he'll still be perceived as somewhat clean. There's been a big debate about street credibility and sexual assault certainly does not bring with it any semblance of street credibility. But I think for many people, this issue of adultery or this one-night stand, or whatever it turns out to be, might actually be something that unfortunately they can relate to, and in some sense, that carries a little bit of street credibility with it.

That is not to say that McDonald's, and Sprite and these other companies are going to be really thrilled to death that he has been involved in this, but it might not be the end of his marketing career.

GIBSON: What about the NBA at large? You cite all these cases and I can list a bunch of them, of NBA players charged with assaults or getting into a scrape with the law one way or another, and we certainly know about a football player who was actually charged in a murder case. But is the NBA becoming — I think you used the word — just known as a bunch of high- paid thugs?

CARTER: Well, I think to use the phrase "at large" in describing the NBA, I don't think it's quite to that extent yet. But I think the NBA is very concerned about image. They may not be saying so publicly. But I'm sure just like the corporations with whom Kobe has a marketing relationship, the league is going through contingency planning, they're working on how to position and reposition their league with advertisers and sponsors, because at the end of the day, it is going to be a lot less profitable for everybody concerned to have that image dogging them wherever they go.

GIBSON: David, you use the expression in a newspaper story we saw today, that the NBA is becoming overly urbanized. Is that code for black?

CARTER: No, I think — yes, it might be a code for black, but what it's really code for is niche markets. If I'm an advertiser or I'm a sponsor spending millions of dollars using broadcast television in primetime to reach a broad audience, say like the National Football League, for instance, that's probably a good investment. As any league becomes more of a niche league, again, the WNBA has a little bit of a positioning issue right now with sexual preferences, for instance. Same as wrestling.

We talked about baseball skewing older. As you get into that niche kind of an audience, you may find they hold less value to advertisers, because those advertisers can find them elsewhere. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with them as a demographic or as a target group. It just means there's a more economical way for corporate America to reach them. So it's not a statement about any one of these groups as it is just about the economics of advertising.

GIBSON: But when you say overly urbanized, do you mean that it's just urban people who tend to be fans? Or that the NBA has by accident, or by design, cultivated that image?

CARTER: I'm certain that the hip-hop culture and what you see on MTV and the way the NBA has allowed many of its players like Allen Iverson to be portrayed, although they don't have direct influence over that at all times, I think what they've done is they understood they're going to be attracting a certain audience that they can sell to advertisers. So this is not something that they just allowed to happen to them. It's something that they have worked on over the years and they are trying to sell an edgy product and they're using very interesting personalities, I'll say, to get that done.

If you look throughout the sports, the NFL tends to really market the league. Major League Baseball, to a certain extent, markets some of its storied franchises. In the NBA, you see the focus on the personalities and there's a high risk and high return associated with that.

GIBSON: David Carter of the Sports Business Group, David, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

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