Nike is using photos of Kobe Bryant (search) for the first time since his arrest two years ago for an alleged assault on a female employee at a Colorado resort.

"Nike agrees with most NBA observers that Kobe ranks among the very best players in the NBA (search), and his training and preparation are key elements of his game," said Nike spokesman Rodney Knox (search).

The ads appear in Sports Illustrated (search), and are the first to use Bryant's image. His name appeared in an ad earlier this year.

Prosecutors dismissed a rape charge against Bryant last September after his alleged victim refused to go ahead with the case. Bryant publicly apologized to her without admitting any guilt.

A civil suit filed by the alleged victim against Bryant was settled out of court. Its details were not released.

Bryant had signed a $45 million deal with Nike shortly before his arrest. McDonald's and Nutella both dropped Bryant from their roster of celebrity endorsers after his arrest.

Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (search), criticized Nike's decision.

"Corporations like Nike play a huge part in creating role models for millions of young athletes," she said. "It would be a great inspiration to those young people if the endorsers were not only accomplished athletes, but also had a reputation for positive and ethical conduct."