Is Kobe Bryant the biggest name in L.A.?
By James Wagner, AP/San Gabriel Valley Tribune
LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- In a region of Hollywood stars and larger-than-life personalities, today may prove once again that one name has become just bigger and more widely-known than the rest.
No offense to the mayor, the governor of this state or any of those movie stars, Kobe Bryant may just be the most popular figure in Los Angeles.
Tonight Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers begin the defense of their NBA title in their season opener against the other team L.A. team, the Clippers, at arguably the height of their star's popularity.
For the point guard whose spent his entire career in Los Angeles, last year's championship was his fourth - and the first, as many point out, without his former superstar teammate, the gregarious Shaquille O'Neal.
So now, no name, it seems, is larger than Bryant's.
"The reason he is a big name is because he performed on a tremendous level for a tremendous period of time," said Sandford Brokaw, a longtime publicist based in Los Angeles who has spent 40 years handling celebrities. "People like winners and he brings a lot of joy to a lot of people."
It's a bar room debate which likely has no conclusion. And if it did, it would likely not be scientific.
Maybe Bryant's popularity is in the timing. Actors' new movies are released weekly and last, if they're well liked, a couple of months. Bryant plays three times a week in a season that may drag on until June. And with the season starting tonight, the limelight is on Bryant not any of those Hollywood-types.
"This is Kobe time," said Stuart Fischoff, a former Cal State LA emeritus professor of media psychology and currently an editor at the Journal of Media Psychology. "It's not Brad Pitt time."
Bryant is among the top, if not the leader in jersey sales in the U.S., Europe and China. His face is plastered on ads and as easily recognizable as any in the region. He's a millionaire whom many argue is among the greatest to ever play.
For an area politician to transcend Bryant's stature, it's also a tough task. Los Angeles County has 10 million people spread among 88 cities. Few, if any, local politicians are universally recognized among all those names and regions.
"Our political figures, maybe except for the governor, are much more localized than athletic figures," Fischoff said. "Our athletes tend to cut across geographic lines."
Manny Lopez, 22, who works at a Target store in West Covina, agreed that politicians aren't as exposed endorsement-laden athletes and that Bryant is the biggest name around.
"Just look at how much his name is out there," said the La Mirada resident. "A lot of politicians aren't out on Sprite commercials and all that."
The closest choices for politicians may be Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villraigosa, departed Los Angeles police chief William Bratton or hometown Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger, who lives in Brentwood, is a well-connected figure who has managed to stay in the limelight through his political career after much success as a bodybuilder and then actor.
U.S. Rep. David Dreier, a Republican who represents the county's eastern foothills communities, couldn't quite dispute that Bryant wasn't the biggest name without taking a jab at the manager of the pro baseball team in the neighboring county.
"Kobe is in the running to be the most important person in L.A.," he said. "As of last night, he clearly has succeed in knocking Mike Scioscia out of the race. Go Lakers!"