The Panini Group, the NBA’s exclusive trading card partner, has signed four-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers as its official company spokesman and global trading card ambassador.
Bryant’s exclusive multi-year agreement with Panini includes autographs, memorabilia, and a joint charitable component. The deal is a landmark one for the trading-card industry and will help to re-energize the basketball collectibles market both in the United States and Internationally.
“I am honored to join the Panini family,” Bryant said. “Panini and I are really excited about embracing the challenge of re-igniting the collecting of basketball trading cards and sticker collections … and everyone knows I like challenges. We look forward to building off the momentum generated from last season’s NBA Championship, and taking that energy to another level. I know from my own experience growing up, how fun collecting and trading these products can be. I really believe collecting these products has the power, through the unique emotions of sports, to unify and strengthen bonds within families and across social groups, no matter what age you are. Panini and I are passionate about developing this hobby in many new and exciting ways. All I can say for now is to have fun expecting the unexpected from us.”
Panini’s inaugural first NBA trading card release, Panini Prestige Basketball, will launch on Oct. 7 and will feature the first authentic autographs from Bryant. He also will appear on Panini’s packaging for future NBA trading card releases and within advertising with future television and radio commercials planned.
“Kobe is going to be the face of Panini basketball and help to get kids excited about NBA trading cards,” said Panini Group Licensing Director Peter Warsop. “He will serve as the greatest of ambassadors for Panini basketball products around the world. We couldn’t be more proud to be associated with one of the most spectacular and transcendent athletes on the planet.”
The Panini/Kobe relationship began long before this exclusive agreement, dating back to Bryant’s childhood growing up in Italy. The Panini Group was originally founded in Modena, Italy almost 50 years ago and its corporate headquarters remain there. The Bryant family moved to Italy when Bryant was six years old as his father, former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, began playing professionally there. Bryant, who speaks fluent Italian, became a huge soccer fan and collected Panini stickers. Panini remains the global leader in sports and entertainment collectibles and has an exclusive license with FIFA for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
“Signing Kobe shows the depth of commitment that Panini has toward offering the very best of basketball products, be it Trading Cards or Stickers and Albums,” Peter Warsop said. “Kobe’s intense focus and championship drive personifies the traits that Panini has exhibited in becoming the leading publisher of collectibles around the world. He brings enormous excitement not only to the game of basketball, but to collecting as well”
In January 2009, the NBA announced Panini will become the exclusive Trading Card partner of the NBA beginning with the 2009-10 season. The Panini Group purchased the industry's second-oldest Trading-Card company, Donruss, in March and formed the new subsidiary, Panini America, Inc. Since that time, Panini has taken significant steps to fortify its position on the basketball landscape, including an exclusive marketing and advertising partnership with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.