LOS ANGELES – What do boxing icon Manny Pacquiao and Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant have in common? They’re in the Forbes list of the top 10 highest-paid athletes for the year ended June 2012, they’re fans of each other and they’re at the top of their game.
When Bryant was asked about Pacquiao during a recent interview here in connection with the launch of his new Kobe 8 shoe, his eyes lit up. He recalled playing an All-Star game in Manila last year when during a timeout, he walked up to Pacquiao, watching at courtside, to greet his “idol,” shake hands and bear-hug.
There’s no doubt in Bryant’s mind that Pacquiao will beat Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas this weekend. He’d love to be at ringside, he said, but that depends on his playing schedule. Bryant will be free Saturday night when Pacquiao and Marquez try to end their quadrilogy with an emphatic victory. He’ll play the Thunder at Oklahoma City the night before and the Utah Jazz at the Staples Center the night after. It’s not likely, however, that Bryant will skip town and fly to Las Vegas even if he charters his own private plane. Bryant has been playing with flu symptoms lately and doctors will probably prescribe complete rest on Saturday.
Bryant is 34 and Pacquiao just 11 days from reaching the same age. Undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is at the top of the wealth ladder with earnings of $85 Million, not a single dollar from endorsements. Mayweather isn’t a popular pitchman because of his nasty reputation – he just served a shortened jail sentence for beating up the mother of his two children. Besides, he likes gutter-talk and isn’t wholesome. Mayweather didn’t fight at all in 2008 and has fought just once a year since Juan Manuel Marquez in 2009. He faced Sugar Shane Mosley in 2010, Victor Ortiz in 2011 and Miguel Cotto this year. Obviously, the 35-year-old scrapper is preserving himself for a longer career, avoiding unnecessary wear and tear until he finally lands the big one – the mega-million dollar showdown with Pacquiao.
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There is talk that depending on how Pacquiao fares against Marquez in their fourth duel, Mayweather is next on the agenda. Top Rank promoter Bob Arum is reportedly working on an April clash between Pacquiao and Mayweather in an open-air makeshift arena in Las Vegas. That’s not all. There is more talk that a rematch will be held in November. Pacquiao just signed a one-year extension of his contract with Top Rank up to the end of 2013, meaning two fights. He was reportedly given a $1 Million signing bonus – not a bad deal but a drop in the bucket considering the Filipino’s usual fight purses of at least $20 Million.
Mayweather’s take of $85 Million was from his bouts against Ortiz in May 2011 and Cotto last June. Curiously, if the cut-off was May 2012, Pacquiao would be the highest-paid athlete in the world, according to Forbes. Mayweather would be No. 10 in the ladder with $40 Million. It must be noted that since Mayweather promotes himself, he maximizes his earning potential. Pacquiao shares fight revenues with Top Rank which acts as his promoter.
Pacquiao is No. 2 in the Forbes list with $62 Million. Golfer Tiger Woods is next with $59.4 Million. Miami Heat forward LeBron James is No 4 with $53 Million and tennis’ Roger Federer No. 5 with $52.7 Million. Bryant is No. 6 with $52.3 Million, including $25.2 Million in salary and the rest in endorsements. Bryant signed his first shoe contract as a rookie in 1996 and the $48 Million deal with Adidas ran for six years. Then, he moved to Nike, inking a five-year deal in 2003 worth in the range of $40-45 Million. Bryant’s contract with Nike has since been extended and the relationship is stronger than ever. The recent release of the revolutionary Kobe 8 shoe is proof that Bryant and Nike are together for keeps.
In conceptualizing designs for his signature shoes, Bryant confided that he draws inspiration from various image sources. “We have meeting with Nike designers and I share random thoughts,” he said. “I’ve got a good relationship with Nike, we’re like family. The Nike 8 was over a year in the making (18 months, according to innovation leader Jeff Spanks). Some of my thoughts come from watching the Discovery Channel or the Animal Planet on TV. We try to get to the point quickly, how to make a better shoe.”
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Bryant jokingly said he feels bad for the Nike creative group because of his demanding approach. “I wanted a game-changing shoe, a lightweight pair,” he said. “I share a lot of crazy ideas and I challenge them to come up with something concrete. They make the design and I check them out, test them out on the court. I wanted a shoe that will enhance my performance, keep my game at a high level. I’m very sensitive to that. I know it’s a lot of pressure on the Nike guys but I also know I’m working with the best.”
Spanks said the Nike team looks forward to getting together with Bryant in discussing a concept and “we jam on it.” “It’s an honor to work with Kobe,” said Spanks. “He inspires and challenges us. Kobe’s honest. He tells it like it is, we appreciate it, we love his positive approach and his feedback. We do the best to deliver for him. In designing Kobe 8, we looked at the Black Mamba persona and the coming Year of the Snake so we studied snakes and even went to the zoo.
Nike shoe graphic designer Erick Goto has worked on shoes for Bryant, James and Kevin Durant. For the Kobe 8, Goto has laid out 30 colorways. Last year’s shoe incorporated traits of the cheetah, shark and snake. The Kobe 8 is exclusively for the Year of the Snake. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Goto’s father Ariel is half-Filipino, half-Japanese and works as a postman. His mother Daisy Buenaobra is pure Filipina and employed as an office worker. His parents are from Binangonan, Rizal. Goto, 27, has visited the Philippines only thrice and the last was over 10 years ago. His accomplishments as a Nike graphic designer are a source of pride for all Filipinos.