Kobe Bryant is America's most popular athlete. Didn't see that coming, did you?


Thumbnail image for Bryant_airplane.jpgFive years ago, Kobe Bryant may have been America’s most loathed athlete. Calling his career as an endorser “washed up” would have been about the nicest way of putting things one could have.

Now, he is America’s most popular athlete.

According to a poll by Harris Interactive, Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods are tied as the most popular athletes in America. Tiger had held that spot by himself since 2006 but worked tirelessly to screw up his popularity in the past 12 months. Job well done there, sir.

Kobe was mighty unpopular himself a few years back. But he embraced the polarizing nature of his personality — love me or hate me, but you will respect my game. Marketing him became more about marketing his will and drive than his personality. And eventually that evolved because people did start to respect him then like him again. He leads the league in jersey sales, his popularity is global.

Oh, and he started winning. Wining still cures all ills in America.

By the way, Derek Jeter was third (likely just the votes of his ex-girlfriends could have gotten him here), Brett Favre was fourth, Payton Manning fifth, LeBron James sixth (the poll was taken before “the Decision”) and Michael Jordan was seventh.

Tony Parker wants to play six more seasons with Spurs

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Tony Parker revealed a plan nearly two years ago to play until he’s 38.

Coming off his worst season since his rookie year, the Spurs point guard is sticking to that goal.

Parker, via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:

“The Spurs know I want to play until I’m 38,” Parker told Yahoo Sports in a recent phone interview. “That will be 20 seasons for me. That’s my goal. This year is No. 15. And if I’m lucky enough and I’m healthy, hopefully I can play 20 seasons and then I’ll be ready to retire.”

That seems pretty ambitious, no matter how you handle the conflicting math. (Parker is 33. If he plays 20 seasons, he’ll spend most of his final season at age 39 and turn 40 during the playoffs.)

Parker is already showing signs of slippage. Many of his key numbers were down last season, including ESPN’s real-plus minus, where he quietly slipped from 12th to 67th among point guards.

But Gregg Popovich is very liberal with resting his players, and Parker won’t have to carry too much of the load. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will probably retire before Parker, but the Spurs will still have Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

I wouldn’t count on it, but it’s possible Parker lasts that long.

Report: Pelicans signing Greg Smith

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The Pelicans starting center, Omer Asik, is injured.

Their backup center, Alexis Ajinca, is injured.

Enter Greg Smith.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate:

Smith was part of the Rockets’ 2012-13 rotation, but otherwise, he has seen limited minutes in his four-year career with Houston and Dallas. In that small sample, he has looked alright. The 6-foot-10 24-year-old uses his big frame and massive hands to catch passes and finish efficiently near the rim. He has also become more disciplined defensively.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the regular-season roster behind the 13 Pelicans with guaranteed salaries.

But it’s also possible New Orleans signed him just an extra preseason body. That’d beat relying too heavily on the aging Kendrick Perkins and undersized Jeff Adrien at center. Anthony Davis is the Pelicans’ best option at center with Asik and Ajinca sidelined (and maybe even with them healthy), but the biggest drawback to playing him there is the injury risk. If Davis is going to deal with the banging at center, might as well save it for games that count.

Still, even New Orleans plans to keep Smith only through the preseason, this at least gives him a chance to impress.