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Kobe or Curry? Historic day for the NBA presents fan dilemma

Daniel Roberts

The NBA Playoffs have not yet begun, but on Wednesday evening, the NBA has a major draw on its hands: the final career game of Kobe Bryant, one of the league’s biggest stars for the past two decades. There’s only one problem – a different game looks to be an even bigger draw.

What could be a bigger draw than the last game of Kobe Bryant? The last game of the Golden State Warriors this season, in which the superb squad led by Steph Curry has a chance to set an all-time record for regular-season wins. The Warriors have achieved 72 wins, tying Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. In dramatic fashion, they’ve taken it all the way down to the wire: With just one game left, the team can set a new record of 73 wins, or settle for the tie.

One of those games, the L.A. Lakers vs. Utah Jazz, the NBA has known since November would come. The significance of the other – the Warriors vs. Memphis Grizzlies – it could not have seen coming. And now basketball fans have a dilemma: Which game do they watch?

ESPN, for one, has made its decision: This week it bumped Bryant and the Lakers down to ESPN2 in favor of the Warriors. The “worldwide leader in sports” had planned to showcase Bryant’s final game, but that was before the Warriors came along with a chance to make history.

That makes sense, says Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert with Baker Street Advertising in California. “It’s the future vs. the past,” he says. “If you’re a hard core fan, casual observer or completely new to the game, current sponsor or potential marketer, young or old, American or foreigner, your eyes have got to be on the Warriors.” In other words, Dorfman argues that nearly every single group of potential sports viewers will care more about the Warriors game.

Ticket prices tell a different story. On secondary-market ticketing site Tickpick, the average price of a ticket to the Lakers game is up to $2,735. The average price for the Warriors game? A steal, at $1,114. Data shared exclusively with Yahoo Finance shows that on Nov. 29, when Bryant announced his retirement, ticket prices to the Lakers’ final game of the season shot up from $327 to $659, and they never looked back. Another ticketing site, VividSeats, reflects the same preference for Kobe over Curry: $1,820 median ticket price for the Lakers tonight, $811 median price for the Warriors.

Merchandise sales also tell an interesting tale. According to Fanatics, the world’s No. 1 retailer of licensed NBA apparel, Kobe Bryant jerseys have seen a tremendous spike here at the end of his farewell season. Sales of Bryant jerseys are up an astonishing 500% in the past 30 days. Even more interesting, his gear has seen a big bump outside the U.S., specifically in Hong Kong, the No. 2 city for purchases of Kobe gear this month. (No. 1 is L.A., where the Lakers play.)

In the past 30 days, Fanatics says, his jersey has moved up the ladder to become the No. 2 seller in the league, surpassing LeBron, second only to… Steph Curry. He and the Warriors continue to take the league by storm on and off the court: Sales of Warriors team gear are up more than 350% compared to this time last season.

Meanwhile, sports apparel companies have a stake as well: Nike (NKE) sponsors Bryant, while Under Armour (UA) sponsors Curry. The Swoosh rolled out a big #MambaDay campaign to say farewell to the Lakers star, enlisting all of its Nike athletes to record a tribute. But Under Armour's signature Curry shoe surpassed the shoes of all others this season (including LeBron James) except for Jordan Brand. And that's a major sign that while Bryant is exiting, Curry is the future.

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Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.  

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