Saturday , Jul , 14 , 2007 Oly Sandor

L.A.’s Biggest Sports Star: Kobe Bryant or David Beckham?

Kobe Bryant’s reign as The Man in L.A. may have ended with the arrival of David Beckham … But Bryant is a committed athlete, while Beckham’s an athlete and celebrity … Who runs L.A.: Kobe Bean or Becks? … Click here for news and analysis …

Michael Ventre on the possibility of David Beckham becoming L.A.’s biggest sports star:

In (L.A.) sports, Kobe Bryant has been king. But he’s a paper tiger, for a few reasons. First and foremost, he wants out of L.A. He currently resides in the only area where an ego as large as his can be accommodated without major structural modifications, and yet he wants to be elsewhere.

Also, Kobe’s star is on the wane. He did himself no favors in recent weeks with his blistering attack on his employers, which angered a good chunk of his fan base. And frankly, although he’s been a spectacular player in an individual sense, he’s been a failure as a teammate and a leader. The only three championship rings he possesses came about with the help of Shaquille O’Neal, Phil Jackson and role players like Robert Horry, Derek Fisher and Rick Fox.

Much of Bryant’s luster comes from his self-professed status as a winner. But that image is wearing as thin as Nicole Richie.

Beckham doesn’t have to worry about being a winner. Few in the really follow soccer, and particularly the MLS, closely enough to lose sleep over win-loss records. All he has to do is look good, smile and not demand a trade.

Beckham also is, by most accounts, a decent guy. There may not be an individual on the planet whose professional and personal lives have been pried into more enthusiastically, and yet he seems to handle it all with a level head and good humor. That will give him extra points on the Celeb-O-Meter.

As for some of the other sports stars … Guerrero either can’t, or won’t, speak English, so he is mostly ignored by the press. Brand is underrated and underappreciated. But he’s a humble man who toils for the Clippers — a bad combination. Carroll is the most successful coach in college football over the past five years, but he’s hardly a pinup/nightclub type, and the closest he gets to Hollywood is when Will Ferrell visits the locker room after games.

After them, the field is startlingly thin.

No, Beckham’s real competition lies outside of sports. Actors, musicians, directors, chefs, designers, politicians, sportswriters (don’t laugh, we get the best tables in restaurants; all we have to do is wait two hours) and the like are all that stand in the way of Beckham’s ascent to the pinnacle of celebrityhood. It should be an easy climb.

My Quick Take: Kobe will feel the heat from David Beckham, the newest celebrity to invade Hollywood. However, I disagree with Ventre’s take.

Beckham is already a bigger celebrity than Bryant-at least globally. The Englishman, with the pop-star wife, has transcended his sport and is a world icon/brand.

In Asia, they love Beckham. In South America, they adore Senor Beckham. In Europe, they worship ‘Becks.’

And, in all three continents, they buy whatever he’s selling: shoes, cologne, hairstyles, and jerseys.

This is the point. Right now, Beckham is half-celebrity, half-soccer star. I have no idea what comes first.

Sure, the midfielder talks a good game, professing his love for football. But if he truly loved his sport, Beckham would have continued playing in Europe instead of coming to a second-tier league in America.

I know. He’s a soccer/football ambassador. His mission: to spread the game in America.

Well, if Beckham wanted to be Kofi Annan, he should have joined the United Nations. In fact, he would probably do a decent job solving global conflicts or preserving fresh water supplies for the poor.

Bryant is a basketball player. There’s no half-way. Marketing, branding, and playing Henry Kissinger is an afterthought to perfecting his craft. In fact, it can be argued Bryant is too committed to perfecting his craft.

#24 would never leave the NBA on a diplomatic jaunt to further his sport. Bryant would have to be gagged and kidnapped. Once the gag was removed, he would insult his new team and league like they were Mitch Kupchak and .      

I admire Beckham’s class. I also admire his amazing right foot. But the celebrity-tail is wagging the soccer-player-dog.

There’s no mistaking Bryant.  He’s a basketball player. That’s all he wants to be. And that’s why he’s still L.A.’s biggest sports star.

Who do you think is L.A.’s biggest sports star: Kobe Bryant or David Beckham? Get at us with your thoughts in the comment box below.

Click here to read and subscribe to Oly Sandor’s NBA Blog.