No sooner did Nike announce it had sold out of Kobe Bryant apparel than what might well be thought of as the vultures swooped in – the dealers ready to sell counterfeit apparel emblazoned with his name and likeness.
It’s not like black-market goods haven’t been in the news; its just incredibly distasteful when it’s unscrupulous dealers see the opportunity to make a quick buck, say those in the know.
One example of the sudden glut of bad merch included mass-produced counterfeit items supposedly (but not really) signed by Kobe.
Energy 94.1 noted the demand is there – and sellers are taking every advantage; one Kobe basketball card, generally expected to sell for around $2,500, has already sold for almost $50,000.
Sports memorabilia dealers are urging buyers to only purchase from reputable sellers who have authenticated merchandise.
A YouTuber went so far as to post a video showing how to tell the difference between a knock-off Kobe jersey and the genuine article, even putting them side by side and demonstrating areas where they differed, including the NBA logo, stitching, labels and other aspects.
Unfortunately, his hard work had to be followed by user comments:
“Bro, it was under $20. I’d take that deal any day!”
“Fake Kobe throwbacks are selling on eBay NOW. I'm actually going to purchase one. To causally wear it, that's not bad at all.”
“Thing is that most people don't really care/notice if it's fake.”
(It was good to see there were also comments thanking the user for posting the video.)
Unfortunately, Kobe merch is likely to remain out of stock for some time yet. SGB Media noted, “ESPN at one point reported that Nike said it would remove all of Bryant’s gear from the site; a company spokesperson later clarified those comments to say it had sold all the remaining inventory, which was likely sparse a few years into his retirement. However, a company spokesperson told ESPN, “There may be Kobe product existing at retail.” (The company said it is still deciding on whether it will release a new Kobe shoe, the Kobe 5 Protro [pictured], on February 7 or postpone the drop, reports said.)
Unfortunately, the integrity of dealers likely won’t matter to those who just want to get Kobe attire, which is one of the hottest items on both eBay and Amazon right now. (eBay, in fact, had tens of thousands of items, many originating in China – but still bearing the NBA logo and Nike swoosh).
Of course, those who do try to make a quick buck should likely be aware that the U.S. has a plan in place to step up its enforcement of counterfeit goods — especially the ones that are sold by Amazon and other operators of third-party online retail platforms.
The Department of Homeland Security has released a 54-page report that includes recommendations and actions that the U.S. government will take to crack down on certain goods, primarily those imported from China. As part of the partial trade agreement the U.S. and China reached earlier this month, China said it would work to combat copyright infringement and counterfeiting on e-commerce websites by penalizing local merchants that repeatedly sell counterfeit goods. The United States will place more of the burden on e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Walmart.com by holding them liable for fake or illicit products that are sold by third-party sellers on their websites. (In addition, law enforcement will also have greater rights to inspect warehouses and fulfillment centers of U.S. online marketplaces for counterfeit merchandise).
The effort comes at a good time. In addition to snapping up all the Kobe clothing possible, the public will be ready to pick up jerseys from Super Bowl winners and caps, shirts and other clothing for MLB teams, since spring training gets underway soon. And with the Olympics on the horizon, it’s likely we’ll see even more TEAM USA clothing appearing on the Internet.
But as we saw from the comments on the YouTube video, particularly when it comes to getting an article of clothing they want, the public doesn’t seem to care about the problem of black-market goods. In fact, their take is often to feel victimized by the fact that “the dealers with the good prices” are being put out of business. As a result, agencies fight the battle on two fronts: trying to squelch the counterfeiters themselves and trying to educate the buyers who propagate illegal activity.
And it’s not like it’s limited to the Internet; counterfeit Kobe autographs were being sold at the Staples Center (yes, the home of the Lakers) before authorities shut the dealer down.
So companies continue to fight the good fight – often using special departments dedicated to scanning auction and sales platforms, and identifying dealers trying to pass off knock-off goods as the real thing.
One sporting goods company that works to prosecute black market dealers has been successful. "We've seized millions of dollars doing that,” he told NPR. “It's been very effective. And I get hate mail every now and then in Chinese."
Rest in peace, Kobe. People are still looking out for you.