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by Steven Barboza

Rated PG-13 – This sports story involves money, sex, glamor, dangerous stunts, fast cars, intense family drama, snakes in a name, Chinese reality TV, show-glitzy commutes, house-priced wristwatches, Turkish flights and a highly improbable scoring feat. It is the story about the 13 degrees of Kobe Bryant, a six-and-a-half foot ball player who’s one of the world’s richest and most powerful celebrities.

1st Degree: Salary King Kobe

Last April, legendary NBA-er Kobe Bryant signed a three-year, $83.5 million extension on his contract with the LA Lakers, which meant he would be paid $108 million over four years, with $30.5 million due for the 2013-14 NBA season alone.

In 2013, Bryant will earn $371,951 per game, not including incentives or bonuses – and he will play at least 82 games. “That’s a nice chunk of change,” said BonafideSports.com website owner Hugh Lewis. “Right now he’s at the top of his game, and nobody on the court can touch him salary-wise.”

Bryant is the highest-paid NBA player this season. The second highest-paid, Orlando’s Rashard Lewis, will earn $20.5 million. With the sole exception of Michael Jordan (who earned $33.1 million in 1998), no NBA player has ever earned a fatter salary than Bryant in a single year.

For Bryant, it gets even better. By the time it’s all said and done, Bryant, who joined the Lakers in a trade in 1996, will have been paid $280 million in salary alone.

Furthermore, Forbes estimated that Bryant’s net worth was $140 million – and that was in 2009. He’s almost certainly worth more today. The sources of his wealth: basketball and endorsements.

Bryant’s total take is expected to hit $50 million this year when you factor in endorsements, according to Forbes. LeBron James’s take home? About $40 million in salary and endorsements. This of course means Bryant, not James, is king of the NBA.

In 2013 Bryant will take home 50% more than most of the league’s other top players. Some sports enthusiasts say that as great as he is, he’s not worth that kind of money, adding that the very best players aren’t even among the top 20 highest-paid, including LeBron James. With Bryant’s aging, beat-up body, including injuries to his finger and knee, could the naysayers be right?

Many disagree. Bryant is a winner and a world champion, which is more than can be said for many other top-level players. Winners take all, including endorsements.

2nd Degree: Marketing Maverick

As basketball royalty, Bryant gives assists to many big-name corporations, from clothing companies to soft drink kings. In 2010, in Forbes’s list of the world’s best-paid athletes, Bryant, with earnings of $48 million, ranked third behind Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan.

Bryant graced the cover of Forbes back in the 90s, when he signed a six-year contract with Adidas worth about $48 million. He then signed a $40 million deal with Nike. His other deals: endorsements for the Coca-Cola Company, McDonald’s, Spalding, Upper Deck, Italian chocolate company Ferrer SpA’s brand Nutella, and the Russell Corporation.

Bryant promotes Vitamin Water, has appeared in his own series of Nintendo videogames, appeared in commercials for the Guitar Hero World Tour videogame in 2008, and Call of Duty: Black Ops last year.

In 2009, he signed a deal with high-end watch brand Nubeo, which created a limited edition line of sports watches, the Black Mamba series, after Bryant’s nickname (more on this later). The watches started at $21,000 and topped out at $285,000.

A basketball fan, Nubeo co-founder Ivan Castro told a reporter the Black Mambas were similar to Bryant’s style of play. “It’s just a beautiful watch but you don’t see all the intricacies.” And Raymond Graj, operational strategist at Graj+Gustavsen, a New York based brand consultancy, told the Wall Street Journal that celebrity athletes can be “great for establishing a new, ultra-high-end brand.”

This year, Bryant entered his “Turkish” phase, signing a two-year deal with Turkish Airlines. The airlines, which offers four flights per week from LA to Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, is a global leader. It earned $515 million profit in 2009, much more than the most profitable U.S. carrier, AirTran, with $135 million in revenue for the same period.

Bryant signed on as Turkish Airlines’s “global brand ambassador” and is slated to appear in promotional videos in  80 countries this year, including those where Bryant has a large fan base. “We are looking forward to working with Mr. Bryant to further build awareness of Turkish Airlines in the United States and around the world,” said Temel Kotil, CEO of Turkish Airlines. “We could not be more thrilled to have an athlete of [his] unsurpassed skill and recognition to represent our brand globally.”

Bryant has never visited Turkey.

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