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Bryant Hasn’t Picked a Winner in Footrace

Times Staff Writer

CLEVELAND -- Double the points, double the rebounds, double the assists, double the ... shoes.

Between his triple doubles against the Clippers and Portland, Kobe Bryant, without a shoe contract since splitting with Adidas in the summer, switched from Nike to Reebok.

Bryant won’t talk much about negotiations -- Nike and Reebok are said to be frothing the most, though industry insiders say they’d be shocked if Bryant weren’t ultimately in his very own Nikes -- having said he would not rush the process.

Persistent rumors, flatly denied by Bryant and his representatives, contend that parting terms with Adidas do not allow Bryant to sign with a new shoe company until later this season, perhaps until the All-Star break, and that he cannot wear the same brand of shoe for more than three consecutive games.

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When Bryant and Adidas ended a six-year relationship that paid him about $5 million a year in mid-July, Adidas said that Bryant would “play in various brands next season while evaluating his options,” presumptuous if Bryant’s contract had simply expired.

Still, said a person closer to Bryant than the shoe companies, “He’s a free agent. He can sign with anyone tomorrow, if he wanted.”

In exhibition games, Bryant wore Nike shoes six times and Reeboks twice.

In his first four regular-season games, he stayed with the rotation, wearing Nike three times and Reebok once.

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Bryant said he would play in the 2004 Olympics if selected, and that he’d like Shaquille O’Neal to join him.

“I’ve been in his ear a little bit,” Bryant said. “He said, ‘If you do it, I’ll do it.’ ”

O’Neal had previously said that he would play if Laker Coach Phil Jackson were the coach.

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A possible hurdle is next summer’s Olympic qualifier, which no one seems to have much interest in. Bryant, for one, is expecting a daughter in February, his first child.

“Two straight summers might be a bit much,” he said.

As it was, after feeling some urge to play at the World Championships in September, Bryant sat out to be beside wife Vanessa through the early part of the pregnancy. “I didn’t want to miss anything,” he said.


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