There's little doubt that Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is the hottest marketing commodity in the NBA. Just look at jersey sales as a metric - his No. 24 is the top NBA jersey across the world.
That's one of the reasons why Panini, the trading card company that surprised the collecting world by scoring the exclusive deal with the NBA in January, signed the four-time world champion and reigning NBA Finals MVP to a multi-year deal.
Bryant, who for most of his career had an autograph and memorabilia deal with Upper Deck, will now be Panini's global trading card ambassador and will only sign memorabilia for the company whose parent is based in Italy.
Bryant's first Panini autographs will be available in the company's Prestige Basketball, which will hit shelves next week. Bryant will also be featured on future box packaging and in radio and television ads.
Bryant has a special connection to the company, thanks to the fact that he spent some of his childhood living in Italy, where Panini product was more prevalent in its home market than it was here in the United States. Bryant also speaks the language.