Apple May Pit Kobe vs. Samsung's LeBron for 'Cool'

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's been a week since Matthew Garrahan and Tim Bradshaw of the Financial Times reported that Apple (AAPL) was "closing in" on a $3.2 billion deal for headphone maker Beats Electronics. If true, this would make it Apple's largest-ever acquisition.

Although neither company has confirmed they've even had discussions, everyone else has formed an opinion on why it would or would not be a sound strategy for Apple. Regardless of where you stand on this rumor, one thing is certain; Apple, like its own moto, will think different.

But I was still unprepared for what I read this morning by 9TO5Mac's Seth Weintraub. The article claims that Los Angeles Lakers superstar shooting guard Kobe Bryant and his wife were spotted on Apple's Infinite Loop campus in California to meet with Apple's design chief Jony Ive and his team about upcoming products.

>>Read More: 5 Things Apple Doesn't Want You to Know

Since launching its "next big thing" campaign, which has done significant damage to Apple's cache, Samsung (SSNLF) has been closely tied to the National Basketball Association. Samsung has arguably the NBA's best player, LeBron James, in its corner. The four-time MVP and two-time world champion even has his own "LeBron app," which was launched exclusively for Samsung devices.

By its association with the NBA, Samsung is seen as "cool."  Apple, on the other hand, has been criticized for being "too corporate." Apple's drive to change its image is what likely lead to the departure of Katie Cotton, Apple's senior vice president for worldwide communications, who announced last week that she is retiring after 18 years.

Bringing back "the cool" is also the driving motivation behind the Beats acquisition, if true. Hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre, who owns 25% of Beats, is anything but dull. For that matter, neither is Beats co-founder and music producer Jimmy Iovine, who have built Beats into the leader of the high-end headphone market where it controls 27% of that industry.

>>Read More: Apple Has Opportunity to Succeed Where Pandora Failed

If Apple does land an endorsement deal with 5-time world champion Kobe Bryant, Apple, with Beats in hand, would have effectively negated any image-related advantage Samsung attained over the past couple of years. And it seems very likely to happen since Apple's CEO Tim Cook serves on Nike's (NKE) board of directors. And Nike is already one of Bryant's largest endorsement brands.

Weintraub's article talked about Apple's iWatch, a device which is rumored to be in production with the help of some current and former Nike talent. If Apple launches the iWatch with Bryant as its top pitchman, it would be tough to argue against the traction the watch will gain. Weintraub correctly points out that Bryant already has an existing watch endorsement contract with Swiss watch brand Hublot which sell in the range of $20,000 to $30,000. 

>>Read More: Here's Why Apple Can't Dawdle in Replacing Leadership

There are a lot of moving parts here and neither Apple nor Kobe Bryant have responded to inquiries for comment. But suffice it to say, Tim Cook is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the success of Apple's new product categories. Apple is already beating Samsung on the scoreboard, even though Samsung sells more devices. But that, too, may be in danger. Braynt has won multiple scoring tiles. LeBron has won one. Maybe Apple knows something. 

>>Read More: After Apple Buys Beats' Streaming Music, Is Hulu's Video Next?

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL and held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.


This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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