Kobe Bryant unveils young adult tennis novel: Why NBA legend's past deeds are unlikely to impact sales

Polarizing NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s latest foray into the creative world with the publication of the tennis-themed young adult novel “Legacy and the Queen” may raise eyebrows among critics, but it is likely to sell well, according to an industry expert.

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Backed by Bryant’s Oscar-winning production firm, Granity Studios, “Legacy and the Queen” follows the adventures of a 12-year-old tennis prodigy who uses her talents to save the kingdom of Nova. The fantasy novel marked the latest departure from basketball for Bryant, who created the story alongside author Annie Matthew.

Bryant is now years removed from the NBA career that made him a national figure. His creative pursuits have won awards but generated a mixed reaction from the public, most notably in March 2018, when Bryant’s Academy Award win prompted critics to reference a 2003 sexual assault allegation against him involving a 19-year-old woman, which was later settled out of court.

While past deeds have rightfully drawn unprecedented scrutiny in the “Me Too” era, which led to the downfall of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, former CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves and other figures accused of wrongdoing, Bryant’s involvement won’t have a negative effect on sales, according to Stacey Miller, longtime book publicist and founder of SJMiller Communications. In fact, it is likely to boost them.

“It’s hard, but Kobe is a legend. He’s a controversial legend and he’s got a lot more issues and venom against him that comes from places other than those particular allegations. … [but] nobody wants books that don’t have some kind of talking point beyond the content of the book,” Miller told FOX Business. “The fact that we have a person who’s so polarizing here [in] Kobe, as the author of record of the books is reason to bring him to the table rather than avoid.”

While the book publishing industry has been under some pressure in recent years, children’s and young adult releases have been relatively stable, with publishers earning a total of $4.45 billion in revenue for fiction and non-fiction content in 2018, according to the Association of American Publishers. Overall revenue and unit sales each rose slightly on a year-over-year basis.

Bryant’s animated short film, “Dear Basketball,” was a critical and commercial success upon its release. However, his win at the 2018 Academy Awards drew a widespread negative reaction on social media. More recently, the American Booksellers Association’s decision to feature Bryant as a speaker at Winter Institute 14 generated criticism among some booksellers at the event, according to Publisher’s Weekly.

Bryant was initially arrested on sexual assault charges in 2003, though the case was later dropped after a settlement was reached. He apologized for his actions but said the encounter was consensual.

Granity Studios did not immediately return a request for comment. Bryant’s firm is set to release five “middle grade and young adult novels” by the end of 2020.

While Bryant’s past deeds may cloud the public perception of his creative pursuits, another element of his work could pose a bigger obstacle to the book’s potential audience. Given his fame as a basketball player, the decision to write a fantasy novel about a tennis player could give some readers pause, according to Miller.

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“It’s a stretch. Part of what you have to have as the author of the book is the credibility to convince people that you’re the guy to write this thing. That said, will kids buy it? Sure,” she said. “This isn’t a book that’s asking any child to take him as a hero or to accept him as a role model. This is, I think, something that says ‘kids, please read. Please get off the internet. Please pick up a book. I think it can do that, and maybe it’s an opportunity to teach our kids, here’s what we don’t do.”