In the wake of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, it’s felt like the entire world is in mourning. Of course, some people have managed to see dollar signs through the tears.
Prior to Bryant’s memorial on Monday, there was a surge in Kobe memorabilia posted on online resale sites. A search for “Kobe Bryant” on eBay alone resulted in 75,774 listings as of Thursday evening. Items included everything from trading cards to a “100% Authentic Kobe Jersey” for $500. Mind you, it’s not a jersey Kobe actually ever wore, just a regular ol’ game day souvenir shop jersey, one you might already have if you’re a fan. A “laser printed autographed” basketball (never touched by Kobe) was going for $3,200.
But what about a jersey the seller claims was actually signed by Kobe? Hundreds of signed jerseys (and many other items) are still being listed on eBay, asking anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000.
Unfortunately, a lot of them are likely to be fakes. That’s according to the Santa Ana-based PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator), an organization that keeps the standards and practices of sports memorabilia trading and employs trained fraud professionals, including handwriting-analysis experts. According to spokesman Terry Melia, 90 percent of the autographed Kobe items they’ve been asked to authenticate have been phonies.
Melia says the spike in sales of faux goods following Kobe’s death rivals what he saw after Muhammad Ali passed in 2016. “According to [our] foremost autograph authenticator, Tom Poon, this is one of the all-time highest we’ve ever seen,” Melia says. “[Poon] attributes part of that spike to Kobe’s relatively young age  since he hadn’t signed a proliferation of autographs during his post-career days [he retired in 2016].”
Melia shared a couple of genuine autographs, but how is the untrained eye supposed to suss out what’s real and what’s not online? Unfortunately, professional authenticators are the only ones who can make the determination. If you’re not up for that, consider buying from an auction house that certifies its memorabilia.
Asked to explain the basic economy of memorabilia collecting, Melia says, “Because of the emotional pull a superstar’s sudden death like Kobe’s has on his adoring public, a sense of urgency takes over where fans want to get something of Kobe’s—a signed jersey or a basketball or a photograph—and they’re willing to pay top money for it.
“Unfortunately,” he adds “that opens the door for unscrupulous types to step in and start hawking fraudulent memorabilia.”
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