Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant unexpectedly dropped in on an international marketing class last Thursday evening. Bryant was in Boston for a game against the Boston Celtics, but has been sidelined with a fractured left knee since Dec. 17.
Nick Nugent, a part-time faculty member in CSOM’s marketing department, had no idea that Bryant would be paying a visit to his classroom. Nugent arrived to campus just minutes before his class was set to begin, and in a rush to the classroom, never had a chance to check his email. Later that night, there were two unread emails in his inbox-one from Bryant’s personal assistant, the other from the dean’s office telling him to expect a special visitor.
Just before Bryant walked in a few minutes into the class, Nugent started off his lecture with an example of an organization that is successful in international marketing.
“I started off [class] by what I thought would be a compelling example of international marketing, and I used the NBA as an example,” Nugent said in a phone interview. “I asked the class who they thought was the top selling NBA player in the world, outside of the United States, and I said it’s Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant’s jersey is the best selling jersey in the world. So, I finish that example and then the door opens up and Kobe Bryant walks in.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years and that was the most bizarre 5 minutes of my career,” said Nugent, who at first mistook Bryant for a Boston College basketball player.
Nugent, who has taught at BC for 27 years, has had famous students in the past, like Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, A&S ’08, and actor Chris O’Donnell, CSOM ’92-although Nugent acknowledged that few could compare to the stardom of Bryant.
“I’ve had a lot of famous people in class … and guys who went to the NBA, but this guy is a true rock star,” Nugent said. “He is one of the most famous athletes in the world.”
Nugent said Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and 15-time All-Star, wanted to sit in on a class at BC while in Boston, and he decided on his international marketing class because he was most interested in it. He stayed for the whole two and a half hours and even asked a question about cross-border trade.
“I did not go to college, but I love to learn and international marketing is something I am interested in,” Bryant told the students.
According to Forbes, Bryant makes $32 million a year in endorsement deals from companies like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Mercedes-Benz. Nike, which markets Bryant’s line of basketball shoes, has promoted his image to further its markets in China, where Bryant is immensely popular.
He started summer camps there in the late 1990s and has since increased his presence in the country. He is considered a hero by the Chinese and his stardom there is far greater than it is anywhere in the U.S. According to the L.A. Times, Chinese riot police have compared his arrival to that of the Rolling Stones.
In 2009, Bryant was honored by the Asia Society, a U.S. nonprofit that focuses on educating the world about Asia, for his work as a “cultural ambassador.” That same year he established the Kobe Bryant China Fund, a foundation that raises money for education and health programs in China.
“We had three Japanese exchange students [in the class], and one of them said to me, ‘Who is that?’ And I told them he was a famous basketball player, and then I realized that Kobe is like a rock star in Japan,” Nugent said. “It’s very difficult to lecture in a situation like that, because you have somebody so important in front of you, but it went really well.”
As for tonight’s class, Nugent says it will be impossible to surpass the excitement and awe that filled his classroom just last week.