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A Quantitative Analysis of Kobe Bryant’s Popularity Using Google

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*Disclaimer: I’m not a big NBA fan. I’m just a big sports fan with a lot of interest in search patterns and behavior. And it also helps the now-retired Bryant went to high school a short drive away from the FourFront office.  

Kobe Bryant is going to go down as one of the best basketball players of all time, and arguably, one of its most popular. So popular, in fact, that even the air around him can cost upwards of $15,000.

And as a sports fan with an interest in all things Google, what better way to quantify interest in a player and his popularity by measuring it with Google search traffic?

In this post, we’ll take a look at the recent popularity of Bryant and how it stacks up against some of the NBA’s top players, as well as measuring his popularity across the NBA.

The Popularity of Kobe Bryant

The key to Bryant’s popularity is an obvious one: his on-the-court talent. Arguably the best player to have ever played in the NBA not named Michael Jordan, Bryant’s statistics and accolades alone point to being one of the most popular players of all time.

Let’s look at just a few highlights:

Career Statistics (via basketball-reference.com)

  • 33,643 career points (3rd all-time)
  • 25.0 PPG (12th all-time)
  • 5,640 career playoff points (3rd all-time)
  • 1,827 3-pt FGs (11th all-time)
  • 1,944 steals (14th all-time)

Awards

  • 5x NBA Champion
  • 18x NBA All-Star
  • 2x NBA MVP
  • 11x All-NBA First Team selection
  • 9x NBA All-Defensive First Team selection
  • 2x NBA Scoring Champion

Another unique aspect to Bryant’s popularity? In the age of free agency and $100+ million contracts, Bryant played each of his 20 years with one of the league’s most popular teams: the Los Angeles Lakers. No disrespect to the Los Angeles Clippers (a team that struggled to stay competitive during most of Bryant’s career), but Bryant was bound to be an all-time favorite playing for one of the most popular teams in the league for two decades.

Comparing Kobe Bryant to Other Top NBA Players

As an avid sports fan and an admittedly-casual NBA fan, one thing I find interesting about the NBA is the fact it’s driven by its superstars. The other 3 major sports (NFL, MLB, NHL) seem to be less reliant on their elite players (although they certainly market them well enough) to draw in fans and TV audiences.

Players such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry and several others are as big of assets to the NBA as they are to their individual teams.

Method

To get an understanding of Bryant’s popularity in today’s NBA, I’ve compared Bryant to a select group of the NBA’s elite: LeBron James (Miami Heat/Cleveland Cavaliers), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers), Steph Curry (Golden State Warriors), and James Harden (Oklahoma City/Houston Rockets).

This selection of players was based on NBA MVP voting results beginning in the 2010-2011 NBA season. Players were assigned points based on where they finished in the MVP vote; the NBA MVP (the #1 finisher) was assigned 10 points, the runner-up assigned 9 points, etc. – with the #10 vote-getter receiving 1 point.

The results:

Player Total Points Average Average MVP Finish
LeBron James 45 9.0 2.0
Kevin Durant 34 6.8 4.2
Chris Paul 24 4.8 6.2
Kobe Bryant 20 4.0 7.0
James Harden 18 3.6 7.4
Steph Curry 15 3.0 8.0

While this table could change following this year’s voting, it’s not likely. Curry (likely a unanimous MVP pick this season) could push his way higher up the list and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (who missed the cut with 9 total points) could find his way on this list based on this year’s results. Since voting results have not yet been released, we’ll move forward with our current list.

To measure search traffic for each player, I came up with some of the top keywords for each player (approximately 600 keywords per player) and recorded the approximate search traffic for each player’s keyword group beginning with the earliest possible data (April 2014).

Total Google Search Traffic by Player

Player Apr-14 May-14 Jun-14 Jul-14 Aug-14 Sep-14 Oct-14 Nov-14 Dec-14 Jan-15 Feb-15 Mar-15 Apr-15 May-15 Jun-15 Jul-15 Aug-15 Sep-15 Oct-15 Nov-15 Dec-15 Jan-16 Feb-16 Mar-16
Kobe Bryant 1,330,850 1,572,680 1,932,230 1,892,740 1,318,670 1,074,790 1,593,120 1,960,130 2,864,120 1,967,490 1,743,280 1,740,510 1,361,760 1,643,070 2,022,060 1,586,140 1,338,750 1,100,490 1,912,080 3,577,460 3,777,260 2,421,590 3,077,110 2,085,370
LeBron James 2,682,390 3,360,430 6,650,400 13,299,380 3,086,640 2,136,690 3,085,230 2,645,300 3,343,230 3,163,920 2,970,550 2,910,080 2,864,760 4,932,830 10,372,930 3,268,170 2,674,900 2,148,110 2,277,350 3,287,320 4,169,220 3,412,480 3,352,920 3,326,760
Kevin Durant 1,490,300 3,688,780 1,219,820 1,247,170 1,372,540 865,990 1,191,160 1,202,750 1,443,740 1,193,660 1,217,570 1,400,060 975,340 973,620 999,170 822,670 691,260 649,900 916,860 1,139,540 1,035,370 987,260 1,432,150 1,058,390
Chris Paul 640,500 793,800 357,650 330,970 282,710 187,380 277,350 342,110 353,700 346,840 501,410 432,790 722,410 1,143,830 359,230 416,000 234,490 186,940 278,860 429,150 441,770 425,760 443,200 448,030
James Harden 479,990 314,200 253,530 261,960 318,320 313,240 254,570 423,360 497,830 604,350 1,105,700 958,970 1,128,150 1,732,830 887,490 1,128,660 1,443,790 809,160 1,881,430 1,170,880 1,222,490 972,930 1,004,840 670,810
Steph Curry 214,020 148,220 71,510 78,380 124,220 95,710 114,670 228,980 411,240 433,980 617,090 630,500 978,960 2,883,340 3,740,120 759,000 498,000 437,400 635,990 1,790,630 2,014,450 1,566,120 2,623,250 2,380,710

Using the charts above, it’s easy to see LeBron James is the most searched of the players we measured. Of the players measured, James accounted for 42% of player-related search queries, followed by Bryant (21%) and Durant (13%). In total, James accounted for approximately 95.4 million search queries. Bryant, the second most-search player, accounted for approximately 46.9 million search queries.

Over the past few months, we can see James-related search traffic has leveled off but still remains the highest of the players measured, including the likely-MVP Award winner, Steph Curry. James-related search traffic saw huge spikes in significant career events for the 4-time MVP, including:

  • James free-agency speculation and subsequent opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat (June 2015).
  • James re-joins the Cleveland Cavaliers, signing a two-year, $42.1 million contract (July 2015).
  • James makes his sixth NBA Finals appearance, losing to Curry and the Warriors in six games (June 2015).

Remarkably, these events far outpaced the search traffic Bryant received after announcing his retirement at the end of the 2015-2016 season. The month after his retirement announcement (his announcement was made Nov. 29, thus only providing less than 2 full days of search traffic), Bryant-related traffic was approximately 3.8 million queries – only a fraction of the approximate 13.3 million queries James received after signing with the Cavaliers in July 2015.

Other highlights:

  • Kevin Durant peaked the same month he accepted his first NBA MVP award. Not coincidentally, Durant’s MVP Acceptance Speech was a viral sensation and continues to live on in meme form across the web (May 2014).
  • Steph Curry makes his first NBA Finals appearance, defeating James and the Cavaliers in six games (June 2015).

Future Trends

It’s important to point out there is data yet to captured by this chart: Kobe Bryant’s final game (4/13/2016), Golden State’s record-setting 73rd regular-season win (4/13/2016), this season’s MVP announcement, and the 2015/2016 NBA Playoffs.

We can reasonably expect search traffic to increase for each respective player based on the dates and events listed above. Here’s a quick breakdown for anticipated search traffic increases in the upcoming months:

  • Kobe Bryant: final NBA game (April 2016)
  • LeBron James: potential 2015/2016 NBA Finals appearance (June 2016)
  • Steph Curry: potential 2015/2016 NBA Finals appearance, likely-MVP Award Winner (May/June 2016)

This breakdown assumes that James and Curry both reach the NBA Finals (both players play on the top-seeded team in their respective conferences), but we would also expect an increase in search traffic if another player (Chris Paul & the LA Clippers, James Harden & HOU Rockets) ends up reaching the NBA Finals.

One final note: if Paul or Harden were to reach the NBA Finals, it would be interesting to monitor search traffic during this time. For their respective team to reach the Finals, each player would likely be putting on an excellent playoff performance; this unanticipated performance might lead to a more drastic increase than a similar performance from James or Curry, who are both largely expected to reach the Finals.

Popularity by NBA City

Method

While Bryant spent each of his 20 seasons in Los Angeles with the Lakers (sorry, Hornets fans), his popularity in today’s NBA spans across all markets.

To quantify this popularity, I’ve measured the search traffic for the same Kobe Bryant-related keywords by location. Although NBA fans certainly live outside of their respective team’s city, only the home city of each NBA team was measured during this exercise.

A few caveats:

  • Due to their proximity, New York & Brooklyn traffic were indistinguishable and combined into a single figure (New York).
  • When measuring the traffic of teams representing their respective states (Minnesota, Indiana, etc.), the location of their home arena was used.

Kobe Bryant-related Search Traffic by NBA City

City Apr-14 May-14 Jun-14 Jul-14 Aug-14 Sep-14 Oct-14 Nov-14 Dec-14 Jan-15 Feb-15 Mar-15 Apr-15 May-15 Jun-15 Jul-15 Aug-15 Sep-15 Oct-15 Nov-15 Dec-15 Jan-16 Feb-16 Mar-16
Los Angeles 21,690 121,700 151,400 177,060 119,060 82,510 146,760 178,150 219,450 182,360 139,590 144,190 106,920 130,760 158,990 126,540 103,440 83,200 175,370 324,590 289,250 191,710 198,270 192,290
Boston 4,100 3,330 4,130 5,690 4,800 4,810 8,080 6,820 8,120 6,820 6,450 5,460 3,530 3,500 4,950 4,910 4,410 4,150 8,100 16,830 21,810 10,500 12,700 9,190
New York 45,420 46,220 66,380 64,930 44,780 35,920 63,630 78,770 81,570 66,110 61,660 60,380 46,550 56,380 70,150 54,580 45,240 37,280 64,250 140,620 124,340 69,160 104,860 69,090
Philadelphia 10,210 10,490 12,190 12,090 8,500 6,790 12,230 14,490 15,100 12,210 13,130 11,730 7,890 10,900 10,950 10,190 8,610 6,310 10,310 25,110 27,390 12,620 18,760 11,660
Toronto 16,620 16,810 17,220 19,730 13,910 11,450 19,440 23,890 28,850 19,880 18,270 18,320 12,230 16,760 17,370 16,500 13,980 11,400 19,360 43,520 46,340 20,980 46,870 20,370
Chicago 17,540 17,480 21,730 25,400 18,250 14,610 25,150 31,060 45,970 32,060 28,020 24,460 19,670 26,610 27,950 21,640 18,640 15,300 25,740 54,520 49,550 32,760 50,100 28,120
Cleveland 2,950 3,530 5,100 6,050 4,260 2,880 4,940 4,960 6,330 6,310 5,600 5,030 4,500 5,340 6,440 4,390 3,700 3,050 4,930 10,200 10,870 6,670 13,620 6,640
Detroit 4,210 4,360 5,130 5,700 4,230 3,480 5,080 5,080 6,200 5,790 6,600 4,890 4,590 6,540 7,720 6,010 5,400 4,370 7,360 12,120 13,430 7,820 10,180 8,170
Indianapolis, IN 3,520 4,380 4,320 4,390 3,480 3,000 4,380 4,510 6,700 5,130 4,770 4,190 3,520 3,940 4,480 3,750 3,580 2,780 4,280 8,440 8,090 5,510 9,500 5,040
Milwaukee 3,280 3,570 4,330 3,580 3,030 2,960 4,140 4,300 5,860 4,240 4,760 4,040 3,790 4,310 4,410 3,630 3,530 2,710 4,360 7,320 7,650 4,680 8,040 4,810
Atlanta 7,730 11,360 18,650 14,900 10,330 7,290 17,360 17,990 22,420 18,610 16,780 16,780 14,010 19,750 23,850 15,870 12,890 9,660 15,600 31,680 40,960 19,250 28,530 20,610
Charlotte 5,180 6,320 6,360 5,720 4,080 3,370 8,120 9,000 10,750 8,690 7,980 8,400 6,580 6,400 8,860 6,290 5,680 4,340 7,310 14,420 15,910 9,150 11,360 8,030
Miami 4,170 5,210 8,130 8,140 4,850 4,080 6,550 6,940 9,620 6,890 9,160 7,490 5,220 6,040 7,290 6,010 5,750 4,300 6,880 16,560 15,510 9,170 13,050 11,060
Orlando 4,370 4,560 5,990 5,830 3,600 3,410 8,570 8,330 10,580 7,340 6,510 5,490 5,530 6,170 9,090 7,230 5,890 4,290 7,080 14,490 12,950 7,490 9,380 7,000
Washington 5,170 4,560 5,790 7,190 6,130 4,190 12,000 14,910 21,910 17,610 13,980 14,000 11,050 13,200 19,000 12,720 12,640 8,810 14,660 30,220 33,010 15,340 23,000 16,200
Dallas 4,400 4,330 5,920 6,030 5,140 4,440 12,220 14,510 18,590 14,990 13,500 12,210 13,610 16,070 19,290 15,420 13,190 9,080 15,760 37,330 35,670 20,040 28,070 16,710
Houston 12,240 12,600 17,480 17,180 12,300 10,070 24,920 25,590 32,010 25,820 23,160 23,840 19,100 22,640 28,050 21,640 18,380 14,920 25,460 45,360 50,360 27,530 40,710 27,200
Memphis 4,050 4,400 5,070 4,980 3,640 3,070 4,840 5,100 7,160 6,200 5,460 5,580 4,540 5,490 6,250 5,240 5,100 3,670 5,790 10,070 11,240 6,440 9,730 5,860
New Orleans 3,280 5,180 6,290 4,290 3,500 1,790 2,760 4,310 3,540 3,520 4,930 3,560 2,330 2,170 3,060 2,230 1,940 1,460 2,370 4,740 4,820 2,830 4,600 2,950
San Antonio 8,390 10,390 15,120 9,670 5,910 4,250 6,870 8,520 10,470 8,470 6,880 6,920 7,620 9,090 7,510 8,720 7,650 5,480 7,140 14,400 15,590 7,940 15,350 6,860
Denver 3,650 4,200 5,830 5,730 3,610 3,130 6,170 8,810 12,970 10,600 8,040 7,360 4,640 4,600 6,300 5,130 3,800 3,680 5,980 11,910 13,360 6,550 9,200 8,080
Minneapolis, MN 4,180 4,060 4,900 5,520 4,090 3,230 7,060 8,340 14,480 8,140 7,660 5,480 4,360 5,070 5,840 4,890 4,710 3,660 5,820 9,710 10,890 5,990 7,660 5,450
Oklahoma City 2,350 3,080 3,110 3,030 2,170 1,900 3,460 3,010 4,370 3,140 3,100 3,420 2,200 2,210 2,720 2,520 1,980 1,650 2,620 5,260 6,510 3,320 4,790 2,910
Portland 3,850 4,280 490 4,850 3,420 2,980 5,660 6,990 8,370 7,130 5,370 4,720 3,760 4,340 5,120 4,230 3,680 3,010 4,870 12,070 10,760 9,000 7,740 5,320
Salt Lake City, UT 1,790 1,670 2,040 2,440 1,710 1,530 2,520 3,200 4,410 4,390 3,700 3,160 2,790 3,240 3,400 2,590 2,200 1,550 2,670 5,210 5,130 5,500 3,760 4,830
Oakland 2,040 1,920 2,330 2,340 1,810 1,520 2,030 2,770 300 2,520 2,240 2,150 1,900 2,660 3,490 2,000 1,710 1,350 2,420 6,810 5,010 4,340 3,750 2,850
Phoenix 4,180 3,720 4,980 4,920 4,290 3,150 6,180 7,270 8,790 8,300 6,750 7,030 5,590 6,340 7,490 6,160 6,190 4,520 8,510 14,530 13,470 8,110 10,760 9,270
Sacramento 2,810 3,370 3,960 3,890 2,870 2,560 4,490 4,760 6,840 5,000 4,560 4,560 5,040 5,230 6,990 5,760 4,790 3,530 6,730 10,220 9,310 7,570 6,600 5,410

We can easily see that search traffic spiked across all locations the same month Bryant announced his upcoming retirement from the NBA. Kobe Bryant-related search queries in NBA cities peaked at 938,260 in November 2015, a 98.9% increase over the previous month (471,730 queries).

We also see an increase in traffic from Chicago in December 2014 (a 48% increase from November 2014), which can largely be attributed to the Lakers-Bull Christmas Day game – a game Bryant ended up sitting out of to rest his body.

Interestingly, if we were to weight the search traffic by city population (total search queries/city population), Bryant-related search traffic peaked in December 2015. The city? Atlanta. One possible reason was the Atlanta Hawks played the Lakers on December 4, just 5 days after Bryant’s retirement announcement.

Not surprisingly, Los Angeles accounted for the majority of Kobe Bryant-related search traffic coming from NBA cities (34%). Other notable cities:

  • New York (14% of search queries)
  • Chicago (6%)
  • Houston (5%)
  • Toronto (5%)

One surprising exclusion from the most-search cities: Philadelphia. Despite being born in Philadelphia and playing his high school basketball at nearby Lower Merion High School, Philadelphia accounted for just 3% of total search queries. Philadelphia also hosted the first game Bryant played after announcing he would be retiring at the end of the season.

Takeaways

Based on the data presented, it’s clear that Bryant remains one of the most popular players in the NBA. Even past his prime, Bryant brought a unique presence and skillset to the NBA that will be incredibly difficult to replicate.

Had we been able to capture search traffic data for his entire career (beginning in 1996), we might have seen LeBron-esque search traffic numbers – which also meant we might have needed to analyze search engines such as Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, and AOL. So when we revisit this post in 20 years for the NBA’s next great superstar, we’ll see entirely new search patterns, behaviors and ways of measurement.

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