August 14, 2003 at 12:41 AM EST - Updated June 23 at 9:41 AM
By HARRY R. WEBER, Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA (AP) - LeBron James has signed a six-year deal with the Coca-Cola Co. to be a key endorser of Sprite.
The company stopped running Sprite ads featuring Kobe Bryant in early July, around the same time he was accused of raping a woman in Colorado. Company spokesman Scott Williamson said Thursday the deal with James -- this year's No. 1 draft pick -- was "unrelated to Kobe Bryant's situation."
Financial terms of James' deal, which also calls for him to endorse Powerade, weren't disclosed.
James (pictured, above) already has more than $100 million in endorsement deals, including a $90 million contract with Nike in May and a $6 million contract with Upper Deck trading cards.
The Coke deal comes a week after sports-drink company Gatorade pulled out of negotiations with the Cleveland Cavaliers rookie. He twice was named Gatorade's player of the year, and it had been assumed he would become one of its pitchmen, following in the footsteps of his idol, Michael Jordan.
"I have been drinking Sprite and Powerade for a long time," James said in a statement. "I have always admired the way Sprite and Powerade spoke to young people and athletes, and I can't wait to be a part of it."
The 18-year-old Akron, Ohio, basketball star entered the NBA draft out of high school. He has a $13 million contract with the Cavaliers.
"What's important to Coca-Cola is taking the immediate attention away from Kobe Bryant and Sprite and attaching it to a new player like LeBron James," said Todd Stender, an analyst with Crowell, Weedon and Co. in Los Angeles. "He's going to be the biggest name this season in the NBA."
Bryant, who is free on bond, is charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman on June 30. He said the sex was consensual. A preliminary hearing is set for Oct. 9.
Coke has said it planned to stop running Bryant ads temporarily even before the accusations.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)