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The Panini Group, the NBA's exclusive trading card partner, has signed four-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers as its official company spokesman and global trading card ambassador.

Bryant's exclusive multi-year agreement with Panini includes autographs, memorabilia, and a joint charitable component. The deal is a landmark one for the trading-card industry and will help to re-energize the basketball collectibles market both in the United States and Internationally.

"I am honored to join the Panini family," Bryant said. "Panini and I are really excited about embracing the challenge of re-igniting the collecting of basketball trading cards and sticker collections … and everyone knows I like challenges!  We look forward to building off the momentum generated from last season's NBA Championship, and taking that energy to another level. I know from my own experience growing up, how fun collecting and trading these products can be.  I really believe collecting these products has the power, through the unique emotions of sports, to unify and strengthen bonds within families and across social groups, no matter what age you are.  Panini and I are passionate about developing this hobby in many new and exciting ways.  All I can say for now is to have fun expecting the unexpected from us!"

Panini's inaugural first NBA trading card release, Panini Prestige Basketball, will launch on Oct. 7 and will feature the first authentic autographs from Bryant. He also will appear on Panini's packaging for future NBA trading card releases and within advertising with future television and radio commercials planned.

"Kobe is going to be the face of Panini basketball and help to get kids excited about NBA trading cards," said Panini Group Licensing Director Peter Warsop. "He will serve as the greatest of ambassadors for Panini basketball products around the world. We couldn't be more proud to be associated with one of the most spectacular and transcendent athletes on the planet."

The Panini/Kobe relationship began long before this exclusive agreement, dating back to Bryant's childhood growing up in Italy. The Panini Group was originally founded in Modena, Italy almost 50 years ago and its corporate headquarters remain there.  The Bryant family moved to Italy when Bryant was six years old as his father, former NBA player Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, began playing professionally there. Bryant, who speaks fluent Italian, became a huge soccer fan and collected Panini stickers.

Panini remains the global leader in sports and entertainment collectibles and has an exclusive license with FIFA for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

"Signing Kobe shows the depth of commitment that Panini has toward offering the very best of basketball products, be it Trading Cards or Stickers and Albums," Peter Warsop said. "Kobe's intense focus and championship drive personifies the traits that Panini has exhibited in becoming the leading publisher of collectibles around the world. He brings enormous excitement not only to the game of basketball, but to collecting as well"

In January 2009, the NBA announced Panini will become the exclusive Trading Card partner of the NBA beginning with the 2009-10 season.  The Panini Group purchased the industry's second-oldest Trading-Card company, Donruss, in March and formed the new subsidiary, Panini America, Inc. Since that time, Panini has taken significant steps to fortify its position on the basketball landscape, including an exclusive marketing and advertising partnership with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

About Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is a Four-time NBA Champion, the 2009 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, a 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist, and the 2007-2008 NBA Most Valuable Player.  Kobe was recently named Sporting News' "NBA Player of the Decade", and his NBA jersey continues to be the #1 seller in the United States, China and Europe.  Kobe has earned All-NBA honors in each of the last eleven seasons and has been named to the NBA's All Defensive Team nine times. In addition to his excellence on the court, throughout his career Kobe has dedicated his philanthropic passion and spirit to a variety of causes benefitting children in need.  Since joining the NBA 11 years ago, Kobe has partnered with Make-A-Wish Foundation to grant more than 100 wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions and was honored by the NBA in 2007 for granting more wishes than any other athlete. Recently Kobe has acted as an ambassador for the national charity, After-School All-Stars, and launched his own foundation, the Kobe Bryant Family Foundation, in an effort to expand his personal commitment to children around the world.  In the summer of 2009 Kobe founded the Kobe China Fund, a global charitable initiative dedicated to improving the welfare and education of youth in China.

About Panini
The Panini Group was established almost 50 years ago in Modena, Italy with subsidiaries throughout Europe and Latin America as well as in Arlington Texas USA.  It is the world leader in the published collectable sector and the leading multi-national publisher of comics, children's magazines and manga in Europe and Latin America.  In 2008, the Panini Group had sales of over 900 million US$ having grown three fold over the previous 5 years. The company has distribution channels in more than 100 countries and employs a staff of over 800.   In the USA as well as being the exclusive NBA trading card partner Panini also hold trading card rights from NFL & NFLPA.

About NBA
The NBA reaches fans and consumers worldwide through the licensing and marketing of consumer products bearing the league's trademarks and player attributes.  170 licensees manufacture, sell and market NBA-branded products that are promoted worldwide and sold in more than 100,000 retail locations, in 100 countries on six continents.  Major categories include video games, apparel, footwear, sporting goods and trading cards.  Thirty percent of merchandise sales are generated from outside the United States.  In addition to offering the most comprehensive  assortment of NBA, WNBA and NBA D-League merchandise, the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City features multimedia attractions, a fully operational broadcast booth and an official half-court used for special events and regularly scheduled appearances by players, legends and celebrities.  More than one million fans visit the NBA Store each year.  NBAStore.com is the online destination for NBA fans around the world looking for exclusive team merchandise, memorabilia and unique gifts of every NBA, WNBA and NBA D-League team. NBAStore.com is visited by over 10 million people each year.

For Further Information;
Scott Prusha Panini America, Inc sprusha@paniniamerica.net +1 817 983 0303
Peter Warsop Panini S.p.A.  pwarsop@panini.it  +44 7785 365 366

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Panini S.p.A. has been creating FIFA World Cup™ sticker albums since 1970 and has been granted by FIFA exclusive rights to produce and sell the official sticker album, collectible trading cards and trading card games for the Tournament.

Panini UK Ltd - Level 2 - Brockbourne House - Mount Ephraim - Tunbridge Wells - Kent TN4 8BS (UK)
Tel. +44 1892 500100 - Fax +44 1892 545666