Jersey Whirl

Apparently a few-years-old rape charge, a slew of 50-point games in a .500 season and a number change are worth more than an MVP title. But don’t take it from me. Just ask the millions of NBA fans worldwide who this season made Kobe Bryant’s No. 24 jersey the league’s top seller. The Mavs’ Dirk Nowitzki, fresh off a Finals appearance last summer and an MVP this year, finished No. 8. Go figure.

While the San Antonio Spurs polish off the Cleveland Cavaliers in tonight’s Game 3 of a series that is slugging along to all-time low viewership, we’re reminded that in the NBA the best players aren’t always the most popular. Bryant, who this season switched from No. 8 to old high school No. 24, sold the most jerseys this year at the NBA Store in New York and even China, somehow topping Yao Ming. Dwayne Wade was No. 2, while Finals combatants LeBron James and Tim Duncan came in third and 15th respectively.

But if you thought Dirk suffered from a lack of tabloid trash and street cred, his team is even more anonymous. The squad that almost won last year’s title and this season went 67-15 didn’t even finish among the league’s Top 10 in merchandise sales. The Lakers, not surprisingly, were No. 1. But the New York Knicks -- with all of 33 wins -- finished No. 3 and the Celtics, with the league’s second-worst record, were No. 7. That sound you hear is Mark Cuban pounding his fist into an open palm. --Richie Whitt

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