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Kobe or Not Kobe?

Before there was Kobe Bryant, there was Kobe, Colorado. Guess which one disappeared.

"He didn't ask for a handout," notes Jill Strunk, spokeswoman for the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, where the story has made the rounds. "He didn't ask for anything."

Bureau boosters had worked hard to prepare hospitality-industry employees for this bunch, since making a good impression on meeting planners could pay off with more meetings planned for Denver. They'd created a handy video to train workers on the proper care and feeding of delegates and staged a pre-convention rally featuring Mayor John Hickenlooper, fresh from his State of the City speech. But they'd left panhandlers -- often considered the scourge of this town's tourism business -- out of the equation. Next time, they might want to set up a special training session at the Denver Rescue Mission.

With all those helpful homeless types, downtown Denver now lacks only two major amenities: public bathrooms on the 16th Street Mall (try the RTD stations and the Denver Pavilions) and gifts for the folks back home that are worth carting through DIA security. But if conventioneers are looking for tacky souvenirs, the mall has shtick to spare in stores with similar-sounding names -- Only in Colorado, Colorado Trading Post, Colorado Collection, Colorado Souvenirs -- and almost identical stock. A busy delegate can pop in any one and pick up a refrigerator magnet, sheriff's badge or rhinestone-studded Broncos pin for his beloved. Also, gold-plated aspen leaves galore, mock license-plate key fobs that say "Hug Dept.," and anything and everything involving bears: carved wooden bears holding toilet paper, bears in snow globes, bears in pencil holders, even a $22.95 University of Colorado teddy bear, complete with certificate of authenticity.

But you don't need a certificate to know that this bear is the real deal. It's wearing a pink sweatshirt with the CU Buffs logo over the word "mom" -- and no pants below. --Calhoun

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