As basketball continues to grow as a globalized sport, NBA players are raking in more endorsements and more opportunities than ever before. While NBA players get paid millions to play the game of basketball, some make most of their money off endorsements and business ventures/partnerships with companies. It is the only reason we see Kobe Bryant endorsing a Turkish airline, taking selfies around the world with soccer great Lionel Messi.
Off the court, being extremely marketable is important to your credentials – fan base, media, and basically seeing how you are as a person is all included. Through commercials and endorsements, the players are humanized, but also show just how cooler they are than the rest of us. The recipe is having charisma, fashion, and a smile.
Below are the 20 most marketable players in NBA history.
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20. Gary Payton
Notable Endorsements: Nike
One of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Gary Payton was one of the biggest trash-talkers in the game. He was known for his defense, earning the name “The Glove” but was also known for his personality off the court. Not afraid to talk trash and go against the best of best such as Michael Jordan, Payton was a fan favorite in Seattle and throughout the league. A Hall of Famer, Payton was in a vast amount of Nike commercials and movies such as White Men Can’t Jump and Eddie in the ’90s.
19. Blake Griffin
Notable Endorsements: Jordan Brand, Subway, AT&T, Panini, Gamefly and Kia Automobiles
Every time you turn on the TV now, it seems that there is a new Blake Griffin commercial. He is an endorsement machine, appearing in commercials for Jordan, Gamefly, Subway and Kia Automobiles in the past year. The past year he signed a deal with the Jordan Brand to become one of the elite faces with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. It’s not hard to see why Blake is one of the most favorable players to fans because of his vicious dunks but also his comical personality off the court. As he gets further into his NBA career, Blake will remain a favorite and become a commercial legend.
18. Jeremy Lin
Notable Endorsements: Nike, adidas, Volvo, and KFC
“Linsantity” was a true phenomenon in 2012. He only started 25 games for the New York Knicks and became an international superstar. As an Asian-American and undrafted player, Lin defied stereotypes and showed the world that he can be a good pro. In an interview with GQ in 2012, in which he was on the cover, he stated “If I can be honest, yes. It’s not even close to the only reason, but it was definitely part of the reason. There’s a lot of perceptions and stereotypes of Asian-Americans that are out there today, and the fact that I’m Asian-American makes it harder to believe, even crazier, more unexpected. I’m going to have to play well for a longer period of time for certain people to believe it, because I’m Asian. And that’s just the reality of it.” Lin’s success in the NBA has brought him huge endorsements in China and has opened the doors for many Asian-American basketball players. He recently finished his endorsement deal with Nike and went with rival adidas.
17. Jerry West
Notable Endorsements: The National Basketball Association
Jerry West is the only basketball player on the list that I could not find in a single commercial on the Internet. But when it comes to NBA marketing, only few can say they are the official logo for the NBA. When the NBA was battling the ABA for basketball supremacy in 1969, the NBA decided to create a logo that would pull in fans. There was no better option at the time then Jerry West. He was the poster boy of the NBA and was coming off a tremendous season. Even now, the logo generates the NBA billions of dollars off licensing and branding.
16. Wilt Chamberlain
Notable Endorsements: Volkswagen, BVD Underwear, Reebok, TWA Airlines, American Express, Foot Locker and Miller Lite
Wilt Chamberlain was the man in the 1960s and ’70s with crazy stat-lines on his resume, including a 100-point game and a 50.4 points per game average in 1961-62. With his individual success, he was one of the most popular NBA players that led him to be the spokesperson for a slew of advertisements. He had endorsements from everything from cars, alcohol, underwear and laxatives. His legacy off the court with women, advertisements and a business man will forever live on.
15. Larry Johnson
Notable Endorsements: Converse
During the ’90s, Larry Johnson’s popularity was very high. He was a physical specimen coming out of one of the best NCAA teams of all time with the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. Becoming a No. 1 draft pick in 1991, starring alongside Alonzo Mourning, Muggsy Bogues and Dell Curry on the Charlotte Hornets, they were a favorite to watch in the NBA in the early ’90s with their mesmerizing team colors and jerseys. He signed an endorsement deal with Converse and created one of the best fictional basketball commercial characters of all time with “Grandmama.” The role consisted of dressing up as an elder woman, dunking on opponents in commercials and even landing TV spots on the sitcom Family Matters as the character. He is currently working within the Knicks organization as a basketball and business representative.
14. Dwyane Wade
Notable Endorsements: Converse, Jordan, Li-Ning, Gatorade, T-Mobile, and the Tie-Bar.
Along with being one of the NBA’s most stylish players, Wade is one of the most popular players year in and year out. He is a three-time champion, a nine-time All-Star and a great league ambassador. We have seen him on the cover of magazines such as GQ and arguing in T-Mobile commercials with Charles Barkley. In his early years in the league, he carried the Converse brand as the face of its apparel until switching to the Jordan Brand then leaving for his current gig with Li-Ning. Li-Ning is a major Chinese apparel brand located in Beijing. In signing with the sneaker company, Wade wanted to follow in the footsteps of his hero Michael Jordan in developing his own brand, especially taking advantage of the expanding NBA Chinese global market. Whether his business venture with Li-Ning may or may not blossom, Wade has proved he is one of the smartest business minds in the NBA, someone not afraid to take risks.
13. Grant Hill
Notable Endorsements: Fila, Sprite, McDonald’s, adidas, and Nike
Coming out of Duke, Grant Hill was heralded as “The Next Jordan.” While his career never panned out to that extent, due to injuries, in his early years he showed glimpses of what could have been. With the likes of Bird, Magic and Jordan (first retirement) retiring, his popularity in the ’90s elevated because the NBA was in search of a new star. His promise led him to many endorsements, especially commercial spots with Sprite and Fila. He was 6-8 with limitless athleticism, combined with speed — sounds familiar right, LeBron fans? He even led the NBA All-Star Game in votes in his first two seasons, having more than his Airness himself after returning from retirement. While his career did not go as planned, Hill will forever be one of the great ambassadors the game has ever had.
12. Julius Erving
Notable Endorsements: Converse and Coca-Cola
If you ask Michael Jordan if there was a player he tried to emulate, he would tell you it was the Doc. Julius Erving was a superhero for basketball fans around the world in the ’70s. His signature afro and dunks excited the crowd. He was the most popular NBA star and helped bring in the modern culture that started taken place in the ’80s. He was also one of the first players at the time, along with Walt “Clyde” Frazier to have his own shoe contract.
11. Kevin Durant
Notable Endorsements: Nike, Gatorade, Panini, 2K Sports, Sprint, Skullcandy
While LeBron James has the current title of being the best basketball player in the world, KD is not far behind and is the leader of the pack of players that are 25 and under. He is the future and the face of the current NBA. When you look at Kevin Durant, you can just tell that he loves basketball more than anybody else. Durant is one of the league’s best ambassadors and has been representing the USA Basketball team since 2010. He has become an international superstar along the way. According to Forbes, he made $14 million off endorsements alone this past year. He appeared in a children’s movie entitled Thunderstuck that was shown in theaters. The past year he signed with Jay-Z and Roc Nation Sports, having Jay-Z handle his branding, to expand outside the smaller market in Oklahoma. Kevin Durant’s potential on the court and off the court is off the charts.
10. Larry Bird
Notable Endorsements: McDonald’s, Converse, Nestle, and Pepsi
Larry Bird is without a doubt one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA. His rivalry and friendship with Magic Johnson was the story of the NBA’s rise in the 1980s. In 13 years with the Boston Celtics, he led them to three NBA championships. Before there was NBA 2K and NBA Live, there was Nintendo’s Jordan vs. Bird video game that featured just the two players going head-to-head. His most famous commercial, also with Michael Jordan advertising McDonald’s, was where they took turns replicating each other’s impossible shots.
9. Charles Barkley
Notable Endorsements: Nike, McDonald’s, and T-Mobile
Charles Barkley had one of the most vibrant personalities the NBA has ever seen. He dominated the NBA as a power forward despite only standing 6-5. He was fearless and terrifying on the court but off the court he was a very engaging character. He is one of Nike’s best endorsers and has been signed with them since he entered the NBA in 1984. His endorsement with Nike made him a global superstar. His famous “I Am Not a Role Model” Nike ad stirred huge debates in the country regarding athletes as role models. Barkley is now one of the most watched on-air NBA personalities with TNT and Inside the NBA.
8. Derrick Rose
Notable Endorsements: adidas, Powerade, 2K Sports, Wilson, and Skullcandy
Derrick Rose became the face of the Bulls organization when they drafted him first overall in 2008. A native from Chicago, he is the Bulls first superstar since Michael Jordan retired. After becoming the youngest Most Valuable Player in league history at 22, Rose’s fame grew and adidas made him the face of their brand and future, handing him an estimated $125 million deal over 10 years. The brand has continued to support Rose the past two years while he battles with serious knee injuries, creating marketing campaigns like “The Return.” He has also appeared on the video game cover of NBA 2K13 alongside Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant. We have continuously lost young marketable superstars to injuries (Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway and Brandon Roy); it will be exciting to see how his career turns out when Rose returns.
7. Anfernee Hardaway
Notable Endorsements: Nike and Sprite
Every NBA player in today’s game admired or modeled their game after Penny Hardaway’s. LeBron has talked openly on how watching Penny when he was younger had an impact on him. Penny had potential to be one of the greatest point guards ever until injuries failed him. He was 6-7 with handle, speed, and athleticism. He could have slashed to the rim like no other and had the best running mate for his skills in Shaq. In the ’90s, he was arguably the most marketable NBA player after Michael Jordan. As an endorser for Nike, he gained tremendous fame for his ads featuring Lil Penny, a puppet voiced by Chris Rock. Penny stated to Dime a few years back, “I didn’t know until we probably got about four commercials in, and everywhere I went, everyone was talking like Chris Rock, I was like, ‘Wow, this thing has really gone to the next level.’ I thought it was funny, but I didn’t think it would hit like this.” With Penny’s laid-back demeanor and Chris Rock’s comical relief, the commercials are some of the best. It did not hurt to have some of the coolest sneakers in the game as well.
6. Shaquille O’Neal
Notable Endorsements: Pepsi, Reebok, Vitamin Water, Burger King, Icy-Hot, and Taco Bell.
Arguably the most dominated player to ever play in the NBA, Shaq’s play matched his dynamic personality off the court. Every night Shaq provided must-watch TV and provided fans with entertainment they would not expect from a 7-foot giant. He had a never-ending list of nicknames over the years and did everything from appearing in commercials to releasing four rap albums, with one of them going platinum. He also starred in movies such as Blue Chips, alongside Penny, and Kazaam. There is one thing for sure: we will never see another person that captured the eyes of NBA fans around the world with a personality like this.
5. Magic Johnson
Notable Endorsements: Converse, Pepsi, Starbucks, KFC, Skybox
When it comes to business off the court, Magic Johnson is king. He has built a business empire with his own company, Magic Johnson Enterprises. His estimated net worth is around $500 million. His impact on the NBA in the ’80s was crucial for the modern game today. He is, without a doubt, one of the most influential athletes of all time, especially after living with HIV and spreading awareness about the virus. On the court, he was he was Showtime at its finest and is regarded as the greatest point guard ever. His entrepreneurial success in restaurant chains, having minority ownership in the Lakers and now one of the owners with the Los Angeles Dodgers, has made Magic one of the best models of how athletes should build their brand.
4. Kobe Bryant
Notable Endorsements: Nike, adidas, Panini, Mercedes-Benz, Coco-Cola, McDonald’s, Turkish Airlines, Hublot
When it comes to popularity in the NBA, there might not be a player as popular as Kobe. The Black Mamba is easily one of the best nicknames in the league and has had great marketing campaigns throughout the years with Nike. He recently signed a lucrative contract extension with the Lakers, stirring some backlash, which did not make any sense in my book. When you think of the Lakers, you think of Kobe Bryant. He is what sells tickets and what keeps fans coming to the game. A five-time NBA champion, putting up ridiculous scoring totals — such as the 81-point game — has elevated his brand. Last year he made $34 million off endorsements and has been the highest-paid basketball player the past few years. Kobe Bryant is God-like in China and makes yearly trips to the country for marketing opportunities.
3. Allen Iverson
Notable Endorsements: Reebok
At the apex of his fame, Iverson was by far the most popular player in the league. He completely redefined the NBA’s image, and ushered in a new way of marketing. For a long time, professional sports leagues did all they could to keep their game out of the streets. But Iverson not only brought that aspect to the country at large, he embraced it, and soon even suburban cats in the middle of nowhere were wearing his sneakers. Seriously, this dude was such an icon he ushered in the use of the sleeve — I can’t remember anyone ever wearing one before AI and now it seems like 30 percent of the NBA wears one. Iverson carried Reebok for around a decade, and while his stubborn personality probably kept him from reaching his full potential as a salesman, his influence and impact on the culture was almost unparalleled.
2. LeBron James
Notable Endorsements: Nike, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Samsung, Beats By Dre, Upper Deck, State Farm
What can you honestly say negative about LeBron over the past few years? Since winning two rings, his stock has exploded. He is the leading man in the NBA and has lived up to his Chosen One” nickname. LeBron has a solid business team all around him through Maverick Cater and friends. He has known friendships with billionaires such as Warren Buffet and Carlos Slim. His Nike brand is one of the most popular, and draws in thousands of fans to Foot Locker. He has made $42 million off endorsements alone in the past year. The only question is where does LeBron go from here?
1. Michael Jordan
Notable Endorsements: Nike, Gatorade, Mcdonald’s, Wheaties, Hanes Underwear
Michael Jordan is not only the most marketable basketball player ever but also the most marketable athlete of all-time. No one is coming close to what Jordan has done in the sports industry off the court. His Jordan Brand is a billion-dollar company and his sneakers are still being re-released, selling out everywhere. His Nike ads were iconic and were very innovative at the time, especially the ones with Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon in the “It’s Gotta Be the Shoes” campaigns. I still watch the “Frozen Moment” commercial religiously and still am amazed. His logo is iconic and can be seen everywhere. Not a lot of athletes have their own theme songs like MJ had with his sponsorship with Gatorade. “Be Like Mike” is one of the best campaigns ever. Michael Jordan had all of the ingredients to be an iconic figure with his appeal, swagger and personality, and forever changed the advertisement and marketing industry for professional athletes around the world.
What do you think?
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