As the NBA continues to grow globally; companies in the international markets have reached out to some of the game’s youngest, brightest and biggest stars to promote their products across the world. Even if it means paying a hefty price to lock down a potential superstar, NBA personalities have become some of the biggest brands in the world. In the age of social media, the culture has changed and fans are following their favorite players more closely than ever.
After the Michael Jordan era, companies and brands are taking the leap of faith for future marketable personnel who can help build and grow within the company. Back in October right before the college basketball season there were various reports adidas was ready to offer $180 million to Andrew Wiggins once he entered the draft. Whether the report was accurate or not, Wiggins is one of the few prospects in the last decade that received the “LeBron James” treatment out of high school.
A couple of months ago I wrote “The 20 Most Marketable NBA Players In History,” which featured guys like MJ, Penny, Kobe and LeBron. To reiterate, these guys changed the game of basketball off the court and provided the blueprint for the guys next up in line. Here the next wave of possible marketable stars in the NBA.
[RELATED: The 20 most marketable NBA players ever]
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15. Nick Young — Los Angeles Lakers
Twitter: @NickSwagyPYoung Followers – 78.1K
Erratic play and all, who doesn’t love Swaggy P? While he may never receive the large endorsement money and get the spotlight in commercials as other guys on this list, he is a social media superstar in the NBA. Nick Young has been one of the most entertaining NBA players over the last few years for his flamboyant personality. He is without a doubt one of the most fashionable players in the league; always donning Versace or rocking a fresh pair of sneakers on and off the court. It also helps that he is dating one of the most popular female rappers in the world in Iggy Azaela. A year without Kobe in Los Angeles, Nick Young was the lone player that was sometimes worth watching play at Staples.
14. Ricky Rubio — Minnesota Timberwolves
Twitter: @rickyrubio9 – Followers – 1.46M
Ricky Rubio has been in the global spotlight since the age of 14, when he was the youngest player to play in the top-tier level of the Spanish ACB league. Since then, after a successful debut in the NBA in 2011, Adidas and Rubio agreed on a 12-year $100 million contract. With a large international resume and his exciting and flashy game on the court, Rubio has been great for Adidas overseas despite playing in a small market for Minnesota. During his four years playing in Spain, Rubio’s parents kept him from talking to the media and declined millions in endorsement deals. When the 2008 Olympics came around, the secret about Rubio was out and the 17-year-old phenom’s fame grew like wildfire when he represented the Senior Spain men’s basketball team that took on the U.S. Men’s “Redeem Team” in the Gold Medal Game. He received praise from Chris Paul and many others after the Olympics and the legend of Rubio was sealed. After the Wolves selected Rubio with the No. 5 pick in the 2009 Draft, his career took a sabbatical as thousands in the U.S. had to wait one more year while his contract in Spain resulted in a huge buyout. He has become one of the best defending point guards in the league after leading the NBA in steals this past season and is a breakout season away from being an All-Star [Ed. Note: he’s still the worst shooter, possibly in NBA history]
13. Dante Exum
Twitter: @daanteee Followers – 11.5K
The mystery surrounding Dante Exum has been a great attribute for his marketability. As one of the best prospects in this year’s NBA Draft, Exum has caught most of the media attention with people wanting to learn more about him. Over the years not many pros are coming out of Australia which has been the biggest reason people have not had the chance to see him play. On paper, he has the makings of a potential superstar. He has a crazy amount of upside for a 6-6 point guard that kind of reminds scouts of a young Penny Hardaway. At the NBA draft combine, he said he saw himself as a hybrid between Russell Westbrook and Manu Ginoboli. Alongside Kobe Bryant’s agent Rob Pelinka, Exum has marketed himself well in LA. Adidas had the upper-hand in his recruitment, after they blossomed a relationship after hosting the Adidas Nation Tournament that helped bring Exum to the spotlight. If Exum is a huge success in the Association, the Australian hoops market will continue to grow along with him.
12. Bradley Beal — Washington Wizards
Twitter: @RealDealBeal23 Followers – 118K
It is kind of crazy to think that there is currently a shortage fo superstar-caliber shooting guards in the NBA. The two guard position has always been one of the alpha positions that always boasted the league’s most marketable players such as MJ, Kobe, Vince Carter, T-Mac and Allen Iverson. But recently there has been a short stock besides D-Wade, James Harden, and if you want to include Paul George. These are the only shooting guards that have strong superstar marketability. Only 20 years old, Bradley Beal became a star after exploding in this year’s playoffs when he became the go-to guy for the Wizards down the stretch of games. He boasts superstar potential because he has the same confident trait of Damian Lillard and has one of the smoothest strokes in the game. It all falls on Beal if he wants to reach the next plateau and become the best shooting guard in the league in a couple years. He is signed with Nike which has always done a great job of finding the right market and outlets for shooting guards. With Beal and John Wall in the backcourt for years to come, the Wizards are going to be a really good team moving forward.
11. Jabari Parker
Twitter: @JPiz1 Followers – 111K
Jabari Parker’s talent is way beyond his years and he is the safest pick
in this year’s NBA draft. If you are a brand that does not want to take a leap of faith on someone like Andrew Wiggins and want a sure thing, Jabari Parker is definitely the best option. Parker is similar to ‘Melo, but with a more well-rounded game and fewer options on the offensive end. He’s also a great kid on and off the court and will be a great ambassador for the NBA for years to come no matter where he lands later this month.
10. Kevin Love — Minnesota Timberwolves (for now)
Twitter: @kevinlove Followers 1.3M
Endorsements: Body Armour, Taco Bell, 361 Degrees, Right Guard and Jose Cuervo
Kevin Love joined a list of NBA players who decided against marquee brands and sought out to be a leading man at a growing company. Love signed a six-year, multi-million dollar shoe endorsement deal with a Chinese company 361 Degrees. We recently saw the same kind of move with Dwyane Wade, after stints with Converse and Jordan Brand, he decided to join Li-Ning, another up-and-coming Chinese athletic apparel company. Love has become one of the best power forwards in the NBA and has the charisma that led him to be featured in some good commercials. He also signed a deal to endorse Body Armour which has been an emerging sports drink that has swept some of the brightest talent in major sports including James Harden, MLB phenom Mike Trout, and NFL Quarterback Andrew Luck. The drink has also brought along a huge investment from Kobe Bryant who reportedly owns 10 percent of the company that has brought in $10 million worth of revenue after their launch in 2011. Next year’s free agent period is going to be crucial for Kevin Love and his future. If he decides to leave Minnesota for a bigger market with teams like the Lakers and Knicks — who will potentially have cap-space, his marketability could grow substantially.
9. Anthony Davis — New Orleans Pelicans
Twitter: @AntDavis23 Followers – 445K
“The Brow” alone has brought Anthony Davis a lot of attention which was a great marketing plot on his end. Only two years in the league, at the age of 21, Davis has showcased that he is the future of NBA big men. He broke out this season and it is scary to think of how much he is going to improve over the next decade. He is one of the unique players in the league that alter a game on both ends of the floor. It is hard to compare anyone to Tim Duncan, but Anthony Davis can be the same anchor for years to come on an improving Pelicans team. As his game continues to grow, his off-the-court appearances in commercials for Foot Locker have been hilarious.
8. John Wall – Washington Wizards
Twitter: @John_Wall Followers – 1.09M
Endorsements: Adidas, PlayStation, and Best Buy
John Wall finally erupted this year and showcased potential that we all have been waiting to see translated to the court. He had a great year becoming an All-Star for the first time, winning the slam dunk contest and leading the Wizards to the playoffs for the first time since Gilbert Arenas was at point. He is one of the most electrifying guards in the NBA along with Russell Westbrook and (a healthy) Derrick Rose, which is the reason why fans will want to watch him every night. After a good run with Reebok, its father company, adidas, decided to add Wall into their division. Adidas has had an impressive run trying to lock down almost every elite point guard in D-Rose, Lillard, Wall, Rubio and in the future with Exum.
7. James Harden – Houston Rockets
Twitter: @JHarden13 Followers – 2.01M
Endorsements: Nike, Footlocker, AT&T, and Body Armour
Two years removed from playing alongside MVP Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, James Harden has come into his own. Harden is one of the best scorers in the NBA. The marketability of NBA athletes has definitely transcended their earlier ad campaigns this decade. The players that garnered much of the attention back then — such as Shaq — were known and celebrated for their colorful personality on and off the court. With James Harden and other superstars, like KD, things are a bit different. Harden is one of the most laid-back players in the league and his smooth demeanor has helped him relate to the younger generation. Harden has been featured in some very cool Foot Locker commercials the past two years that have showed his comedic personality. In an interview with ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Footlocker’s Vice President of Brand Marketing, Jed Berger, stated, the company picked Harden because he was simply playing himself:
“The best stuff we get is when guys are themselves and they’re not playing roles. We’ll often ask the guys, what would you say in this situation.”
Harden, just like Anthony Davis and his brow, has garnered the most attention from his beard that he has been growing since his last year at Arizona State. It has been a great marketing tool and has led to collaborative commercials with Anthony Davis.
6. Kyrie Irving — Cleveland Cavaliers (for now)
Twitter: @KyrieIrving Followers – 1.31M
Endorsements: Pepsi, Nike, Skullcandy and EA Sports
When it comes to marketability there are a few players that understand how your off—the-court persona and portfolio also builds your basketball career. Three years into the league, Kyrie has mastered the limelight and has made the most out of playing in a small market in Cleveland. He has been the Rising Stars game MVP, the 2012 Rookie of the year, Three-Point Contest champ, MVP of the 2014 All-Star game and is on road to becoming the best point guard in the league for years to come. He has a natural charismatic personality that is the same mold such as Shaq, Grant Hill, and Mamba. In a collaboration with Pepsi, the “Uncle Drew” series was a brilliant way for Kyrie to showcase how creative and marketable he could be playing an old man who can hoop. Also impressive, Kyrie created the character himself and directed the commercial after drawing some inspiration from a video of an old man who was doing stunts in a skatepark.
In an article from Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal in 2012, he wrote “Industry leaders who follow sports marketing didn’t believe Irving could brand himself this well, particularly so soon. He was drafted to an awful team in a small market days before the lockout began. Expectations regarding his marketing appeal were pretty low.”
Then Darren Rovell added “There’s something about what he’s done. He’s almost better off the court than on it. He’s doing well [playing], but he’s been so fantastic with the Uncle Drew thing.”
Kyrie is a bonafide marketing star and will continue to rise in the next few years.
5. Paul George — Indiana Pacers
Twitter: @Paul_George24 Followers – 592K
Endorsements: Gatorade, Nike and Papa Johns
If Gatorade makes you a part of their television campaign, you are truly stepping into an elite fraternity with names like Tiger Woods and His Airness. Gatorade is one of the few companies that have kept their market very boutique. It just shows the amount of potential they believe awaits budding superstar Paul George. George got his chance in a 16-second spot for Gatorade which featured him dunking with blue waves of gatorade outlining his body. At only 24 years old, the sky’s the limit for George. If the Pacers ever beat the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals and he gets past LeBron James, his marketability is going to skyrocket.
4. Stephen Curry — Golden State Warriors
Twitter: @StephenCurry30 Followers – 1.35M
Endorsements: Under Armour, Degree Deodorant, Capri Sun, Ea Sports and State Farm
The Stephen Curry fandom is an actual thing. Curry is one of the most popular players in the NBA and is benefiting from strong support from his endorsers. After being snubbed from the all-star game last year, fans supported Curry and made sure he got in this year by casting over a million votes for him. The only two players that had more votes were LeBron and KD. Curry is an elite basketball player who has proven he is just not a shooter. His off the court appeal stems from lookin like an actual regular human being. After a brief stint with Nike, he decided to become the face of the basketball division for growing Under Armour.
3. Russell Westbrook — Oklahoma City Thunder
Twitter: @russwest44 Followers – 1.71M
Endorsements: Jordan Brand and Subway
Russell Westbrook has the “It” factor on the marketing side of basketball. He is a young superstar and is one of the more fashionable players in the league. He is also one of the many faces of the Jordan Brand that continues to carry the legacy of MJ. Westbrook has proven that he has not taken the backseat to KD in OKC and is a star in his own right. With KD and Russ they’ve become one of the most marketable tandems, entering the class of Shaq and Kobe and D-Wade and LeBron.
2. Andrew Wiggins
Twitter: @22wiggins Followers – 146K
It remains to be seen what Andrew Wiggins is really capable of at the next level, but he has the potential to be a top-five player in the league one day. Wiggins is only 19 and has been a favorite on many media outlets already with a feature in Gentleman’s Quarterly and Sports Illustrated. Toronto is a city that is on the rise, and as a native, there no better person who can help the city stand out more. It is still undetermined which sneaker company Wiggins will sign with, but it is definitely going to take a lucrative deal to lure him into a contract.
1. Damian Lillard — Portland Trail Blazers
Twitter: @Dame_Lillard Followers – 414K
There are $100 Million reasons why Damian Lillard is number 1 on this list and you can thank Adidas for that. Dame Lillard has been one of the coldest players in the league in the clutch and his performance on the court has brought a major contract from Adidas that will make him one of the faces alongside Derrick Rose.
Who did we miss?
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