The National Basketball Association has witnessed a meteoric rise in popularity over the last 30 years, and numerous factors have played a role in this growth. As a result, there have been many unintended consequences of the league's expansion and evolution, and for the first time, personal brand and identity is equally, if not more, important than the National Basketball Association's brand as a whole, and this is what differentiates the NBA from its contemporary sporting institutions.
While the notion of a celebrity athlete is far from novel in American society, the NBA may be the first American sports league comprised largely of celebrities. Moreover, the NBA itself is largely responsible for the ways in which its players are marketed, and thus, the league and its players have created a symbiotic relationship in which the two intrinsically linked parties provide each other with a distinct set of opportunities and advantages. For the players, this comes in the form of media attention and public exposure, while for NBA teams, the relationship can be viewed as one driven by profitability in the form of ticket sales, television contracts, and a growing fan base.
Now more than ever, players are "taking their talents" to other realms of American culture and industry. Former NBA greats Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson are the owners of two American sports franchises, but there are now an unprecedented number of ways an NBA player can gain notoriety. Lamar Odom and Kris Humphries' relationships with the Kardashians are well documented, as is Nick Young's relationship with pop star Iggy Azalea. Shaq's rap albums, however bad they are, were popular.
This paper will examine the celebrification of NBA players, using Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James as case studies, and pose that the celebrification of NBA players can be viewed as a complex yet mutually beneficial marketing strategy in which certain types of players are used systematically by entities such as the NBA, as well as corporations and the media in a self perpetuating cycle designed to popularize the league and increase market size. The intertwined phenomenons of celebrity, commodification, and commercialization are explored in the context of globalization and race.