The NBA has been the place for basketball players for decades now – and there have been some huge hoops stars beloved by the fans. But there is another even higher tier of player that has been able to transcend the sport.
These are the players that are not only regularly featured on the best NBA betting sites, but are known in the wider world as well. Even people that wouldn’t know a slam dunk from an alley-oop know who they are. With more and more celebrity athletes breaking out of their sport these days, here are five that transcended the NBA and basketball itself.
One of the true greats of the game, Kobe Bryant was an international superstar whose popularity grew as his career progressed. Taken 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft, Kobe played his entire 20-year career for the Los Angeles Lakers after being traded and won five championships in that time.
Starting off as just one of the roster of top stars, he soon became the cornerstone of the franchise and became the first player to have two numbers retired when he finished his career in 2016. He had multiple business ventures on the go after leaving the court but tragically died in a helicopter crash in 2020 – to the shock of the basketball world and beyond.
King James is now one of the most recognizable faces in the NBA thanks to his performances on the court – and his many business interests outside the game. He entered the NBA straight out of high school and first played for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
He won back-to-back championships in Miami before returning to Cleveland to win another. He then went on to win a fourth championship when he moved to L.A. He has plenty of big-money endorsements and is regarded as a global media figure, even starring in the remake of the classic basketball movie Space Jam.
Possibly the biggest basketball star ever, Michael Jordan is known the world over for his sports talent and the Nike shoes that bear his name. Although shoe endorsements are nothing new, Jordan’s deal was the biggest and most well known and the iconic logo is seen around the world to this day.
On the court, Jordan was simply unplayable. He was a six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls but it was his likeable personality that won over the sponsors – and the world. He was the first real sports athlete marketing mogul and is still highly visible in the media world almost 20 years after retiring from the NBA.
Figure 2 Nike Air Jordans, named after Michael, are some of the most popular sneakers in the world
Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson Jr. is considered by many to be the greatest point guard of all time, winning national championships at high school and college level, before winning five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. He played at the height of the showtime era and became the face of the league as it became hugely popular.
After announcing that he had contracted H.I.V. in 1991 he retired from the sport but has been credited with dispelling stereotypes about the disease. He briefly returned to the court but in later life has part-owned the Lakers, as well as the L.A. Dodgers and Sparks franchises, among many other business and media interests.
Known for his skyhook shot, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar crossed career paths with Magic Johnson at the Lakers and won six NBA championships of his own during his playing career. A hugely likeable player, Abdul-Jabbar broke countless records on the court and continued playing until the age of 42.
As well as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Abdul-Jabbar has been a coach, an activist, a best-selling author, and a film star. He famously appeared in Game of Death after being trained by Bruce Lee. Hillary Clinton made him a global cultural ambassador when she was Secretary of State and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2016.