What’s the best way to tell which NBA players are the most popular with fans? Just look at who fans spent their hard-earned money on. You’ve got to like somebody a lot to drop $89.99 for a replica of their jersey.
Of course, it just so happens that the NBA recently released figures on the league’s top-selling jerseys. These figures are based on sales at NBAstore.com and a temporary NBA Store on Fifth Avenue in New York from April 2012 to November 26, 2012, and while they probably aren’t prefect, they’re a pretty good indicator of popularity.
So let’s see who made the list, shall we?
Dirks numbers have slipped a bit over the last two seasons since his peak from 2004 to 2010. However, the guy led his team to a championship, which makes him an official superstar. Plus he plays in a major media market, and his name is awesome. (How cool would it be if his jersey just said "Dirk" on the back instead of Nowitzki? Are you reading this, Cuban?) That's enough to help him crack the top 15 in jersey sales.
15. Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)
Paul Pierce may be past his prime, but the guy has played his entire 15 season career with the Celtics. That is the kind of thing that makes you a superstar in Boston, so it's no surprise his jersey makes the list over Kevin Garnett.
14. Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics)
Steve Nash is a rare player: he only came into his prime at the age of 30, when he started playing for Mike D'Antoni and the Phoenix Suns. D'Antoni's offensive system suited Nash's abilities to a T, and all of a sudden the guy was leading the NBA in assists every year. That being said, while Nash is still a valuable player, his huge offseason move to one of the league's premier franchises in the second biggest market surely created a spike in jersey sales.
13. Steve Nash (L.A. Lakers)
Westbrook played for the UCLA Bruins and was drafted #4 overall in 2008, so it's not like great things weren't expected of this rising star. However, there's no doubt that the 24-year-old's jersey sales got a big bump thanks to the Thunder's trip to the NBA Finals and the likability of a certain superstar teammate. (Yes, Durant is coming up.)
12. Russell Westbrook (OKC Thunder)
Deron Williams is one of the highest paid players in the NBA, but he's not quite a household name. Personally I would have expected Steve Nash or Paul Pierce to place higher on the list. So why didn't they? Well, their teams didn't move to a trendy new location, get trendy new uniforms, and acquire a trendy new fanbase.
11. Deron Williams (Brooklyn Nets)
Here's a guy whose jersey sales have benefitted from a relatively recent relocation to a much larger media market (from New Orleans to Los Angeles), and whose new team has suddenly become relevant and added lots of people to the bandwagon.
Of course, don't get me wrong, the guy is good. My personal favorite Chris Paul stat? The guy has led the league in steals in 6 out of his 8 NBA seasons, including this year (so far).
10. Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers)
This one surprises me. With Dwight Howard's already significant national profile, I would have thought his move from Orlando to Los Angeles—which was huge—would result in a major spike in jersey sales. However, I guess there are just too many stars in L.A. dividing the purchasing power—I mean, loyalty—of fans. (There are five Los Angeles-based players on this list.)
9. Dwight Howard (L.A. Lakers)
Speaking of L.A.-based players, two Clippers players in the top 10 in jersey sales? These are strange times, friends.
Anyway, at #8 we have Blake Griffin. I think fellow Los Angeleno Howard is a bigger star nationally, but Griffin is now in his third year in L.A. and has grown into a superstar with the Clippers. So that makes him a bigger star in SoCal than Dwight Howard...for now at least.
8. Blake Griffin (L.A. Clippers)
No surprise here. D-Wade is easily one of the league's top 10 players when healthy, and probably more like a top 5. Plus, he plays for a "cool" team, and it's not like Miami sports fans have anything else to be excited about. Barring a major hot streak to finish the season, the Dolphins are going to the playoffs (again), and we all know what just happened to the Marlins.
7. Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat)
At age 26, Rondo is just now coming into his prime. That being said, I was pretty surprised to find that his jersey was #6 in sales. He's very good, having lead the league in assists the last two seasons, but I'm not sure I would group him with the other guys here in the top 10. But of course, he is another home grown Celtic, and you can never underestimate the love Bostonians have for those types of players.
6. Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics)
Chicago is the nation's third-largest media market and Derrick Rose is a hometown just one year removed from his MVP season. Nevertheless, he's fallen all the way down to #5 this year. I guess everyone who wants a D-Rose jersey in Chicago already has one.
5. Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls)
Chalk this one up to hometown bias. You see, the NBA's jersey sales numbers were determined by (a) online purchases and, more importantly in the case of Anthony, (b) sales at the NBA's "flagship store"...on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. I mean, sure, Anthony's good, and the Knicks are off to an amazing start, but I didn't expect him to rank 4th in jersey sales.
4. Carmello Anthony (New York Knicks)
If you'd asked me before the numbers came out, I would have predicted the top 3 in the correct order. While Kobe is still probably the second-biggest household name in the NBA (i.e., he's one of the two players your mom has heard of), among serious NBA fans his standing has slipped just a bit. Of course, so far this year he's leading the league in PPG, so it's not like you can say he's fallen off a cliff or anything.
3. Kobe Bryant (L.A. Lakers)
No surprise here. KD is one of the most likable players in the NBA, and last season he led his team (along with Russell Westbrook and James Harden) to the NBA Finals. In the process he turned just about every at-large basketball fan without an NBA team in the playoffs into an Oklahoma City Thunder fan.
That officially made him a superstar, if he wasn't already.
2. Kevin Durant (OKC Thunder)
Since dumping his hometown on national television, LeBron James has been a paradox—simultaneously the most-loved and most-hated player in the NBA. However, after winning a Championship, being named Finals MVP and NBA MVP, and leading team USA to Olympic gold last year, the guy finally silenced some of his haters. (The keyword is some. I'm still a hater because that's more fun—I still respect his ability, I just love rooting against him.) Thus, he returns to the top of the NBA jersey sales rankings for the first time in years.
It's just another jewel in the King's (douchey) crown I guess.