Although the NFL undoubtedly has its fair share of marketable stars, those key players don’t run their league anywhere near the level of the NBA elite.
In the battle for the top spot in American sports popularity, the NFL reigns supreme. It’s difficult to argue against NFL popularity, evidenced by the 2012 Super Bowl (between the New York Giants and New England Patriots), which set a record as the most-watched television show in U.S. history for the third consecutive year, according to David Bauder of the Huffington Post.
The NFL remains as popular as ever in spite of a bounty scandal, the ever-present issue of concussions and the league low-balling their referees (and bringing in questionable replacements) despite making billions of dollars each year.
Even though the NFL is widely popular, the best players under David Stern’s regime are far more valuable to the NBA than the best football players are to Roger Goodell and the NFL.
In addition to veteran leaders who appear bound for the NBA Hall of Fame such as Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James, the National Basketball Association has a slew of powerful young talent.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon are all just 23 years old.
Kevin Love? He just turned 24.
DeMarcus Cousins? He turned 22 years old in August.
Minnesota Timberwolves’ floor general, Ricky Rubio, is just 21 and Kyrie Irving, last season’s Rookie of the Year award winner, isn’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol at 20 years old.
The young talent all under the age of 25 is driving the NBA forward.
Now, this isn’t to say the NFL doesn’t have young stars. NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Peterson and A.J. Green are all under that 25-year age threshold. However, the NBA consists of more recognizable stars, which makes a great deal of the difference.
Sure NFL die-hards would be able to recognize Bowman, Peterson or Green if they saw them in a local restaurant, but because their faces are usually hidden behind helmets, war paint and sun visors, football players don’t get nearly as much face-time as NBA stars.
Endorsement deals certainly help to identify NFL players (if you watch television regularly and claim not to have seen Robert Griffin III at some point this summer your nose will sprout like Pinocchio), but in the NBA you’re able to view every emotion and connect with the players in a way the NFL can’t offer.
In addition to having more recognizable faces, if only because basketball players aren’t required to strap on helmets, the NBA has the added advantage of having fewer players. Both basketball and football are team games to be sure, but the difference lies in the roster total.
In the NBA, teams consist of a 12-man roster. Usually, only seven-to-nine of those players see regular minutes and court time. By contrast, the NFL’s final roster gets trimmed down to 53 total players.
Offense, defense and special teams are vitally important for every football team. Rarely (if ever) do the exploits of one player mean the difference between a win and a loss in the NFL. You can’t say the same about the NBA (cue highlights of Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game, carrying Smush Parker, Kwame Brown and Luke Walton to victory).
Because NBA players are responsible for playing both offense and defense, unable to take a breather in-between plays (unless we include Vince Carter), it’s hard to argue that NBA stars don’t mean more to their respective league.
Another point worth noting is the differences between how players emerge.
For instance, Arian Foster of the Houston Texans was signed as an undrafted free agent. He’s since evolved into one of the league’s best running backs, running for more than 1,200 yards in back-to-back seasons. Even Tim Tebow, who completed just 46.5 percent of his passes a season ago with the Denver Broncos, found great success by helping lead his team to victory more often than not.
This happens all the time in NFL, especially at the volatile running back position. When players go down due to injury, which happens far more often in football, their backups usually seize the opportunity and don’t look back (e.g. Tom Brady and too many running backs to count).
In the NBA, the chances that undrafted players find success on the level of Foster (a top five NFL rusher last season) are remote at best. The odds that a player with skills as limiting as Tebow would help lead a basketball team to victory aren’t very high.
Unless an NBA prospect is projected and expected to succeed, their chance of making a big impact goes out the window. Ironically, sometimes even players with that hype fail to meet expectations: Greg Oden, Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi, Eddy Curry, the list goes on and on.
Jeremy Lin’s run of Linsanity last season was an anomaly, which is why it became such a compelling story. But it’s anyone’s guess as to how Lin will play as the Houston Rockets’ starting point guard throughout an entire 82-game season. Many wonder if Lin can sustain his success in the long run (as Foster has in the NFL for another Houston-based team).
Both leagues are extremely popular and bring an exciting, entertaining product to the fold. Nevertheless, the value NBA stars carry in their league outweighs the value of the NFL’s best players because they’re more recognizable and have to carry a bigger chunk of team responsibility.