NBA stars are celebrities, and there's really no debating that fact.
What you can debate, however, is which players have become the most marketable in the NBA today.
When ranking the Association's stars by their level of marketability, the biggest factor has to be overall public perception. If the fans approve of a player both on and off the court, big things are going to come his way in the form of endorsements.
One way to evaluate a player's public perception is the annual Q score. According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, the Q score is a measurement of "the familiarity and appeal of celebrities in the country."
The old cliche is that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but when it comes to certain NBA players, their Q scores might argue otherwise. We've seen athletes lose their appeal as quickly as they gained it, and when that happens, it's often self-inflicted from poor decisions.
But marketability isn't just about what's happening today—it's about what you can expect for the future. Almost anybody can regain popularity, and there are a select few who will always compete for the title of most marketable player.
Once upon a time, Dwight Howard was known as one of the most likable stars in the entire NBA. He had the smile and charisma to attract casual fans, but he also had the skills on the court to back up his act.
Now, his public image has taken a hit, and it began even before he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nobody likes to watch stars play the role of GM. Howard forced his way out of Orlando, and that was step No. 1 in his downward trend.
Since then, injuries have bogged him down, and even his goofy nature has sparked the question: Does he want to win badly enough?
According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, Howard's Q score dropped from a 20 to a 13 between January 2012 and January 2013 (the average for athletes is about 16). But as we've learned so many times, winning changes everything, and Howard still has the skills and personality to be one of the great faces of the league.
Whether he's in L.A. or not as his career continues, the big man should restore his image. Winning basketball games will be the first step to recovery, and when he does just that, people will remember that it's OK to have fun while playing the game of basketball.
Carmelo Anthony has a lot going for him when it comes to his marketability.
At 28 years old, he is one of the best offensive players in the league, he's in one of the biggest markets in the country and he is the best player on a team competing for an Eastern Conference championship.
He's even participated in three Olympic tournaments, where he's shown he can thrive in international competition.
So why is Anthony so far down this list? Quite frankly, he's not the easiest player to root for.
Anthony is in his 10th year in the NBA, and put nicely, it was a surprise when he began the season with effort on defense. He's never been known for putting in 100 percent, and that's part of the reason he's never been a true winner in this league.
He also forced his way out of Denver, and while people are starting to forget, that part of his legacy will never truly go away.
Anthony is enough of a star to land $9 million off the court (according to Forbes' 2013 report), but he's going to have to win to justify his departure from the Nuggets organization.
But whether it's fair or not, his public image took a hit when he teamed up with James and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010.
When the Big Three formed, people wanted to focus on the negative. Wade's health isn't always great, he flops too much and he's losing a step now that he's eclipsed 30 years old.
These are the things people wanted to talk about, while simply forgetting just how cool the 2-guard can be.
Wade is so cool, in fact, that he no longer needs the Nike Jordan Brand sneakers he donned until 2012. He left the brand for Li-Ning, a Chinese shoe company, and signed a deal that could make him the richest athlete of all time (according to Brian Warner of Celebritynetworth.com).
The two-time NBA champion has hurdles to clear when it comes to playing alongside James, but while The King may take away from some of his opportunities on the court, he'll never be able to stop the perception that Wade has garnered off it.
Remember how marketability comprises both what a player has done and what he is projected to do?
Enter Kyrie Irving.
In just his second season, Irving is already a top-tier point guard. He is the face of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise, and even more importantly, he is helping them recover after LeBron James notoriously took his talents to South Beach.
On the court, Irving has proven he's a superstar. He's averaging 23.7 points, 5.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game this season, and he's shown that he can be counted on when his team needs him the most.
Off the court, he may not be the highest-paid athlete in the league, but he's well on his way to making a name for himself.
Earning a nickname isn't always easy, but Pepsi Max helped Irving become "Uncle Drew." His willingness to participate with USA Basketball has also helped his cause, and when he makes his first official appearance with Team USA, his global brand will really start to take off.
The evolution of the NBA has been fun to watch throughout the years. A league that once belonged to centers has transitioned away from the post, as it has become flooded with great point guards everywhere you look.
Nobody epitomizes the athletic, scoring floor general like Derrick Rose. The 24-year-old has a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP award and three All-Star selections already under his belt, and he's the clear face of the Chicago Bulls franchise.
Following the 2011-12 season, it was announced that Rose was No. 2 in the NBA in international jersey sales (per NBA.com). That number is sure to drop following his ACL injury, but it's possible that his return to the floor could boost his popularity to new heights.
Nobody is going to claim that an injury is a good thing, but when it comes to Rose's marketability, #TheReturn has certainly done wonders for keeping him at the forefront of people's minds.
Everybody loves a comeback story, and when Rose makes his highly anticipated recovery, it's possible he'll have more people on his side than when he went down back in April 2012.
Chris Paul has been known as one of the NBA's premier point guards for quite some time, but it wasn't until he got to the Los Angeles Clippers that his marketability really began to skyrocket.
According to Diane Pucin of the Los Angeles Times, Paul's Q score rose from 14 to 18 between February 2012 and February 2013. That score surpasses the league's average, and it shows that contending for a championship can help even the most established players.
As if winning weren't enough, Paul has won over the hearts of the public with his recent State Farm campaign.
It's possible that Cliff Paul, his "long-lost brother," is just as popular as he is these days, but seeing as they're one and the same, Chris gets to reap all the benefits.
The "born to assist" theme of the campaign is fitting for Paul, as there's hardly a selfish bone in his basketball body. If anything, he's been selfless to a fault throughout his career, as sometimes his team simply needs him to take over.
Paul never received the same kind of criticism as LeBron James, Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony for switching teams, and his popularity continues to grow as his career progresses.
Blake Griffin has become an easy target for criticism, but that doesn't change that fact that he's quickly become one of the most entertaining stars in the NBA.
Style of play is the biggest reason Griffin soars in popularity. He flies through the air like few others in the league, and he makes up half of one of the most dynamic lob combos in the Association.
The 6'10", 251-pound forward needs to expand both his low-post and mid-range games, but the truth is that he's evolved quite a bit from his first season. His jumper is gaining consistency, and he's getting comfortable turning either way when backing down defenders.
He still has a ways to go, but he's improving, which is exactly what people claim they want to see.
The other thing that people want to see is a personality. We don't always see it on the court, but we've certainly seen it in his series of Kia commercials.
Dry or not, Griffin has shown he has a sense of humor, and as long as he stays healthy and continues impressing, he's going to be a target for endorsements for years to come.
The public perception of LeBron James has started to come full circle.
When James made his decision to leave Cleveland and play for the Miami Heat, his positive Q score dropped from 24 percent—the highest of all professional athletes—to 14 percent. His negative score also increased from 22 percent to 39 percent (according to Darren Rovell of CNBC).
Now, with an MVP award, an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal under his belt since his infamous Decision, he's begun to turn things around for the better.
James is in the midst of arguably his best season to date. He's shooting the ball efficiently, and he's proving to be the best overall player that the game has today. But what James has done to rebuild his image has had more to do with shedding the villain role he embraced throughout the 2010-11 campaign.
Playing catch with a ticket holder and tackling a fan at midcourt may seem like simple fun, but they're both part of the bigger picture, which is that James is showing the same fun-loving personality he displayed before becoming a bad guy.
He hasn't made a full recovery just yet, and it's possible he never does, but there's a reason he makes $40 million outside of his NBA salary (according to Forbes). He's one of the league's most marketable players, and he's not going away any time soon.
Hate him or love him, there's no denying that Kobe Bryant is as big a celebrity as they come among NBA superstars.
Bryant's legacy is 16 years old and counting, and he's one of the greatest players to ever lace up in the Association. His face is recognized virtually anywhere that has basketball, which becomes blatantly clear in Olympic competition.
According to Forbes, Bryant is currently the highest-paid player in the NBA, earning $27.8 million on the court as well as $32 million off it. Bryant is a global icon, and as Forbes reported, Nike sells twice as many of his shoes in China as it does in the United States.
As marketable as Bryant is across the world, there's no denying that you have to take the bad with the good. His style of play isn't for everybody, and he's been accused on more than one occasion of being too selfish.
When it comes down to it, though, we love winners, and that's exactly what Bryant is. His crass persona is intense, to say the least, and that's what true basketball fans respect about him, even if they don't like it.
Kevin Durant is quickly becoming the golden boy of the NBA.
At 24 years old, Durant has established himself as one of the best players in the entire Association—the best, if you ask some. His game is beyond hard to contain, and while he has every right to boast about what he's accomplished, he comes across as one of the most humble players the league has to offer.
It's that humility that makes Durant easy to root for. Playing in a small market may ultimately hurt his national profile, but his willingness to sign a five-year deal to play in Oklahoma City makes you realize he doesn't care about the big-market atmosphere.
The most dangerous part about Durant is that he's still getting better. His skills are continuing to evolve, and he becomes a more versatile player with every passing year.
With the idea that Durant still has room to grow, he threatens to become even more popular in such a star-driven league. His recent Foot Locker commercial sums things up nicely, as it describes him as a "vicious" dunker, promotes his Nike KD V shoe and calls him "the nicest guy in the NBA."