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Fact-Checking Magic Johnson's Claim About LeBron James' Commercial Presence

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 21:  Earvin 'Magic' Johnson speaks during a memorial service for Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on February 21, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Dr. Buss died at the age of 80 on Monday following an 18-month battle with cancer. Buss won 10 NBA championships as Lakers owner since purchasing the team in 1979.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2013

The NBA Countdown crew welcomed us to a full day of basketball on ABC's coverage Sunday, complete with Magic Johnson harping on the idea that LeBron James isn't in enough commercials.

My initial reaction? Something along the lines of a simultaneous spit-take and Gary Coleman saying, "Whatchu talkin' 'bout Magic?"

Magic talked about the newly crowned four-time MVP incredulously: 

I'm in disbelief. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have more commercials than LeBron James. I can't believe that. In all my 35 years, I've never seen an MVP, back-to-back winner...not have any endorsement deals, not have any commercials on TV? Every time I look at the TV, I never see any LeBron James commercials.

According to Forbes, as of June 2012, LeBron is the fourth-highest-paid athlete in the world, just behind Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Tiger Woods.

Kobe Bryant comes in at a solid sixth, and to get to the next NBA player, you'll have to scroll all the way down to 33rd on the list, where Dwight Howard sits just ahead of Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade.

Why is this all relevant? Well, LeBron received all of a $16 million salary in the 2011-12 season—well short of the $53 million that Forbes has him pegged at in terms of total earnings. That would put him at just under $40 million in endorsements.

In terms of the rest of the NBA, Forbes has Bryant pegged at $32 million in endorsements, with the next NBA player, Durant, raking in $13 million outside of his playing contract.

This Samsung commercial that's played ad nauseum should jog Magic's memory and remind him that LeBron does in fact have commercials out there.

Not only that, but LeBron is also in an endless array of commercials for the NBA, most recently starring in the league's "We Are All Watching" campaign.

From that, can we determine that Magic is not just wrong, but incredibly wrong? Well, almost.

James may have endorsement deals with McDonalds, Nike, State Farm, Coca-Cola, Sprint and hopefully a few used car dealerships in Miami that use him as a hilarious prop in poorly produced commercials. But he's not on TV hawking products quite as much as we're used to.

Why is that? Well, the advertising strategies of companies have changed since Michael Jordan was in every single commercial from 1991 to '98, and then every other commercial from then until about four years ago.

ESPN's Darren Rovell explains it best:

Truth is everyone still expects a Michael Jordan dominated TV ad space. That’s not going to happen.

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) May 5, 2013

At 1st, Nike felt the need to do “we have LeBron” spots. They don’t need to do that anymore. Seeding blogs w/colorways is more important.

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) May 5, 2013

Think LeBron also suffers from the fact that Nike has shifted a lot of its individual player marketing to the digital space.

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) May 5, 2013

What seems to have happened in recent years is that while LeBron is the unquestioned face of the NBA, other faces have emerged as recognizable, enjoyable and, at times, more likable faces.

Magic mentioned both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in his weird rant about LeBron's lack of exposure, and he had an argument there.

Magic’s statement that LeBron lacks endorsements is not accurate, but State Farm did replace him with Chris Paul.

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) May 5, 2013

While we can harp on the fact that LeBron isn't on television as often as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O'Neal were in their respective time at the top of the NBA, we've also got to qualify that knowledge with the way companies advertise today. There are a ton of players that have become incredibly marketable despite the fact that they aren't the league's best player or play on bad teams, such as Paul, Griffin and Kyrie Irving.

It's not always commercials that tell how marketable a player is, and LeBron is just that. He was deemed the top endorser in sports by CNN for 2012, with few challengers even coming near him.

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