The NBA, and basketball in general for that matter, is largely considered to be an American entity, but that by no means keeps the superstars who dribble a ball for a living from becoming global brands. After all, the NBA's popularity has been increasing around the world for quite some time, a trend that will hopefully not be messed with by the real possibility of an extended lockout.
Superstardom is something that every player in the association strives for. However, a more select few reach international superstardom and become their own individual brand.
These are the players who matter the most. They're the ones who you see in commercials all the time, the ones you read about in other countries' newspapers, the ones who are talked about in other languages.
They're the NBA's biggest global brands.
Read on to find out who these special men are.
If he played in a major market, Kevin Durant would absolutely find himself in the top five. As it is, the back-to-back scoring champion and humble kid in his fourth year in the league will have to settle for being an honorable mention.
Both for his play on the court and his quote-producing mouth off it, Shaquille O'Neal remains highly thought of in the basketball world despite the fact that he retired very recently. The Big Aristotle will not be forgotten easily.
Always up there in jersey sales, Dwyane Wade plays in a diverse city (Miami) and has been considered a superstar and one of the league's top players for quite some time now. By all accounts, he's a nice, quality guy, and he's highly respected throughout the world.
The best European player to ever grace the NBA, Dirk Nowitzki is coming off a fantastic season, one in which he willed his Dallas Mavericks through the grueling postseason stretch en route to the franchise's first NBA title.
The German big man is a prolific scorer and one of the more fun players to watch in the NBA. He's popular not only in Dallas, but also around the United States and throughout the rest of the world.
Nowitzki will never be confused for the absolute best player in the NBA, but he's never out of the discussion when it comes to the league's primary superstars.
Being the best player ever from the country with the world's largest population tends to do wonders for your status as a global brand.
In eastern Asia, Yao Ming is not just thought of as a great basketball player, but rather as a veritable superhuman being, one who can make an entire nation take a collective gasp when he does something special.
Ming's seasons in the NBA were very good, even if they didn't register with us American fans on a historically great level. However, he said the right things, he did the right things and he acted the right way.
Because of his international prestige, Ming absolutely deserves his spot at No. 4 on this list.
The greatest basketball player to ever walk the face of this planet, Michael Jordan has been out of the league for nearly a decade now, but he still remains synonymous with the NBA.
There's a reason that we still hear about "the next Jordans," still read articles about how current players compare to him and still marvel at his ridiculous highlight reels. Even though he's 48 now, he's still extraordinarily relevant, and not just because he's involved with the Charlotte Bobcats (and getting fined $100K).
Think about commercials you see on television. Jordan still shows up on a daily basis as people show him their underwear. There's a reason that Hanes chose Jordan and not a current player.
Jordan's situation is different from other living legends like Bill Russell and Julius Erving, as he hasn't been retired long enough to seem historical quite yet. We still want and need to hear about MJ.
Love him or hate him, LeBron James matters in the world of basketball.
Think about the last five arguments you've been a part of that have anything to do with the NBA. I'd be willing to bet that at least two of them had to do with the man smiling on the left.
Remember when James was talking about how he didn't want to just be a basketball player but instead wanted to be a global icon? In a way, he already is.
James is undoubtedly one of the most famous basketball players alive today, thanks to his unique combination of skill, regular season success and controversy.
Once more, he simply matters.
Kobe Bryant is the most dominant NBA player of the last decade. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. While Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and a few other players may come close to matching his greatness over the last 10 years, none of them can reach his level.
Bryant has been at the forefront of the basketball world's (not nation's) collective consciousness for over a decade now and will likely be there to stay for at least a few more years, even as his skills slowly wane and he falls further down the list of best current players.
Just think about the following: Even though Deron Williams inked a deal with the Turkish club Besiktas, one that made him the first NBA superstar to ever sign with a foreign team during his prime, Kobe has dominated the international basketball headlines this summer. It's Bryant that teams were considering giving $1 million a month to play.
Across the world, no basketball player has become a bigger global brand than this member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
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Adam Fromal is a syndicated writer and Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.