Who Are The NBA’s Superstars?

I was watching the Knicks-Warriors game last night and after another Knicks defensive breakdown that allowed Baron Davis to score unbothered, Gus Johnson referred to him as a “Superstar.” Almost immediately following this proclamation Kenny Smith piped in that Baron David was not a Superstar, but merely an All Star. Their subsequent conversation into what makes a player a Superstar didn’t make too much sense because Smith kept contradicting himself and eventually they agreed to disagree.

I personally don’t think that Baron Davis is a Superstar, but my reasoning is purely subjective. There is clearly a combination of on-court success and off-court celebrity that brings someone to this superstar level, but it’s difficult to truly pinpoint what those factors are. I posed this question to a friend of mine and we both agreed that there are five definite Superstars in the NBA:

LeBron James
Kobe Bryant
Dwyane Wade
Shaquille O’Neal
Kevin Garnett

Additional names brought up some debate. My friend tried to argue that Yao was a Superstar, but I argued that even though he is definitely one in China, he is not one in the U.S. We discussed Carmelo Anthony, who clearly has the off-court celebrity, but decided he doesn’t fit into the group because he doesn’t have any true on-court success. Sure, he has shown that he can score, and even was a major contributor to the success of USA Basketball in the past couple of years, but his NBA success in the playoffs is empty. His teammate Allen Iverson fits into this boat as well, even with an NBA Finals appearance as part of the Philadelphia 76ers.

I argued that Steve Nash has to be considered a Superstar because he has won two MVP awards, which is the same number as the above five superstars combined (Shaq and KG each have one). My friend disagreed, merely calling him an All Star because he isn’t marketable enough. I’ve seen my fair share of adidas commercials to know what Nash looks like and I can bet that most of the people who watch basketball know too. Garnett rarely has off-court celebrity because he likes to stay quiet and avoids the media at all costs. How can this be bypassed in the superstar category for KG but not for Nash? I argue it can’t be.

The next quiet star I mentioned was Tim Duncan. He is a two-time MVP, four-time NBA Champion and a three-time NBA Finals MVP. He has had more success on the court than any player currently in the NBA, other than possibly Shaquille O’Neal, who will go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the game…and he’ll do so with Duncan. My friend considered Duncan a star and nothing more until I reminded him of Duncan’s Edge Pro Gel commercials he used to do with David Robinson. That pushed him over the edge.

It’s the “celebrity” issue that changes the landscape. Tracy McGrady has the off-court notoriety much like Vince Carter had it half a decade ago. Neither player should be considered a Superstar at this point because of the lack of on-court success. Carter, like Iverson, made one NBA Finals appearance, which was not enough to push him into the superstar level.

There are other great players in the NBA, but no more that deserve the Superstar tag. I argue that there cannot be more than 10 at a single time and right now we have seven:

LeBron James
Kobe Bryant
Dwyane Wade
Shaquille O’Neal
Kevin Garnett
Steve Nash
Tim Duncan


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