From Michael Jordan To The Social Media Era: How NBA Spokespeople Have Shaped Marketing Campaigns Over the Years

Updated October 6, 2023

Nowadays, spending a few minutes online without coming across marketing campaigns is impossible. Everywhere you turn, you’ll also most likely come across a billboard. This is the era of sentimental marketing, and brands have capitalized on the widespread fame of the NBA and the love fans have for basketballers to tell their stories to the world.

These athletes command immense reach across the globe. Their talent, charisma, and cultural influence have made millions of fans worldwide follow their matches, stake on NBA lines and picks, and follow their lives on social media.

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The Early Years and Michael Jordan

When asked who the G.O.A.T. of basketball is, most fans will say Michael Jordan. In the 1980s and 1990s, Michael Jordan was the undisputed king of the NBA. Not only was he talented, but the man was also a whole brand. M.J. was immensely marketable. Sooner than later, he became one of the most sought-after celebrity spokespeople in the world.

Before 1984, Converse and Adidas were the major players in the sneakers industry. However, Jordan partnering with Nike, producing the unforgettable “Air Jordan” sneakers line, created a major upset in the industry. This partnership is easily one of history’s most successful and influential marketing campaigns.

Other notable NBA spokespeople during this era included Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Shaquille O’Neal. They also successfully partnered with brands like Converse, Pepsi, and Reebok.

Kobe Bryant’s New Millennium

Before Lebron James was the “chosen one,” Kobe Bryant was the “crown prince” of the NBA. He is widely known as the player that came the closest to Michael Jordan’s legacy on the court. Kobe was known for his immense work ethic and dedication to the game. His talent and work ethic easily positioned him in the marketing industry.

Bryant’s partnership with Nike produced some of the most memorable ads of the decade, including the “Kobe System” campaign that showcased his drive and determination.

The LeBron James Era

The early 2010s was the era of the chosen one. Lebron James came into the league with several expectations heaped on him, and boy, did he deliver. In fact, it is still a major bone of contention whether LeBron or Jordan is the G.O.A.T. of basketball.

Over the years, LeBron partnered with Nike on various marketing campaigns, but 2018’s More Than an Athlete was remarkable in a different way. Asides from being one of Nike’s most successful marketing campaigns, it celebrated the power of athletes to effect change.

The Future of NBA Spokespeople in Marketing Campaigns

The NBA has grown immensely over the decade. Beyond familiar names, there has been an influx of foreign talents. This has immensely expanded the NBA’s and their athletes’ reach to international shores. Players like Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid are making waves.

The increased usage of social media by athletes and fans has also incredibly increased reach and, in turn, created a large platform for brands to reach fans of the sport. However, this direct access means athletes can now be held accountable for their online and offline actions.

This has made it important for brands to work with socially responsible athletes. An athlete getting canceled on social media can significantly impact a brand’s image and sales.


NBA spokespeople have come a long way since the early days of Michael Jordan. Over the years, these athletes have become some of the most powerful influences in the industry, thanks to their talent, charisma, and cultural influence.

From Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to the likes of Giannis and Luka Doncic in this social media era, NBA spokespeople have left an indelible mark on the marketing world. It’s clear that they will continue to be instrumental in helping brands reach their audience on a global scale.

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