star (stär) –
- An artistic performer or athlete whose leading role or superior performance is acknowledged.
- One who is highly celebrated in a field or profession.
Stars are born. Stars are manufactured. Stars are anointed. Stars develop over time with excellent performance after excellent performance. Michael Jordan’s game-winning jumper in the 1982 NCAA Final announced his presence, but one game in the 1986 playoffs proclaimed his stardom. His ascension to superstardom came not long afterwards. Kobe Bryant, with sunglasses on his head, declaring for the 1996 NBA Draft was a star move. Then, there’s LeBron James. Well, he was a star from the first moment we laid our collective eyes on him.
The NBA Playoffs, which tip off today, are a proving ground for stars and the opportunity for players to stake their claim to stardom. Reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry made the leap to superstar status with last year’s playoff run, despite being the lead vote-getter in the All-Star Game, it was his raising his scoring average over five points during the title run that cemented his elite status. Chauncey Billups became a star in the NBA due to his clutch play and unflappable leadership of the 2004 champion Detroit Pistons (the only team in 35 years to win a title without a bona fide superstar), but his star power had limitations.
Athletes are judged by their accomplishments, statistical feats and their ability to come up big in championship moments, but their marketability plays a huge role in who’s really a star and who’s simply noticeable. Billups, while leading a very good Pistons team, had very little box office appeal which doesn’t translate into endorsements, signature sneakers and the spoils of stardom. He was an All-Star; a very good player, but fans aren’t trampling over one another to get their jerseys signed. Joe Johnson, now of the Miami Heat, falls into the same category, as does probably what will be the strangest case of them all. Everything about Kawhi Leonard screams star. He’s the best player on a championship contender; he’s young, having a great statistical season, yet, how many commercials have you seen him in? Perhaps it’s just the nature of his organization, because Tim Duncan is an NBA legend, but his star power hasn’t shined as brightly for a number of reasons.
Chris Paul has become an endorsement king with his State Farm partnership and has even created opportunities for other players with the new “Meet the Hoopers” campaign. However, Paul has never played in a conference final, one of the paradoxes of stardom, because Carmelo Anthony’s postseasons have been filled with futility as well. However, these are two of the biggest stars in the NBA and it translates in jersey sales, All-Star votes and on Madison Ave.
This postseason is an opportunity for All-Stars like Kryie Irving, Paul George and Kyle Lowry to take their game, and status to the next level. Conversely, All-Star snub Damien Lilliard will aim to solidify his standing against Chris Paul nonetheless. There are a few very good players, aiming for star status and great runs in the playoffs for Kemba Walker, Isiah Thomas and Andre Drummond can elevate their stock tremendously. The next six weeks offer ample opportunity for these players to join LeBron, Curry, Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Paul, Blake, Dirk and Wade on being known on a one-name basis.