We have already seen guys like Golden State's Stephen Curry and Memphis' Mike Conley and Indiana's Roy Hibbert (before his distasteful comments) vault their way into the next level of stardom. Curry, doing things that are not even possible in video games, looked dangerously close to putting all of Golden State - well, San Francisco - on his back to the Western Conference Finals. Conley's Western Conference Finals performance may have fallen short of the show he put on in the previous round against Curry's Warriors, but he finally looked like a player deserving of a 5-year, $45 million contract. Hibbert sky-hooked the Pacers within one game of the NBA Finals and is looking to be reviving the dying bread of old school centers.
With the playoffs now down to two teams, which three players have the most to gain in the NBA Finals?
Chris Andersen (Miami Heat, Forward)
NBA followers have known about "Birdman" for years, and at 34 years old, it's tough to tell whether they know him for his on-court doings or his ever-growing collection of colorful tattoos. Either way, for a brand's sake, truthfully it doesn't matter where the positive attention is coming from.
evolution of his tattoos and jokes about cocaine. No matter how you look at it though, he has been an important role player for the Heat bringing hustle and intensity off of the bench.
Of course, he is not going to garner much attention, if any, from the major national brands. But what about niche brands? I can see Andersen possibly reaching teenage audiences like the X Games and extreme sports, it's just a matter of a company putting themselves out there and taking a big chance. At the very least, people should know that it's Andersen not Anderson by the end of the series.
Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs, Forward/Guard)
Leonard may not be a name that has made it into the households of the NBA's casual fans, but he's certainly knocking. Only 21 years old, Leonard is a burgeoning star in the league and making quite the case to take over the reins from the Spurs' trio of thirty-somethings in Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili.
Only two years into his young career, the one thing we know for sure about the forward from San Diego State University is that he's a physical freak. Standing at 6-foot-7, Leonard has a wingspan of almost 7-foot-2. Check out this recent episode of ESPN's Sports Science on him.
Leonard has not had his major breakout performance or series yet, but it is on the horizon and approaching quickly. He plays the game with intensity and heart along with his athleticism. As the Duncans, and Parkers, and Ginobilis in San Antonio slowly ride into the sunset, look for Leonard to become a team leader and spokesman for the other players. His marketability has a chance to boom.
LeBron James (Miami Heat, Forward)
I know, I know. How could the 2013 NBA Finals really impact LeBron James? James is going for rare territory here. For his entire career, he has stared comparisons to Michael Jordan straight in the face and done a pretty good job keeping up. The media may have expected LeBron to have broken the all-time scoring record and have eight rings already, but in reality, he has done a fine job handling the expectations.
He is 28 years old now, still with a nice chunk of his career ahead of him. If the Heat win this year, then LeBron has two career rings. Each ring from here is one big step closer to Jordan, and one big step ahead for his brand.
LeBron is a mega-brand of our era. His Q-Score was 17 as of January this year which is near the top of the NBA. Also, he has the wins and statistics to back everything up. He has endorsements with some of the largest national brands in the US like Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Samsung. Another championship ring will just further cement his place in the sports business realm and take one step closer to Jordan.
Honorable mention: Chris Bosh (Miami Heat forward that may find himself on the trading block) and Tiago Splitter (San Antonio Spurs forward from Brazil that has a chance to continue growing the game in his home country)
At least one player will come out of these NBA Finals with the chance to see their marketability and popularity boom. Who will it be? We find out when the NBA Finals tip off tonight on ABC.
Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.