The worth of a basketball player these days goes far beyond the stats he puts up. Unlike athletes in other sports who may find themselves simple role models for kids, the impact NBA superstars have on the worlds of politics, social issues, technology and (of course) the sports industry is blowing up. In celebration of the men who have made basketball one of the most influential sports on the planet, we present to you our five most powerful players of 2014. Long may they reign.
5. Tim Duncan: the vet who has raised a generation
Tim Duncan has helped nurture talent like no other player in the league. Responsible for the San Antonio Spurs’ win at last season’s championships, he’s armed with a veteran’s stoicism and humbleness that helps his teammates’ strengths come to the surface. And that’s saying a lot—through five titles and 13 years,the three-time MVP has touched the lives of more than 130 other players (all without switching teams once).
4. Dwyane Wade: the player bridging nations
In addition to being a masterful team leader (arguably the one responsible for the Miami Heat’s championship record these past few years), Dwyane Wade is building bridges across borders. Through his contract with Chinese mega sports corporation Li-Ning, the $29.9 million annual earner is helping grow the popularity of the sport abroad. His influence on men’s style is also unparalleled—he has his own neckties and socks, plus partnerships with Hublot, Mission and Dove Men.
3. Kobe Bryant: the vet inspiring the next generation
Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant is yet another veteran whose pull within the league is unmatched, especially in terms of its most promising young players. According to Fox Sports, he has served as inspiration to several of this year’s top draft picks, including Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and even Andrew Wiggins. He still ranks as the NBA’s highest-paid athlete—worth $61.5 million a year at Forbes’ last count—and has deals with Turkish Air, Lenovo, Hublot and Nike.
2. Kevin Durant: the player who excels in the spotlight
As last season’s NBA MVP, Kevin Durant takes this spot because of his role as a public figure. His on-court performance may have earned him the award, but the acceptance speech that followed shows how he thrives in the limelight. Even after a foot fracture back in October, he has remained one of the league’s most visible players on and off the sidelines (and even became the target of Drake’s no-so-subtle recruitment attempts at one point). It doesn’t hurt that he also pulls in an estimated $31.9 million annually, according to Forbes.
1. LeBron James: the undisputed king
The numbers don’t lie
Ballers have the market cornered
Follow the money