NBA stars are using NFTs to expand their personal brand

According to the Growth Trend Analysis and Forecast Report by MarketDecipher, the sports memorabilia market size will be US$26 billion in 2021, with NFT sports collectables currently estimated at US$1.4 billion, which is estimated to double its market size at a 100% growth rate and reach 2.6 billion in 2022. As a result, many professional NBA athletes such as Kevin Durant and King James LeBron are not missing an opportunity to further develop their personal brands by offering fans new ways to connect with them through ownership of unique digital assets.


Igor Demcak

Basics: What is an NFT and what makes it special? 

NFT, or a non-fungible token, is essentially a one-of-a-kind trading card that defines a unique digital item. The uniqueness of the NFT is captured on a blockchain, a distributed peer-to-peer computer network. OpenSea, backed by Ethereum, currently represents the largest NFT marketplace, and while NFTs have initially become popular mainly among digital art products, the thrilling aspects of NFTs have gradually captured the attention of a wide spectrum of celebrities, including Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna, and, most recently, Miley Cyrus. In our article, Miley Cyrus joins Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, and Paris Hilton onboard the metaverse trademark hype train you can find out more about how these public figures are looking to secure trademarks for metaverse-related products. The list of professional athletes that have been buying and registering NFTs since their boom in 2021 is also continuously increasing.


One of the first and most influential moves toward the merge between NFT and sports was taken by the NBA (National Basketball Association) as it partnered with Dapper Labs to create "TopShot," a marketplace that digitizes licensed clips from the NBA and turns them into a limited number of NFTs advertised as "Moments." Top Shot launched in October 2020 and has already inspired other sports leagues, like the UFC, to offer NFT collections to their fans.

The NBA has also filed multiple applications for NFT-related trademarks in 2022. In April 2022, the NBA reportedly filed four trademark applications to create unique NFTs at the US Patent and Trademark Office, including an application for "The Association". The registration of "The Association" is an intentional move by the NBA to build on the "NBA Top Shot" successes while increasing the variety of collectable digital assets. The Association covers a long list of virtual goods such as game programs, game tickets, collectables, trading cards, jerseys, and memorabilia authenticated by NFT. Furthermore, the NBA has reportedly registered two Ethereum Name Service (ENS) domains, nba.eth and theassociationnft.eth.

All evidence points towards the fact that the NBA is looking to launch its own proprietary NFT collection and fully expand into the metaverse, growing its fanbase and tapping into its current one even deeper.

Kevin Durant

NBA’s top-performing athlete Kevin Durant has made separate moves toward the protection of his digital brand assets. Durant has had numerous All-Star Game appearances, MVP awards, scoring titles and NBA championships and enjoys widespread support from his continuously growing fanbase. As his popularity grows, he also seeks to gain more control over his personal branding in the ever-expanding digital realm. In May 2022, the athlete partnered with his venture capital firm Thirty-Five Ventures LLC and filed as many as 26 metaverse and NFT-related trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). According to trademark lawyer Mike Kondoudis, the applications cover:

  • NFTs and NFT-backed media 

  • Cryptocurrency collectibles 

  • NFT and crypto marketplaces

King LeBron James

Lebron James, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time and one of the most famous athletes in the world, has also made advances in the direction of NFT-related goods. In March 2022 Lebron James filed four trademark applications for “LEBRON JAMES”, “LEBRON”, “CHOSEN1”, and “KING JAMES”  for NFTs and digital goods such as virtual footwear and trading cards, which signals that he is also ready to join the metaverse. James is also working on a variety of virtual experience projects, some of that will give fans the chance to hoop on a virtual basketball court.

Importance of Personal Branding for Athletes

Personal branding is essential for pro athletes, as it helps them build and sustain their reputation in the mind of fans and consumers. While game contracts are the primary way professional athletes earn money, another significant part comes from endorsement deals and partnerships. Individual athletes can issue their own NFT collections to engage their fan base. Similar to trading cards, athlete NFTs establish a connection between the player and their devoted supporters. For example, fans can enjoy mementoes of their favourite players and display them on social media to show off their colours. The more fan support and attention athletes get, the more their athlete brand is worth to sports teams, sponsors, and famous sports businesses like Adidas and Nike.

Furthermore, athletes can maintain their intellectual property rights by issuing NFTs themselves. As NFT creators, they can receive royalty fees from the resales of their NFTs, which could be a reasonable leeway and wealth for when they retire. We have witnessed many influential sports figures such as Michael Jordan and Lionel Messi spend years in trademark disputes to take control over their intellectual property to utilize it for branding purposes.

The range of NFT applications in the sports industry has been expanding recently, and this trend is likely to continue. Digital assets introduce new ways for teams to connect to their loyal supporters and unlock new sources of revenue. While sports fans still enjoy owning, trading, and donning their one-of-a-kind badges, today, NFT sports use cases go far beyond digital collectables.

Igor Demcak
Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Founder of Trama

7 year experience in IP protection

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