Could LeBron James ever pass Michael Jordan in marketing?

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Michael Jordan remains the undisputed king of NBA marketing.

Nine years since he stepped on an NBA court — and 14 years since the Jordan we prefer to remember in Chicago — Jordan still dominates NBA marketing and is estimated to make around $60 million annually in endorsements. The Air Jordan Nike brand still accounts for three out of every four basketball shoes sold in this country. He still has lucrative endorsement deals with Gatorade, Hanes and others.

Could LeBron James ever reach those kinds of heights?

It seems unlikely right now, with LeBron’s popularity severely damaged by how “the decision” was handled. But there was a time when experts thought Kobe Bryant’s image would never rebound, but it has. If LeBron wins rings — plural, not one — his legacy changes. And that all starts with ring number one, which he is as close to now as he has ever been.

Keith Turco wrote at Forbes he thinks LeBron could reach the Jordan stratosphere.

LeBron has to earn a ring to even be considered in this conversation, and quite frankly not just one ring is enough. A ring would put him in the same consideration set, but it would not automatically give him a seat at the table. In order for him (or anyone else … um, Kobe maybe?) to impact the marketing world and the economy the way Jordan did, he needs to deliver a “first….”

To succeed, LeBron needs to leverage new avenues today that didn’t exist for Jordan. He must embrace new media and technology and learn from others who tried and failed (can you say Shazam and Shaq?). Knowing when to say no is just as important as seizing the opportunities that are out there.

Winning the championship and getting the ring are the first steps. The path is there. James needs to rise to the next level to realize marketing success and significant economic impact. He must figure out the “first” that will lead him there.

I’m not convinced, you could argue Kevin Durant has maybe a better chance.

But LeBron could still become the global icon for basketball he wants to be, with some rings and a push from Nike. Still, the Jordan summit is a long climb away.