Update: Hardaway was misquoted.
At his peak, Penny Hardaway’s off-the-court presence may have been bigger than his game — and his game was big. Three-time All-NBA player, four-time All-Star, part of a one-two punch with a young Shaquille O’Neal that had the Magic as title contenders.
Still, talk about Hardaway and you end up talking about the ‘Lil Penny commercials and the shoes — Hardaway was a break-out NBA star known by non-hoops fans because of his off-the-court persona.
“Superstar? No. Kawhi Leonard is not a superstar because he has no interest in being the face of the league or starring in TV commercials. He’s a good player, but I wouldn’t consider him a superstar player.”
The first reaction of hoops fans will be “are you kidding me?” Leonard is an MVP candidate, franchise cornerstone, best two-way player in the NBA according to Michael Jordan, champion and finals MVP.
However, Hardaway is right in the sense that Leonard limits how big his personal brand can be because he doesn’t promote it. Heck, not sure he even cares that much about it. If you define superstar by off-the-court persona, then maybe Leonard isn’t your guy. Leonard is not Stephen Curry showing up in ads all the time, he’s not LeBron James and his media projects, he’s no Jeremy Lin on social media.
Nor does Leonard want to be — and he doesn’t have to be. Leonard does have some sweet Jordan brand commercials, but not ones where he speaks. He does talk a little in those Spurs HEB ads, but that’s about it. He doesn’t want to be front-and-center that way. That’s just who he is. He’s a quiet leader, sort of like Tim Duncan before him in San Antonio (which is perfect for Gregg Popovich).
Personally, I’d still say he’s a superstar. However, he’s never going to have the Q Rating of Shaq or Curry or LeBron. So if that’s how you choose to define superstar…