GRANT, SHAQ AND PENNY HOT OFF AND ON THE COURT;JORDAN'S ENDORSEMENT POWER MAY BE WANING

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The National Basketball Association season may be over, but for the league's most marketable stars, the competition is just heating up.

NBA pros are in demand again as ad spokesmen, thanks to record-high TV ratings-fueled by Michael Jordan's return and baseball's decline-as well as the NBA's effort to promote both its new and old stars.

But not everyone can be like Mike, Shaq and Charles. There are only so many endorsement dollars to go around, and advertisers aren't about to clutter the marketplace with basketball stars. What follows, then, is a guide to the names that will be shopping themselves around this summer. Advertising Age was assisted in its analysis by several sports marketing insiders, most of whom spoke candidly but anonymously. Players were assessed for their long-term potential, not their ability to score a quick-hit commercial, which most of these stars could easily get.

Grant Hill, Detroit Pistons

Conventional Wisdom: Up! Up! Up! Even higher if his team had made the playoffs, but for a rookie, Fila USA, General Motors Corp. and Sprite ain't bad. He's the next Shaq, minus the manufactured hype. He's selective and savvy, as he should be. The horse to bet on for the future, but how many more riders will he take on?

Shaquille O'Neal, Orlando Magic

CW: Up. As Shaq gets better, he gets bigger, and his marketing clout grows. Never mind his team lost in the finals; they made it there, and that's a definite plus for Shaq marketing. Pepsi has done wonders for him, and Reebok is only now getting the hang of superstar marketing. But Shaq sometimes comes across as a marketing mercenary; that Pepsi-personality goes AWOL too often on-court and in interviews. He must lose his Smile-For-Hire rep, or lose what credibility he has amassed.

Anfernee Hardaway, Orlando Magic

CW: Up. Penny has two big things going him: his game and Nike. Not necessarily in that order. Basketball pundits already peg him to be one of the game's greats, while Nike is making the Orlando Magic point guard the centerpiece of its basketball marketing (touche, Shaq/Reebok!). One gripe: Smile, son! If you were any more serious, you'd be sidelined with an ulcer.

Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers

CW: Unclear. Bright, brash, baby-faced. The NBA's new Guy You Love To Hate. He's poised for greatness-McDonald's, Nike and Topps all think so-but he needs to get his team to the finals. Reggie: If you get over the hump, they will come BIG TIME.

Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets

CW: Unclear. As much as we'd like to, we can't seem to jump on Dream's bandwagon, even now that he's got two championship rings. Forget the gripes about his accent and his Nigerian heritage; Hakeem, 32, is too old. He'll be an effective endorser for Uncle Ben's and M&Ms abroad, but not to American teens weaned on homegrown Shaq. But he could be a print ad darling.

David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs

CW: Unclear. David, you blew it. You had an MVP season and hammed hilariously with teammate Rodman for Pizza Hut .*.*. and then you go choke on Hakeem and the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. But you got the skills, the smile and those wholesome Family Values, so come back strong, Admiral! And get Nike to give you more facetime.

Clyde Drexler, Houston Rockets

CW: Down. Before there was Air Jordan, there was Clyde the Glide. But is Mr. Drexler's name even known on Madison Avenue? His footwear sponsor-Avia (yes, Avia)-has given him little to no national ad exposure. Durable, hard-working, could get a quick hit, but he has no marketing legs. He'll have to take consolation in his first title after 12 years in the league.

Dennis Rodman, San Antonio Spurs

CW: Down. Lovable Bad-Ass, Madonna Boy-Toy image turned Nike onto Mr. Rodman last year and Pizza Hut this year. But recent disclosures-suicide fantasies and Vegas lost weekends-have hurt, even if they were made winkingly. Unless he defuses himself, Mr. Rodman is an endorsement bomb. But you don't care anyway, do you, Dennis?

Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls

CW: Down. Scottie? Marketable? Don't make us laugh. Ooh, I got headaches. Boo-hoo, I don't want to play with Toni Kukoc. Wah, I'd rather sit for the last 1.5 seconds with the game on the line. Then there's those pesky assault charges for allegedly striking his fiancee. And to think, last year he had an MVP-caliber season. Now, he's back to being a Jordanaire. And speaking of which........

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls

CW: Down. What?!? The teacher's pet, sent to the corner? Never thought we'd say this, but Jordan needs to improve his game. You know, Michael, everyone is saying you're washed up. That Penny and Grant have got your number. That you won't prove your naysayers wrong. So, Michael: Are they right?

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