Which Brands Won While the NBA Lockout Darkened Their Biggest Stage?

Kevin Durant, Grant Hill and Even NBA 2K12 Game Did Alright -- or Better

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For hundreds of professional basketball players and the dozens of brands that market around them, the NBA lockout kept them off the hardwood and the airwaves too.

But some players and marketers delivered branding success stories amid all the lost revenue, missed paychecks and endorsement deals on hold.

More than just immediate income, their efforts helped them maintain brand position while their biggest stage was dark. If players and owners ratify the tentative deal that came over the long Thanksgiving weekend, these are the brands that will start the new season on Christmas Day with the strongest possible position.

Kevin Durant
Between stealing the show at virtually every charity game, working out with LeBron James in promotional videos, and randomly showing up at a Twitter follower's flag-football game, Kevin Durant's YouTube viewership this off-season looked a lot more like NBA Finals ratings .

The young superstar seems to be everywhere lately. He toured China. His limited edition Nike kicks were launched with a popular Back to the Future-themed campaign. Oh, and he shot a movie called "Switch" in the time that was freed up by the lockout.

Throughout he maintained his image as a humble yet hip dude who's just obsessed with hooping, solidifying his role as the league's most likable superstar.

Take-Two Interactive
It would be impossible for Take-Two's NBA video game brand to top the success of last year's NBA 2K11, which totally reinvented basketball game-play, nabbed Michael Jordan as a sponsor, sold a record 5.5 million copies, and won a "best sports game of this generation" mention from IGN Editor-in-Chief Hilary Goldstein.

But this year's follow-up NBA 2K12 came close -- no small feat with players locked out of real play and the sport off the air. It features legendary teams of the past, with historically accurate commentary, uniforms and graphics that make for a unique, immersive experience. It's unclear whether the historical-teams maneuver was made in anticipation of the lockout (Take-Two declined to comment), but it sure looked like a savvy move with the benefit of hindsight. The game offers plenty to keep both casual and diehard fans busy, and critics adore it. After a strong opening that topped 2K11's, sales have slowed just a bit. Some predicted the franchise would lose millions due to the work stoppage, but Take-Two positioned its series to endure as well as conceivably possible.

Grant Hill on the cover of Chop Chop magazine.
Grant Hill on the cover of Chop Chop magazine.

Grant Hill
The aging Phoenix Suns swing-man is angling to become the next post-career Magic Johnson, the brand of a disciplined businessman with a deep portfolio of properties to ensure a dynamic life after his playing days.

Hill Ventures, the company he founded shortly after entering the league, took up more of his time while he was off the court, expanding its real-estate holdings, philanthropic activity and Grant Hill Collection of African-American Art. Mr. Hill has also pursued the lifestyle space, appearing on the cover of family cooking magazine Chop Chop earlier this year to talk up healthy eating and offering more health tips on his website.

He was recently elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame 's board of governors. Put it together, and you've got an aging All-Star turned NBA elder statesman well positioned for life after basketball.

Bill Simmons
The nation's most famous basketball writer did okay without basketball. Mr. Simmons' experiment in literary sports writing, Grantland.com, kicked off during the 2011 NBA Finals and has experienced continued modest growth ever since. How? Some lockout coverage, yes, a few player interviews, sure; but most of all, Grantland has diversified. The site is only loosely basketball-centered, meaning it can lean on the sport without missing a beat during the lockout, focusing instead on football, TV, or internet memes.

"We had to improvise," Mr. Simmons wrote Wednesday, recalling the NBA lockout, the NFL lockout and other headwinds at launch. The site went big on Father's Day, ran a couple of oral histories and played up soccer and tennis, he said. "Repeat: We had to play up soccer and tennis."

Grantland also benefits from a lack of competitors. Mr. Simmons recognized that traditional sports coverage wasn't hitting the spot for many smart, critical sports fans. The site has established a recognizable brand in under half a year, largely by being thoughtful in a business often reduced to the lowest common denominator of highlight reels and cliches. It's no surprise familiar authors such as Dave Eggers, Malcolm Gladwell and Chuck Klosterman have jumped on board.

Baron Davis in a Journal stipple portrait.
Baron Davis in a Journal stipple portrait. Credit: WSJ

Baron Davis
The star point guard, banished to the post-LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers, took on a daunting challenge during his time away from the court: teaching men how to dress.

The 32-year old, who's lost a step from his younger days and has only so many years left when he can command his $14 million salary, is in pre-production for a movie he's spearheading called "American Schlub." It earned him front-page love from no less than The Wall Street Journal, and left some wondering if he's angling for a gig in the fashion industry when his playing days are over.

"We used to be fashion forward," Mr. Davis told The Wall Street Journal. "[Now] we're more of a sweats and Ugg boots type of society. We wanted to challenge men, from that perspective."

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