The Business of Sports

NCAA's Past March Madness Stars Lead Today's NBA


Here's a quick trivia question: Excluding foreign-born players (Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki) and athletes that jumped straight from high school to the National Basketball Assn. (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Kevin Garnett), what do the 16 basketball players in the Bloomberg BusinessWeek Power 100 have in common?

Answer: Each led his respective school to the NCAA Division-I Basketball Tournament in his final collegiate season.

In this month's rendition of the Power 100, we look at how certain basketball stars made it onto our list—and how a Big Dance turn helped them get there.

Going inside the numbers, three of these players won national championships, four others made it to the Final Four, and a staggering 14 of their 16 teams were seeded worse in the NCAA Tournament the year after these standouts left for the pros. That's not a coincidence. That's March Madness.

The NCAA Tournament is one of the primary reasons sports marketers love basketball. Over the course of three weeks, American workers trade spreadsheets and office meetings for brackets and office pools. As productivity drops, the name recognition of college basketball's best players dramatically increases. Whether it's late-game heroics or a Cinderella story, Tournament success in many cases puts players on the fast track to superstardom—before they even step into an NBA arena.

NCAA Rewards: endorsements, top picks

Take the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade. After Wade became just the fourth player to record a triple-double in NCAA Tournament history, a USA Today columnist wrote that the Marquette guard used March Madness "to stamp himself as one of the top prospects" in the NBA Draft. Wade's strong tourney play also translated into a lucrative shoe contract with Converse.

However, Wade wasn't the only guy to take advantage of the grand March Madness stage. The Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony became a national champion and then a prominent Nike endorser, while the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose parlayed his title game appearance into becoming the top pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.

The formula is simple: Youth + Basketball Success = $$$.

The opposite "NCAA Tournament effect" also holds true: For every Wade, Anthony, or Rose who used March Madness as a stepping stone to the Power 100, there's a Corliss Williamson, Chris Wilcox, or Nick Collison who was drafted high and earned a rich rookie contract, but could never duplicate his collegiate success in the pro ranks.

Here's what we can take away from the first two rounds of this year's tourney. Kentucky's John Wall and Ohio State's Evan Turner are the most marketable players still in contention for the title. Even if Ali Farokhmanesh never becomes an NBA All-Star, his name is etched in NCAA Tournament lore, courtesy of Northern Iowa's stunning upset of top-seeded Kansas. And anything can happen before one school stands alone in Indianapolis, celebrating to One Shining Moment.

There's a reason we call it March Madness.

Click here to see former NCAA stars who went on to dominate the NBA.

Brian Finkel has served as creative director of Horrow Sports Ventures since 2008. For more on the business of sports, follow him on Twitter @thefinktank.

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