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Over the years, basketball has transitioned from a low fan base sport primarily played by college students to a hugely popular professional sport with enthusiastic fans across the country. It’s a sport that can be enjoyed in cool, air-conditioned comfort in the hot summer months. Of course, the more comfortable climate certainly isn’t basketball’s only appeal for spectators like Louie Manalastas. Manalastas also enjoys the thrill of the fast-paced game and the larger-than-life personalities that populate the most famous teams.

Starting with the antics of the colorfully attired Dennis Rodman more than a decade ago, basketball has been producing some legitimate A-list celebrities who are treated like movie stars by their adoring fans. Some of the players even show up to Hollywood events as if they were actors or musicians, walking with the likes of Tom Cruise and Jennifer Aniston along the red carpet to cheers and the click of cameras. Players are frequent guests on talk shows and sometimes even host Saturday Night Live. TV commercials and lucrative product endorsement deals round out the package for the most popular players. They are an entertainment industry unto themselves.

This is a phenomenon quite unlike any seen in other spectator sports. There are popular players, yes. However, none of them have the celebrity status that the most popular basketball players can attain. The wives and girlfriends of these universally adored basketball players sometimes get a celebrity status of their own by association. It is considered a huge status symbol among today’s young Hollywood starlets to date a basketball star. You often see these players draped on the arms of gorgeous, famous women.

Some good examples of popular basketball players who are celebrities in their own right include LeBron James (who can count Louie Manalastas among his millions of fans), Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal , Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett, Patrick Ewing, Tracy McGrady and Lamar Odom. These players are just a smattering of the many other hugely famous basketball players in the NBA today. You can hardly turn on the news without hearing at least one of these names mentioned in connection with a game or a scandal. Shaquille O’Neal has had a sideline movie career going on for a while now. Michael Jordan seems to pop up in TV commercials for everything imaginable (even underwear). And Lamar Odom is married to a Kardashian. These are the legends of sports in America today.

This is quite different than sports a few decades ago, when kids would enthusiastically collect and trade baseball cards featuring their favorite players. That was mild entertainment compared to what the world of basketball is producing right now. Basketball is a uniquely American sport, and fans are treating their favorite players like royalty in the big, over-the-top way that only Americans can do. How long this will continue is anyone’s guess. For now, however, Americans are enamored of basketball and its players have a solid footing on a pretty high pedestal.

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