Top Dog: LeBron James
lebron james

Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Nike are three of the biggest brands in the world, and King James has had all three under his belt for years. His Nike relationship began in 2003 with a seven-year, $90-million contract that was promptly extended in 2010.

What changed in 2012 was that James finally won the NBA championship. You might think it wouldn't make a difference—even without a ring he was one of the three best players in the NBA and had a big endorsement portfolio—but it means something to brands. Now that James is a champ, new deals came calling. In March (before earning his ring) James got a contract to become "brand ambassador" for Dunkin Donuts and Baskin-Robbins in China, Taiwan, India and South Korea, proving that he is a truly global star a la NBA peer Kobe Bryant.

In October, he hooked up with Samsung, a deal that experts say he would not have landed if he hadn't won the title. The Galaxy Note II ads are surprisingly likeable: they show James palling around at the barbershop, using the phone to watch dunk videos and field text messages from Magic Johnson. "In the nature of his spots recently," says Doug Perlman, CEO of Sports Media Advisors, "you can see he's trying to endear himself to a larger fan base that he may have alienated." Indeed, James has perhaps finally ditched the foul memory of his breakup with Cleveland.

By adding impressive new deals to his already super lineup, LeBron further established himself in 2012 as an endorser of big global brands. And don't forget his deal with Fenway Sports Management, through which he owns a piece of the Liverpool FC soccer team.


  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated January 02 2013 10:15 AM ET
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