The Missed Branding Opportunity During James Harden's MVP Campaign

Depending on who you ask, James Harden is the leader in the clubhouse to win the 2014-15 NBA MVP.

Harden, along with Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, are the four men in competition for the league's most prestigious individual honor. All have played at an elite level while displaying a level of mastery in how they go about their trade. As a result, each player's status as a superstar has risen exponentially in the process. With LeBron being the face of not only the Association, but also a dream ambassador for brands like Kia, Beats by Dre and Nike as well.

More recently, players like Curry and Westbrook displayed their ability to not only be a sneaker advocates but brand advocates as well.

Curry not only is now a face for brands like State Farm, Muscle Milk and Degree, but he's also earned his own signature sneaker deal with Under Armour. Here's Steph swagging out with Jamie Foxx.

Westbrook's brand advocacy has skyrocketed over the last year, as he's become the biggest face for Jordan Brand. Moreover, lifestyle brands left and right are laying endorsement deals at Russell's feet. Mountain Dew, True Religion, and Subway all feature the Oklahoma City dynamo guard as he gleefully hocks their products.

I'm not even sure what this beverage is that Mountain Dew has Westbrook shilling, but I'd probably drink it.

So where's the love for James Harden?

First a disclaimer. Harden does endorse a few things, but nothing 99.9% of sports fans would take note of. Harden is an endorser of KT Tape, the elastic sports tape that provides pain relief and support for injuries and aggravation. He's also an endorser of Body Armor, the sports drink company that was started by Kobe Bryant, which inadvertently already makes him the second-best shooting guard with the brand. Most folks know Harden commercially from the work he did with Foot Locker, and he had a familiar former teammate on the screen with him in Russell Westbrook.

One could easily make the case that there's no more recognizable person in not just the NBA, but in sports, more than Harden. That mohawk and that beard are both so absurd that you can't help but to notice him. He's beloved by both children and adults, he's never been in trouble, he plays in a major market that's in contention for a championship, and oh by the way, he's having one of the greatest seasons in two-guard history.

You have to wonder, is Harden turning down offers? There have been backchannel rumors that Asian sneaker giant Anta offered Harden a signature sneaker deal, but apparently he declined. Harden's contract with Nike is up soon, and he's watched players like Curry, Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Damian Lillard all get signature deals before him. Maybe Harden is singularly focused on trying to improve his game and nothing else, and if that's the case then I tip my cap to him. However, if brands aren't blowing his phone up after this season, then one would have to ask what else would it take for Harden to blow up like his contemporaries? (To be fair, James Harden already has two endorsements that quite possibly trump anyone else's. Just ask Amber Rose and Tahiry.)

All I know is, we have four MVP candidates who are showcasing how great the NBA is, and three of them are continually on various commercials all the time. Meanwhile, the beard gets no love. Stop fearing the beard and pay the man his proper respect.

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