Despite the awesome, definitive nicknames like “The Great One” and “Mr. Hockey,” basketball actually has the edge here. In a regulation game, an NHL forward might play 25 minutes, a defenseman somewhere north of 30 and a goalie might make 50-plus saves. But an NBA star, aided by extended TV timeouts, can readily play 40 or more minutes in an NBA playoff game. Furthermore, the structure of the game, the nature of alternating possessions and the level of impact one player can have on a game make NBA stars the biggest stars in sport. Rivaled perhaps only be a red-hot goaltender, a dominant post player or explosive perimeter scorer can dominate a game, a series and even a season.
Hockey’s constant shift changes (substitutions) can make it difficult for a casual fan to even follow exactly who is on the ice for their club and the increasingly football-like equipment makes it tough to recognize players without seeing their number. Meanwhile, NBA stars are front and center, scoring buckets and selling sneakers.