There is no greater conduit for NBA hyperbole than the conversation around “superstars.” To have a rational, substantive debate, there must first be basic groundwork for what constitutes superstar status. First, the bad news: former Finals MVPs Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have finally aged out of this status. While all four still deliver excellent numbers, their sheer presence no longer grants their team playoff status or contention viability. With three GOATs phasing out of the list, there is room for newcomers, of which there are a few.
Being on a Supermax deal doesn’t mean you’re a superstar. Jaylen Brown, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert have never been superstars, and never will be. They just don’t have that dawg in them that the great ones do and are better suited for secondary roles. Now for the controversial exclusions. Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics fans would certainly contend Devin Booker and Jayson Tatum are superstars, as they are both being paid like it. But neither could step up in the Finals (Booker in 2021, Tatum in 2022) to drag their team to victory. And in those two Finals, both were outdueled by actual superstars in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Steph Curry.
Tatum and Booker both were the No. 1 options for their teams, and both failed at getting over the hump in the Finals. To be a superstar, you have to have it in you to win a championship as the best player for your team. Tatum and Booker both failed in their first attempts. That could change with another try at bat.
Superstar legacies are defined by what they did on the court and quantified in trophies. While not every player on this list has a trophy, they have the elite skill set, killer instinct and fanatical will to win. These are the real superstars in the NBA today.