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LeBron James and Kobe Bryant on Forbes World’s Most Powerful Celebrities list

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LeBron James and Kobe Bryant hang out at a party for rich people (Johnny Nunez/ WireImage).

With every passing year, NBA athletes become larger figures on the international scene. They move products as endorsers, influence fashion trends, and lend their cred to new musicians and causes. They're cultural forces, and that means they also matter to businesses.

So, when a finance-minded magazine like Forbes puts out rankings of the World's Most Powerful Celebrities, the inclusion of some athletes isn't a play for diversity. These players do in fact have power. So, let's talk a little about LeBron James (No. 15) and Kobe Bryant (No. 27) making this year's list. Here's the background from Forbes:

It used to be enough for a celebrity to act or sing or swing a bat really well. Now to be considered a real success, he or she needs to sell clothes, hawk fragrances—maybe even invest in technology startups. [...]

With most of our lists we keep it strictly on the money: earnings or net worth. The Celebrity 100 is a little different. This list—which includes film and television actors, TV personalities, models, athletes, authors, musicians and comedians—is based on money and fame. We define fame as media visibility in print, television, radio and online, plus social media power, which we measure by looking at each celebrity's presence on Facebook and Twitter. The earnings consist of pretax income between May 1, 2011, and May 1, 2012. Management, agent and attorney fees are not deducted. Forbes has been publishing the list annually since 1999.

You can check out the full list here. (Please note that its top pick, Jennifer Lopez, could be leaving her judge role on "American Idol." Whatever the case, her publicist probably deserves a raise.) There are many athletes on the list, though James and Bryant are the only two basketball players. Khloe Kardashian Odom, wife of nominal Dallas Maverick Lamar Odom and reality TV superstar, is also on the list.

The rankings themselves mean little — I have no idea what it tangibly means for LeBron James to be four spots below Taylor Swift, for instance, unless the two battle it out to see who can produce the most believable "surprised reactions" at awards shows. All we really know is that LeBron and Kobe placed highly on the list because they're in the public eye and draw a lot of interest to the NBA and the products they endorse. They're global icons, even if they'd sometimes like to be greater ones, and for a magazine like Forbes that means they're powerful.

The list also serves as a reminder that, for as many great players as there are in the NBA, only a couple really move the needle in a cultural sense. Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard are very famous, but they're still a cut below. What we think of those players as people tends to rest on how much we think they feel slighted at not reaching the heights of celebrity. As long as it's secondary to what they do on the court, basketball fans are fine with it.

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