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How the NBA Became a Wine League

How the NBA Became a Wine League

From the ’90s to today, here’s how the association and its stars became certified wine geeks.

In recent years, the NBA has developed a well-earned reputation as a wine-splashed league. The shift is obvious—a peek at social media reveals superstars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry coolly posing with glassfuls of prestigious vino. Some players even have their own wine labels. But it didn’t get this way overnight—it took the league decades to fully embrace its oenophile status. 

Everything culminated with an early April announcement by the NBA that it had inked a deal with Kendall-Jackson, which produces the country’s best-selling Chardonnay, to be its first official wine partner. (At the same time, La Crema, became the official wine of the WNBA—both La Crema and Kendall-Jackson are owned by Jackson Family Wines.) 

Is a sports league with an official wine partner really such big news? The NFL has one—it named Barefoot Wine as its sponsor in 2023. AndMLB announced Robert Mondavi’s Woodbridge brandas its official wine ahead of the 2020 season. But the NBA’s deal is inherently player-driven, making it unique. 

“Authenticity is super important for us, especially when it comes to partnering in spaces where we know our players are passionate,” says Jared Blechman, the NBA’s vice president and head of business development, who helped broker the deal. “When this opportunity became available, we wanted to align with the right partner to build on the culture that already exists and grow that passion throughout the league.”  

The earliest beginnings of the NBA’s wine culture can be traced back nearly 30 years, when a certain legendary coach made his own passion for good wine a centerpiece of team bonding. Here, Wine Enthusiast charts the most significant moments in the NBA wine-drinking journey, from the ’90s to today.


Gregg Popovich Is Named San Antonio Spurs Head Coach

Back in the mid-’90s, a fresh-faced Popovich takes over the Spurs’ top job. He goes on to win five championships, and wine plays a major role in team building.  

“From what I’ve heard in NBA circles, it all traces back to Gregg Popovich,” says Bill O’Connor, Kendall-Jackson’s executive vice president of sales. “They call him the ‘Popfather of Wine,’ or something like that… He can speak Burgundy, Bordeaux, anything. He was the catalyst.”  

Popovich develops a legendary reputation for pouring unique wines at team dinners, taking pains to explain the nuances of each in an approachable manner. 

Players in attendance bring fancy bottles— “their own ‘Pop’ menu”—in efforts to impress Popovich, recalls Channing Frye, a retired center who played 14 years in the NBA. (Frye today owns his own winery, Chosen Family Wines.) “They’d always go and get these crazy wines, knowing Pop would want something not regularly on the menu.”

Pop had a lot of team dinners when I played for the Spurs. And he would always come around the table and tell everybody what the wine was that he was serving that evening. And it became a point of real connection between Pop and the players. I thought that was one of his real strengths as a coach, one of many strengths.

Steve Kerr in a 2020 Zoom chat with Silver Oak Winery

Illustration by Jason Raish


Carmelo Anthony Becomes an Oenophile

During Carmelo Anthony’s time playing for the Denver Nuggets—a team owned by Stan Kroenke, who also owns Screaming Eagle Winery and Vineyards in Napa—he’s bitten by the wine bug. The former Syracuse NCAA champion helps convert Lebron James and Chris Paul into cork dorks.  

At that point in time when I got into wine… it wasn’t a big wine culture in sports, in the NBA, and in just our community. That was something I was very cognizant of. I wanted to… get into wine and really learn and really understand this.

Carmelo Anthony to Wine Enthusiast in 2023


The Famous “Banana Boat” Photo

Dwyane Wade posts an Instagram photo of himself clinking glasses with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, one of the future hall-of-famers’ first public acknowledgments that they had become unabashed wine fans. It’s arguably wine’s breakout NBA moment.


LeBron Goes Wine Viral

In one of James’s first major wine posts on Instagram, he shares a photo of a2014 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.It leads to a spike in the wine’s sales. James suddenly becomes the most high-profile NBA oenophile, causing a ripple effect amongst younger players and fans.  


ESPN Exposes the Secret Wine Club

ESPN the Magazine publishes an article entitled “The NBA’s Secret Wine Society,”the first deep dive into the growing wine obsession of the NBA’s biggest stars. The piece, written by Baxter Holmes, also highlights a 2018 trip the Cleveland Cavaliers took to Mayacamas Vineyards in Napa Valley. Players, demonstrating their deep knowledge, pepper the winemakers with questions. 

An illustration fo a basketball next to a wine glass
Illustration by Jason Raish

The reason that I enjoy wine so much is … you can never know everything about wine… It’s interesting to me that the more you learn about it, the more you realize how much more you have to figure out and learn. It’s infinite.

Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler on Instagram Live

July 2020

Wine Dominates the NBA Bubble

During the height of the pandemic, the NBA moves the end of its season to a Florida “bubble” inside of Walt Disney World Resort. Wine becomes a major focal point. In one particularly infamous story, New Orleans Pelicans starC.J. McCollumbrings 84 bottles with him—and keeps his hotel room’s temperature in the mid-50s to prioritize the wines’ freshness.  

As for the other wine available to players during the bubble? At one point, some players—led by J.J. Redick—complain about the quality.

“J.J., that snob,” laughs Frye.

August 2020

Kendall-Jackson Winery Steps In

With rumors swirling that NBA players were dissatisfied with the wine selection in the bubble, Kendall-Jackson decides to ship about 50 cases of assorted wines to Orlando.  

“We sent it no strings attached, no motive other than thanking the NBA players for letting us watch T.V. and have something to do other than just feel sad for ourselves,” recalls O’Connor. Along with the cases of wine, Kendall-Jackson includes QR codes with videos of master sommeliers—including one named, appropriately enough, Michael Jordan—providing brief descriptions of each wine and how best to enjoy them. 

“We had QR codes, virtual tastings, all this stuff,” says Jordan (who loves to lean into the fact he shares a name with the NBA’s GOAT). “It was entertaining for the players—they were at a hotel with nothing to do, and they came to love the wines.”

March 2024

LeBron and J.J. Redick Launch a Wine-Fueled Podcast

James and Redick release the first episode of their “Mind the Game” podcast, which features the two chatting about basketball strategy overbottles of wine.The first episode features esteemed bottles from both Bordeaux and Burgundy: a 1995 Chateau Lynch-Bages and a 2012 Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru. 

Lebron James and JJ Redick
Illustration by Jason Raish

April 2024

The NBA Officially Partners with Kendall-Jackson Wines

At a meeting with NBA executives, O’Connor seals the deal to make Kendall-Jackson Wines the NBA’s first official wine partner.  

“I didn’t think the prospects were that high that we’d do that,” says O’Connor, “because we tend to put most of our efforts into our quality, not so much historical marketing and partnerships. But it’s like the stars were aligned.”  

Kendall-Jackson, though, is just the tip of the iceberg as far as NBA-adjacent wines. Former and current players including Dwyane Wade, Yao Ming, James Harden and Klay Thompson—in addition to Frye, McCollum and others—all have their own wine labels. And the obsession doesn’t seem like it will fade anytime soon.

A lot of people—American consumers—have been jaded by other name-brand wines. If people were to give us a chance, they would realize that we’re doing this for passion, trying to put a really good product out there. So don’t judge us because we’re basketball players. Judge us on the wine!

Channing Frye

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