Can All-Star Paul George Become a Bona Fide Celebrity?

“I can’t hide anywhere,” says King George.

Editor’s Note, March 28, 2014: PG (or PGQ, if you will) signed a deal today to endorse Gatorade, his first major sponsorship. He joins the likes of Dwyane Wade, Peyton Manning, and Serena Williams. See his first TV commercial for the brand above.

Piloting his white Porsche Panamera through the streets of Indy after a Pacers practice, Paul George often has his serenity interrupted by fans snapping cell-phone pictures from their cars.

“I can’t hide anywhere,” says George, who, at just 23, has signed a five-year contract extension in the $85 million range and put himself in the MVP conversation as a starting All-Star. “But, you know, it’s good. It’s either ‘Good game,’ or ‘You’re playing well, Paul,’ or ‘Can I take a picture with you?’”

The Palmdale, California, native hasn’t seen anything yet, according to NBA analyst Dennis Scott, who visited George at his Geist home last year. “It all starts with winning and the fact that the Pacers went so deep [in the playoffs last year],” he says. Scott believes George is in line for superstardom, as long as he keeps leading the team to big victories—and none is bigger than knocking off the Miami Heat, who come to Bankers Life on March 26 having split their two previous games with the Pacers this season.

Few saw this coming when the Pacers drafted George in 2010. A relative unknown from Fresno State, PG—as fans call him—earned a chance to step up in place of the injured Danny Granger last season. George met the moment, and now he’s one of the highest scorers in the NBA and regularly rouses fans with highlight-reel moves like his 360-degree windmill dunk in January. His jerseys are flying off shelves, too. This year he became the first Pacer to crack the NBA’s Top 15 in sales since Jermaine O’Neal in 2005.

Video still courtesy Dennis ScottBut it takes more than game to transcend the sport and become the kind of celebrity who rakes in big endorsements (PG doesn’t have a signature one yet). Swagger helps. George has it, but it’s understated. He’s a soft-spoken homebody who’s pictured more often with a fishing pole in his hand than a martini glass. The good news: George says he likes the newfound attention. “Now it’s just [about] getting out of my comfort zone and being part of big events,” he says. Last summer, George made it to his first awards show, the ESPYS. “I want to go to a lot more of those,” he says. And maybe even meet his dream girl. “I’m a big J.Lo fan,” he says, flashing a quick smile.

George’s sense of style should help him score invitations. He’s not afraid of bright colors and Lenny Kravitz–style prints. These days he’s sporting clean-cut European looks and a signature curved side part in his hair. “It’s a Southern California thing,” he says.

Even with all the hype, Pacers coach Frank Vogel says George has his wits about him. “His drive is to be one of the best basketball players of all time,” Vogel says. Recently, George admitted that he wouldn’t mind playing in a glitzier market, but he cares more about winning an NBA championship—and he believes he’s on the right team for that.

Illustration by Peter Horvath; Paul George photo by Polina Osherov; Paul George video still courtesy Dennis Scott

This article appeared in the March 2014 issue.