Late in the third quarter of a March game between the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans, Rudy Gobert, the Jazz’s 7-foot-1 center, caught a pass and slammed down a dunk as the Pelicans’ Josh Hart leapt to contest the shot.
As the two National Basketball Association players jogged back down the court, television viewers could see Mr. Gobert bark out something to Mr. Hart.
Trash talk? Sort of.
“As I was running back on defense, I told him that would be a nice Top Shot Moment right there,” Mr. Gobert said in an interview. Mr. Hart said he had responded with a four-letter word that was not suitable to be printed.
LeBron James reverse windmill dunk Top Shot, for example, sold for $210,000 in March.
Nearly four dozen N.B.A. players have created Top Shot accounts, from All-Stars like Mr. Gobert to journeymen and rookies. Some have collected just a handful of clips, while others own dozens or hundreds.
The trend is an engaging — if expensive — way for fans and players to celebrate exhilarating basketball plays. It’s also a moneymaker for the N.B.A., which lost about $1.5 billion in revenue last season between the pandemic’s emptying arenas and China’s pausing the broadcasting of basketball games over a geopolitical dispute.
The N.B.A. has long been one of the most innovative leagues in finding ways to make money. It finished its 2019-20 season in a Disney World bubble and squeezed in a condensed All-Star Weekend in March to recoup some lost revenue. But with arenas only now slowly filling, Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, recently told Time magazine that the league would still miss out on 30 percent to 35 percent of revenue this season.
dozens of N.B.A. players blew their millions on risky investments, but the league has pushed in recent years for its young stars to educate themselves financially.
Top Shot is risky, too, because the price of the highlights could plummet at any time if people decide they are no longer interested. One warning sign: Top Shot’s sales last month, $82 million, were down from $208 million in March and $224 million in February, according to CryptoSlam, an NFT tracker. Dapper said that the marketplace was still growing, and that April’s numbers were more normal after a brief NFT boom.
“It’s a marketplace that obviously is purely built on demand and scarcity,” said Darren Heitner, a lawyer and a sports law professor at the University of Florida. Between shifting interests and the ebbing of the pandemic, he said, “there’s a lot of reasons you could see this marketplace drying up and find individuals left holding the bag.”